Frenchy’s Field, District 1
Size: 16 acres
Frenchy’s Field, a 16-acre park off Agua Fría Street, is a complex knot of open space, brown fields, buildings and labyrinths, crisscrossed by trails that connect to the Santa Fe River.
It has a well-maintained playground with fresh wood chips and an array of equipment shaded by large trees. Locals frequent a paved walking path around the field.
But the park also is a bit controversial.
In 2015, The New Mexican reported that a row of apple trees was dying because of faulty irrigation. Earlier this year, neighbors raised questions about damaged crabapple trees in the park’s entryway.
As part of The New Mexican’s summer report on the state of the city’s parks — of which this is the last installment — the park received a C. Though the walking trail and playgrounds at Frenchy’s Field stood out as positive, the park also had maintenance issues, with trash in the parking lot, weeds growing among the playground’s wood chips and a mess of trash and clothes in one sculpture-like labyrinth.
Currently, a group of citizens called the Friends of Frenchy’s Field is raising questions about whether the park is getting enough water.
Bette Booth, a former chairwoman of the city’s citizen Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, sent an email on behalf of the group, asking councilors in District 1 to “turn the water back on in Frenchy’s.” Booth said the Parks and Recreation Department has drastically reduced irrigation “to the extreme detriment of the park.” She cited a number of issues, including a dead orchard and the dusty oval field in the center of the park, as a result.
At the center of Frenchy’s Field is a large field surrounded by a paved walking track. Currently, the lot is beige in color, mostly dirt-filled with dead stalks, burrs and the occasional blooms of white desert flowers. A large prairie dog colony populates the plot, and the creatures squeak and scurry from hole to hole.
“It’s kind of weird,” neighbor Kristina Lally said of the plot. “I’d think they’d put in a field.”
Frenchy’s Field was never intended to have grassy turf. Instead, the field was supposed to harness the more natural, wild sense of the word. The city’s goal in creating the park, built in the early 1990s, was to preserve natural space within city limits and pay tribute to the park’s former history as a dairy farm. Plans for the park dictate that the area should be populated with wildflowers and native grasses, with an eye toward water conservation and minimal maintenance.
“We spent some part of $21 million dollars to improve our parks,” Booth said in an email, referring to bond money allocated in 2008 and 2012. “It is unacceptable to taxpayers to let those improvements disintegrate.”
Following that email, District 1 City Councilor Signe Lindell said she and other members of the council are digging deeper into the question of whether the park’s trees and grass get enough water.
Parks Division Superintendent Gary Varela confirmed that that the large field in the center of the park is not being irrigated this summer, but said other areas including the park's trees are. There are a number of reasons why that decision made sense, he said.
Primarily, he said, the soil quality in the park is not good enough to sustain plant life. He reseeded the soil a number of years ago under a former Parks Division director with wild grasses and flowers, he said, but the plants never fully established themselves because of the poor soil.
If the park were irrigated, Varela said, it would look better, “but it would be full of undesirable plants.”
Establishing a grassy meadow area in the park “would be very expensive,” he said, “and we’d have to improve the soil.”
What’s more, Varela said, the field always has irrigation issues because of prairie dogs. On a recent walk through the field, he pointed to a number of exposed pipes visible through burrows, some of which had holes in them. The irrigation system would likely have a multitude of water-wasting leaks were it turned on, he said. He didn’t know of a long-term plan to address these issues.
Though prairie dogs cause complications, some parkgoers like the animals.
Kristina Martinez has lived in Santa Fe for a few years, but just recently discovered the park. She likes to come to the play area, shaded by large trees, because it has baby swings for her 8-month-old son.
“I was just wondering why they leave this so rustic and rough,” she said, gesturing to the large field as she sat on the swings. Then, she noticed the critters running through the brush.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I like the natural landscape, especially when I see wild animals — they need a place to live, too.”
Design documents discuss an area dedicated to the prairie dogs and emphasize the importance of the golden crownbeard, or “cowpen daisy” flowers, that spring up around the park every fall. The documents also focus on the area’s history.
Before it was a park, Frenchy’s Field was a dairy farm that belonged to a French Basque owner, Bernard “Frenchy” Parachou, according to a 1992 research analysis of the land. The report said the park also is in the vicinity of a number of prehistoric Native American sites in use by Pueblo tribes circa 1200.
Maintaining that history was essential to the construction of the park, said Steven Robinson, one of the architects on the 1992 park project. Most of the buildings on the property are original or recycled from original materials.
Twenty-five years later, Robinson is happy with how the park has held up.
“There’s value in letting a place evolve on its own, without being fussed with too much,” Robinson said. “I’m really happy that it’s kind of dusty and old, as long as the basic landscape is maintained for safe public use.”
He pointed to places where the original sidewalk had been repaired with more modern slabs as evidence that safety issues were being addressed.
“From its initial intention and design standpoint, I give [Frenchy’s Field] an A,” Robinson said. “But what’s more important than that is what the community thinks.”
Henry Alvarez and Robert Urban have both walked evening laps around the Frenchy’s Field loop for years.
Alvarez wondered whether the signature yellow blooms would appear this fall.
“They haven’t watered. Not like they used to,” Alvarez said. The field used to have a semblance of green, he added. Now “it’s all sticks.”
Urban doesn’t like the weeds in the playground and said he wished the parking lot had surfacing, so it didn’t get so muddy in the rain. As a former city employee, he knows the park maintenance employees work hard, he said. He’d just like to see Frenchy’s take more priority.
“It’s a beautiful park,” Urban said. “It just needs some TLC.”
Alto/Bicentennial Park, District 1
Size: 15.9 acres
With access to the Santa Fe River Trail and a direct line of sight to the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Bicentennial Park — also called Alto Park — has premium placement in Santa Fe. It’s in slightly less than premium shape.
Between the upper parking lot and the baseball fields are large, grassy slopes that look like they didn’t get seeded this year. They’re dry and weedy, and even some of the trees look dead. The baseball fields, made of synthetic turf, and surrounding sitting areas are clean and in good repair, with the exception of small weeds sprouting through the red dirt of the diamonds and some graffiti on miscellaneous surfaces.
Near the swimming pool, one of the biggest draws of the park, the grass is yellow and dying. The playground next door has a variety of equipment and a well-placed, working water fountain but is flecked with little bits of trash and is missing the spinner seat on a piece of equipment. Some surfaces used to have graffiti, but most of it has been cleaned up.
The large, grassy field of the park is a luxurious expanse of deep green, soft underfoot, and shaded by huge trees. Yet, it has a few issues, including gopher holes and some small bare patches. Weedy areas border the edges of the field near the playground and at the western edge of the grass.
“I think maintenance could be picked up, with gopher holes and some weeds and Chinese elms,” said Maria Sena, a mother playing with her 3-year-old in the playground.
Salvador Perez Park, District 2
Size: 16.2 acres
Salvador Perez Park, best known as the “Train Park,” is a popular spot on summer evenings. On a recent day, little kids teetered around a small, well-used playground, in decent repair except for weeds in the wood chips and a few missing swings. Youth footballers played on a large field of turf abutting St. Francis Drive, and a short distance away, a group of volleyballers played on one of the only outdoor volleyball courts in the city that’s maintained enough for use.
“We’re surrounded by trees that keep the wind down. It’s shady. And at the end of the day, you can order a pizza,” said Ray Brito, one of the volleyball players at the park.
Most people like the little sand pit at the park. However, when it comes to outdoor sand volleyball, “this is it,” he said.
Courts at Franklin E. Miles Park and Larragoite Park were weed-infested to the point of being unusable when The New Mexican visited earlier this summer. The court at Salvador Perez does have issues, however. Next to the sand is a short hill. The pit at the bottom is full of goathead seeds and miscellaneous, thorny weeds that flatten stray balls. The team put up an orange, plastic fence to prevent that from happening.
The grass around the park, including in the two baseball diamonds, is mostly a lush, dark green. However, multiple little gopher hills pock the area near the playground and the animals have been marked for removal with orange spray paint dots on the diamonds.
A tennis court nearby is in similarly uneven shape. The surfaces are nice and the nets taught, but huge weeds grow in the fences around the area. More weeds spring up near benches in the play area. And large saplings spring through the fenced area that houses a large steam engine — the origin of the park’s popular moniker.
Fort Marcy Park, District 1
Size: 28 acres
Fort Marcy Park is one of the most well-known and best-kept parks in town.
The simple configuration of fields and a small playground outside the recreation facility of the same name might best be described as “neat.” With a little bit more detail work, they could even be described as “crisp.”
As is, the large lawns of Magers Field — the grassy area next to the recreation center — are dark shades of green, pocked here and there with gopher holes, spots balding with use and a few stretches of yellow.
The playground area has an extensive array of equipment and is well maintained, but sitting areas nearby have dirty picnic tables spotted with gum and grime and questionable stains on the pavement.
The park is mostly clear of weeds, with the exception of small sprouts that spring up in the sidewalk cracks and in the bare areas with workout equipment. Larger weeds spring up in the parking lot.
And the well-used walking path that surrounds the area is paved and mostly flat, with the exception of a few places where large tree roots break up the pavement, posing a tripping hazard and creating a bumpy ride for kids on scooters or skates.
Those minor imperfections didn’t bother Barbara Griego, who was working out on the park’s equipment on a recent day.
“I do my my walks here,” Griego said. “This is one of the nicest parks. There is nothing I would change.”
Railyard Park, District 1
Size: 10.34 acres
The wedge-shaped Railyard Park cuts sliver of tranquil grounds south of the Santa Fe Farmers Market to the under-construction tunnel linking the Acequia Trail under St. Francis Drive at one of the busiest intersections in the city.
Like many of the city’s parks, the Railyard Park features several could-be-stunning amenities, including a ramada that should have been shaded by trumpet vines that were mistakenly pruned at the beginning of last year’s tourist season.
Brambles of silverlace vine grow on a circular trellis in a Roundhouse-inspired rose garden. Most of the plants in the ornamental, xeric gardens are healthy, but some are dead and need replacing or a good pruning. Fruit trees border a rock gabion along Cerrillos Road. A community garden with a giant wheelbarrow arch provides some dozen garden plots. An acequia waters the Zuni-inspired waffle garden planted with the traditional vegetables known as the Three Sisters: corn, squash and beans.
The children’s play area looks like an unfulfilled contracting job. A sandbox and two anemic merry-go-rounds in a fenced area are a draw for toddlers. There are creative play areas set among rock formations, but some are marred by graffiti. Broken and missing slides in a concrete wall are glaringly unfinished. Several water features, including a hand pump and a spray, have been out of commission for years.
The park’s undeniably beautiful lawn running parallel to train tracks that separate the park from flats being built next to the park has become a draw for community events and might be the most delectable place to lay out a blanket in Santa Fe. A rentable community room atop the lawn next to the bathrooms hosts a range of events, from community meetings to wedding receptions.
Railyard Park benefits from having a corps of volunteers and a board to help maintain it and raise money for it, which could serve as a model for other city parks.
Henry M. Lopez and Luis Sánchez Saturno helped compile park reports.
Contact Sami Edge at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3055.