When Realtor DeAnne Ottaway shows a new visitor around Santa Fe, she notices the traffic medians.
The city of Santa Fe has 581 of them, and Ottaway thinks visitors notice them, too.
“If they look messy, if they have garbage or weeds on them, it’s not very welcoming,” she said. “Medians represent the pride we take in our city.”
Ottaway is one of seven Santa Feans who comprise the new Special Weeds Action Team, which took a Thursday bus tour past some of the city’s medians in an effort to see what could — and should — be done to make them presentable. It’s the most recent step in what the city calls a war on weeds, a conflict that primarily rages (and leaves some enraged) during the spring, summer and fall.
The team is charged with coming up with an action plan by the end of the year to address problems at 20 top-priority medians in Santa Fe. The 20 were chosen because the city received the most complaints about them, said John Muñoz, director of the city Parks and Recreation Department.
But weeds may be the least of the median problems, as the team members learned during the tour. Many medians have dying trees and intrusive vegetation that do not fit the environment and may be soaking up sun and rain at the expense of native species.
Some of the domed medians — the ones that look like very small hills — along Cerrillos Road may not be getting any rainwater at all because it rolls right down both sides of them, depriving vegetation of precipitation.
The trees and vegetation on some of the medians serve as homes or stopping-off points for insects and birds, making one task force member nervous about the idea of removing them.
On top of all this, some of the medians are so thin — as little as two feet wide — that working on them poses a danger to the city staffers who maintain them.
“I want the city of Santa Fe medians to reflect the natural environment … without endangering our workers,” said Susan Tweit, a botanist serving on the volunteer committee. “I want the city to look distinctly Santa Fe and not have medians that look like Florida.”
She said that in many cases what looks like weeds to passersby are actually natural wildflowers that might just need a little mowing to make them presentable. During the tour, she and other members of the task force brainstormed ideas to beautify the medians
Planting more native plants like chamisa, juniper and wildflowers was one idea proposed. But even if that plan works, said team member Alba Blondis, a retired educator who said she was one of those people who called the city to complain about the state of the medians, the city needs to keep them trimmed.
“Native plants, yes, but are they still the best choice if they are overgrown?” she asked.
Removing dying trees — or, as Muñoz put it, keeping them comfortable until they die and then not replacing them — is another option for smaller medians where the trees don’t have much of a chance to spread roots and grow in a healthy manner.
One patch of trees on medians along St. Francis Drive, close to the Cerrillos Road intersection, looked “very stressed,” he told the team members.
An idea several members liked was to replace dirt and soil medians that do not have vegetation growing on them with concrete, brick or tile, preferably painted with desert hues such as turquoise.
But all this will be a challenge given the city’s limited staffing — four full-time employees and 15 part-timers — for median maintenance. Muñoz said the city will increase the number of those workers next spring, though he does not yet have specifics.
The battle is never ending. Muñoz said city workers removed some 6.4 tons of debris of all types, including trash, from the city’s medians between February and early November.
The team will meet again in as soon as two weeks to discuss some of the ideas from the bus tour, Tweit said.