TAOS — Around 40 outdoor enthusiasts gathered recently at the Outward Link Trail along Paseo del Cañon in Taos, but not just to spend the day outdoors.
They were protesting efforts by homeowners to block access to a portion of the popular trail that crosses their property. The trail has been used by an increasing number of community members, including students at nearby Taos Charter School, who routinely walk in the area as part of their physical education class. The school’s cross-country team also runs along the pathway.
A public easement established 15 years ago between the town of Taos and property owners along the trail was intended to ensure everyone in the community had access.
But Liz and Lore Bamberg aim to put a stop to what they have called an unreasonable nuisance near their home.
The Bambergs have owned property crossed by the trail since 1995. Due to the recent increase in traffic on the trail, they also purchased an adjacent parcel containing a parking lot at an unofficial trailhead, with the hope of closing off access altogether. The couple insist the easement won’t hold up in a court of law. Public officials and trail advocates, however, said they will fight to ensure it remains in effect.
Spencer Bushnell, a local resident who organized the Sept. 19 protest, said property owners who originally agreed to the easement did so knowing it was meant to continue “in perpetuity.”
He told the crowd, “Our message is simple this morning. The trail remains open. It was never closed. It’s existed for 15 years, legally.” He called on the town and county of Taos to “do whatever is in their power to ensure access to this trail and to continue to protect it.”
Taos Town Councilor Darien Fernandez, who attended the event, said he was there to stand up for the public’s right to access a trail that has “been a part of our network for 15 years.”
In a meeting Sept. 14, the Town Council directed Town Attorney Stephen Ross to begin pursuing legal action to ensure “public lands remain in public hands,” Fernandez said.
The Bambergs have not said whether they plan to pursue legal action.
“Unfortunately, across the West we see efforts by landowners all the time to restrict access to public sections,” Fernandez said. He encouraged the Bambergs to be “good neighbors” and to “work with the community, not against it.”
State Rep. Kristina Ortez, a Taos County Democrat who also serves as the CEO of Taos Land Trust, called the situation “distressing.”
“This is our community, and this is a well-loved trail. Most importantly, it’s well loved by the students at Taos Charter [School], who walk up here every Wednesday,” she said, adding, “I’m hopeful and confident we’ll find a solution that makes everybody happy.”
Taos Charter School Director Jeremy Jones said that even after a confrontation in which the Bambergs called his staff “bullies,” students will continue using the trail. “If we’re told we’re trespassing, then we’ll absolutely comply with a legal order, but it seems to be in dispute right now,” he said.
He added, “Harassing people isn’t the best solution. It needs to be a legal solution that everyone can comply with.”
Lore Bamberg said she isn’t against trail users but is trying to prevent disruption to her private property.
“I’ve got nothing against the people who are using the trail,” she said. “Many of these could potentially be my friends. It’s the sheer volume and the fact that it’s the number of people who’ve been coming through that just became too much.”
Since the pandemic began, she said, use of the trail access next to her property has exploded.
There is no record of an easement on her property deed, she said, adding, “the town did not follow proper procedures in putting it in.”
Tamara Brown, another protester at the Sept. 19 event, said she has been walking on the trail at least three or four times per week for the past 15 years.
High school students Isabella O’Donnell Silfverburg and Harper Higdon said they wanted to help protect a trail they have used nearly all their lives.
“I’ve been coming here like my whole life,” Silfverburg said. “That’s where I learned how to walk.”
Higdon said he was part of the Taos High School Mountain Bike composite team and rode the trail “every other day in the training season.”
His father, Brad Higdon, said he also uses the trail several times a week. “This free access to our public lands should be a really critical community value because it’s so important to … our health and our quality of lives.”
Loren Bell, president of the Taos Mountain Bike Association, encouraged those gathered at the event to “speak out and write letters to our representatives.”
“This is one of the few places around town and within reach that I can take my mother,” said Kari Malen, Bell’s wife. “Most of the trails in Taos are super steep and just inaccessible. I think it’s unfair for somebody who has the privilege to purchase the land to then take away access to everybody else.”
A version of this story first appeared in The Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.