trail protest

Outdoor enthusiasts gather last week at the Outward Link Trailhead in Taos to show support for continued access to the trail. Used by mountain bikers, joggers, families and dog walkers alike, the trail was created in 2004 through an easement that grants public access to a 10-foot-wide trail that crosses private land.

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.

(9) comments

Janis Roller

What does “in perpetuity” mean — use at the level that existed when the document was signed or at the level of current use or use if this becomes a world heritage site?

Alexander Brown

NM Court identified the requisite elements of Prescriptive Ease-ment.

" The use necessary to acquire title by Prescription must be open, uninterrupted, peaceable, notorious, adverse under claim of right, and continue for a period of ten years with the knowledge or imputed knowledge of the owner."

This appears to meet all of the above. it doesn't have to be on their Title. Have a neighbor who had much the same, wishing to undo an access that met all requirements, it wasn't on his Title either but was upheld.

Richard Reinders

I am not sure prescriptive right holds up in NM as it is a land lock state, and prescriptive right has been used in other states for individuals to have right to access their own property. And I think the issue is not using the trail , it is the sheer volume of use that changed the game and it sounds like people are leaving the trail and interfering with their quiet enjoyment. Either way I feel for the people.

Emily Hartigan

These are the basics of "adverse possession" -- which has been used for centuries by developers, so the use by the public seems only fair.

In Santa Fe, landowners are trying to stop use of "back-alley" traditional access paths, and that is contrary to tradition.

Stefanie Beninato

Mark, the article did not mention social media--just projecting a little bit?

Mark Blackburn

If they legally own the property they have a right. I just sold a house in Honolulu as the neighborhood was over run by trespassers invading our personal space due to social media. I feel sorry for the homeowners. Social media is to blame I am sure for this.

Charlotte Rowe

No they don't. If it's a public easement they need to dry their Trumpian entitled tears and shut up.

Carolyn DM

Social media? LMAO!! Were they going to your property for the wi-fi?

Khal Spencer

Heh. And I'm sure the locals cried bitter tears at your departure while chanting "&^%$#@! haole go home"

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