Three years ago, the Santa Fe Conservation Trust worked with Santa Fe County and local volunteers to create La Piedra Trail, completing a long-envisioned, direct connection between our beloved Dale Ball Trails and the virtually endless network of Forest Service trails heading up the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into the Pecos Wilderness.

La Piedra Trail was billed as connecting the “city to the sky,” since it enables hikers and mountain bikers to seamlessly follow trails from city streets along the Santa Fe River all the way to the Winsor National Recreational Trail and beyond.

Although it’s a difficult trail through rugged terrain, La Piedra Trail has become emblematic of a greater quest to directly connect our many wonderful recreational trail systems, which also include La Tierra Trails, Arroyo Hondo Open Space Trails, the Rail Trail and Forest Service trails on Atalaya Mountain and in the Caja del Rio area, with each other and with the communities that they serve.

The vision of a Grand Unified Trail System, or GUTS, originated with the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society, our local chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association. With coordination and planning help from the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, made possible through support from Christopher Larsen/The Larsen Fund, and technical assistance from the National Park Service’s River, Trails and Conservation Assistance program, the community groups working toward the unified-trail vision have expanded to include hikers, equestrians, public health partners, local and federal land managers, and private landowners and businesses.

A partnership agreement, developed to establish common ground and a common road map forward toward completing the GUTS vision, has been signed by the Conservation Trust, Fat Tire Society, the Trails Alliance of Santa Fe, The Nature Conservancy, Glorieta Camps and the Commonweal Conservancy, which manages the Galisteo Basin Preserve south of Santa Fe.

The agreement is now making the rounds for adoption by city, county, state and federal agencies, including the Santa Fe National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management.

A unified trail system has become a community process in which these diverse private and public partners are engaged to plan, prioritize and implement the kinds of recreational trail connections that will be needed to make it possible to travel a full circle around Santa Fe, as well as to access the network of trails from any given point within or around the city.

GUTS represents the development of a common vision to improve our area’s quality of life, health, economy and environment.

In order to expand the user groups and populations to be served by the system, the planning process now enjoys significant engagement with an even broader array of community partners, including the Santa Fe County Horse Coalition, the New Mexico Department of Health and the National Park Service’s National Trails Program, which is interested in promoting historic alignments of El Camino Real, Santa Fe Trail and Old Spanish Trail.

Much like our area’s Metropolitan Bicycle Master Plan, which was passed by the city and county in 2012 to create an efficient and accessible network of transportation-oriented multi-use trails and on-road bikeways, the GUTS planning process seeks to establish a complementary network of enjoyable, natural-surface recreational trails providing a variety of users with access to the wonderful open spaces, landscapes, and historic and cultural attractions around greater Santa Fe that make our area unique.

Our community’s successes in these two areas have not escaped national attention, in particular from the League of American Bicyclists, for the transportation network, and from the International Mountain Biking Association for our recreational trails. In both cases, we’ve got the “silver,” and we’re going for the gold.

Whether you are interested in promoting health, economic development, environmental sustainability or just fun recreation, please consider joining the GUTS effort.

Take a look at materials on the Santa Fe Conservation Trust’s website, and please consider joining a community celebration of GUTS on National Public Lands Day, which is Sept. 26, starting with a few hours of optional volunteer maintenance on the Atalaya Trail, and finishing with an open community picnic partway up the mountain, hosted by the Conservation Trust (details at www.sfct.org).

Together, we will be able to look out at the city and imagine all the wonderful successors to the La Piedra Trail that we can work together to achieve, in order to make the GUTS vision of a unified, interconnected trail system into a reality for Santa Fe.

Tim Rogers is the trails program manager for the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.

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