Letter To The Editor: As The Flow Trail Turns

Los Alamos
Recently, we were out surveying a section of trail, planning a trail work session to repair and upgrade a portion of trail that was damaged by gushing water from a broken water line weeks before. The damage was extensive on a popular hiking trail, while only a small portion of the project was on a trail used by mountain bikers. The heavily damaged trail was also used by local residents who enjoy walking their dogs in the area; something we all enjoy here in Los Alamos. The trail was deeply incised and required significant fill and labor-intensive hand-work to repair. As we looked over the damage, we were briefly interrupted by a retired couple out hiking on a pleasant day, and as we began to say hello, the woman shouted, “Are you talking about the County bike trail? It’s bad because look at the way they damage all of our trails…” Sadly, this is not an exaggeration of the event – it happened just like this.
Among the group were some mountain bikers, but not all. For many of us who enjoy riding mountain bikes here, labelling us simply as mountain bikers is a bit like labelling Keith Richards as a pirate character in Disney movies. We are a lot of things, including active members of our community.
Anyway, we all nod, say hello and go about our business. We watch, both a little amused and puzzled as the couple proceeds to step off the trail and walk cross-country up a steep and poorly graded, user-created trail that provides a short-cut to their home, rather than follow the trail up to the sidewalk and walk the additional short distance. While most people do appreciate the trail work, this sort of negative interaction with a fellow trail user is not uncommon. It has become a strange and divisive topic because the trails serve different groups of people in different ways, but almost all of us in some way.
Unfortunately, there is a sort of adversarial point of view from some people that seems out of touch with what the reality is “on the ground.” None of us there were surprised at the episode, so not much was said.
And yeah, if you haven’t heard, the County is currently in the midst of a project to research and study the feasibility, develop a design, and perhaps (not a certainty) construct a purpose-built “mountain bike flow trail.” I use quotations there, because the trail’s concept is to accommodate more than just fancy mountain bikes and high-level mountain bikers. The design criteria requires the trail to be an inclusive IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) level “green” trail that will be ride-able by a range of people, on a range of bicycles.
Although the project has been in planning, scoping, and public input phase with it for three years now (personally, that is how I heard of the proposal), there has recently been much more debate about the project, conducted in public meetings, and in other forums. Along with that, there has been an increase in a range of information being disseminated by a vocal opposition group, including many characteristically inflammatory posts on social media, and a petition being circulated along with a door-to-door campaign to gather support against the proposal.
While there are some issues that are understandable and pertinent, this campaign has dubious credibility because it generally misses the mark with regard to facts. To put it bluntly, much of what has been, and is currently being said and presented is misleading, or factually incorrect entirely.
When presented in public forums, letters, and on social media, all of this counter-factual information threatens a fair and objective public process. It is unclear whether these campaigns of misinformation are intentional, or inadvertent, but they are certainly premeditated and organized. Hopefully, we can all agree that it is essential to listen, be open-minded, reserve judgement, and understand the situation well enough to make informed and objective decisions based on facts; not on false information, assumptions, distortions, or fear and paranoia.
The intent of this letter to the editor is to ask for certain courtesies and rules of engagement to be observed, by both sides of these types of issues – not just this flow trail project, but other County issues.
In our current “anything goes” environment and culture of media and politics, it is hoped that a level of respect and civility, coupled with a desire to support statements with facts and the truth be the path taken to reasonable dialogue and debate. Let the County follow their prescribed course of action, which does engage the public and considers risk factors at the highest level of importance.
I recognize that the flow trail project is a contentious issue and that there are subjective issues to consider in the areas of user experience, function, and appearance. However, to make an informed decision, it should be in everyone’s best interest to take the time and effort to become familiar with the facts. Some of the issues needing clarification include the following:
  • County access policy: horses will not be restricted.
  • Precedents on new trails intersecting the existing trail (historical Lujan Road): new trails have indeed been developed by the County that also intersect the historic Lujan Road. This is not a restriction of any sort.
  • Effects on, and regulations of historical resources: SHPO surveys, registered sites, and regulations; Lujan Road – National Registry of Historic Places (added 2005) http://www.nmhistoricpreservation.org/assets/files/arms/NMCRISUserGuide20131116.pdfhttps://nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/nm/los+alamos/state.html — http://www.nmhistoricpreservation.org/assets/files/registers/NM-NATIONAL-REGISTER-FACT-SHEET.pdf — (these are all interesting and should be researched to understand what can and cannot be accomplished around these types of resources)
  • Horses and bikes interacting on trails – currently, horses and bikes share the trail (without any of the injurious or deadly consequences that have been advertised), but the flow trail will separate the two users by quite a considerable distance in all but two short sections. The original alignment plan was to have two crossings in slow-travel, wide-range-of-sight zones. In all respects, evidence suggests that by alleviating bicycle traffic from the multi-use (horse) trail, an increased factor of safety would be introduced: https://www.imba.com/blog/imbas-guide-sharing-trail-horseshttps://thehorse.com/110581/mountain-bikes-on-horse-trails/
  • Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan and “Best Management Practices” — https://www3.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/sw_swppp_guide.pdf
  • Alternative possibilities – Los Alamos County owns land in only three “arterial” canyons (meaning they have outlets), Rendija, Pueblo, and Bayo. Pueblo would be accessed by the busiest trailheads in town, and does have some extreme terrain that would cause construction of a “green” level trail to be very expensive. Rendija runs into lands owned by San Ildefonso Pueblo and has restricted access zones due to the possible presence of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Not all land in Rendija is owned by the County
  • Bayo Canyon proposal (not at all finalized) – Bayo has moderate terrain with easy access and an outlet. Bayo has options on both the north and south sides of the canyon. As precedents, there are several County facilities that have been constructed through Bayo Canyon, including a significant portion of the town’s sewer interceptor, a high-pressure gas pipeline, a non-potable water line, the EA-4 power line, and a maintenance road for the infrastructure.
  • There is a multi-user trail (Bayo Fireline) that was constructed within the last 10 yrs through much of the canyon, as well as a relatively new access trail, built at the behest of the equestrian community, from the stables down to the Lujan Road multi-use trail (where they intersect). The US Army conducted firing exercises with heavy artillery in a large area of the canyon, employing bulldozers and other heavy equipment to clean up the artillery and target debris (much of which still remains).
  • Cost – ~ $80K for scoping, designing, and construction (currently). As a comparison, a single bronze statue of an historical figure in town runs ~$100K. The covered equestrian arena project cost over $900K.
  • Origination of the project concept: County-commissioned studies for tourism and enhancement of outdoor recreational opportunities, the Tourism Implementation Master Plan and the IMBA Los Alamos Ride Center Report (both available from the County’s Community Services Department).
  • This project has been publicly advertised and talked about for over three years. The public involvement process has been exceedingly proactive. The County has taken every measure to ensure all sides have had a voice in expressing both support and disapproval.
  • There are still several options and proposals being considered. There will be more public presentations and comment.
Editorializing a bit more here… it’s concerning that a project like this, with so many community and social benefits, may die a death from a thousand paper cuts simply because of fear of the unknown. That’s a shame, but it’s something that has come to be expected in this often diametrically-opposed community. The old adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is in effect here, big time. We saw it happen with the Rec bond proposal as well. It’s a pity to see projects that have benefits for a community be squashed in this manner. It seems selfish, but of course, we all have an agenda.
We do live in a municipal community that has to share resources. I vote on senior center improvement projects because I want to stimulate the economy and there are positive benefits for seniors, but I’m not a senior citizen. I see the benefits in upgrading the golf course irrigation system, but I’m not really a golfer. I support making repairs to the Mesa Library HVAC system…well, that’s selfish because my family loves the library. These are all things that improve our way of life here.
In closing, think about what is required of us every day, at work, at home, and what roles we play in the community, both from our own perspectives and from our kids’ perspectives. How do we keep ourselves happy, well, and connected? As adults, we worry about our physical and mental well-being. Whether you’re a parent or not, we all should think about the future of our youth because times have indeed changed. Kids have a lot more on their plate than they did before, even from when I was young (born early ‘70s). Everything is so structured for them and competition in almost every aspect of their lives plays such a larger role now than when most of us were young. Keep in mind that there are more kids in the world pursuing a limited number of opportunities.
My kids are among extremely focused and parentally-pressured kids in the area of academics, orchestra, dance, sports … and the list goes on. Kids now compete in robotics programs and coding competitions. They attend college while they’re in high school. They spend a lot of time “connected” and in a cyber world that did not exist until recently. They leapfrog through the basics of a kid’s life and academics in a way most of us did not. It’s crazy.
As a family, we do love hiking and riding together on our wonderful trails (at least the ones we can manage), and our lovely outdoor environment. Honestly though, we’re fortunate and a bit of an exception compared to some other families. Without the flow trail, we’ll be OK and life will be what we make it. I still remain hopeful that we’ll see something great that will attract a few more kids and families to be out there with us, and maybe provide a healthy distraction from the pressure of today’s world.

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