By ROBIN GURULE
I support having an accessible bike trail down Pueblo Canyon. However, the placement is critical, and Acid Canyon is a particularly poor choice for a beginner bike trail.
The critical wildlife areas of Pueblo and Acid Canyons are steep-walled, which provide shade and forces some water to the surface, allowing willows and other riparian shrubs to flourish, which in turn attract wildlife. Acid and Pueblo Canyons have some of the only remaining examples of this type of habitat in Los Alamos County; since upper Los Alamos Canyon, Guaje Canyon, Upper Pajarito Canyon, Valle Canyon, Upper Water Canyon, and Upper Frijoles Canyon between Alcove House and Apache Spring have all burned.
There are at least two endangered species, which have been located there multiple times recently: the Jemez Mountain Salamander and the Mexican Spotted Owl. In addition, the “confluence” of Pueblo and Acid Canyons has the largest nesting species diversity in the County. The “confluence” also attracts a great number and diversity of migrating birds who rely on it for food and shelter at a critical time during their journeys.
The Ranch School Trail is itself historic, and sports beautifully-laid stone stairs and retaining walls. Any widening, straightening or leveling would destroy this piece of history, which, as has been pointed out previously, violates the County’s Comprehensive Plan. Although the contractor has said that no destruction to habitat would take place, anyone who has hiked that trail knows that much destructive earth-moving would have to take place to make the trail accessible to beginning mountain bikers.
Even after mitigating the worst parts, the trail is still quite dangerous for bikers and certainly for encounters between bikers and hikers, due to the narrowness, steep canyon sides and drop offs of up to 50 feet.
Also, Acid Canyon used to be a Superfund site, and although it was cleaned up, excavation might bring new chemicals to the surface.
Because of the steep north-facing walls, the trail is snow-packed and icy from first snowfall through April 1. So at best, the trail would not be accessible for almost half of the year.
Fortunately, there are multiple alternatives to a trail down Acid Canyon to the confluence, which have been provided to the contractor and to the county:
- (Michael Smith Alternative #1) Olive Street leads down to the “high bridge”, then east to Walnut Canyon, and then the Walnut Canyon Trail leads to the bottom of Pueblo Canyon, fortunately downstream from the critical willow-lined areas of Pueblo Canyon which attract so much wildlife. This is the trail that is currently used most often by mountain bikers to go to the sewage treatment plant. This trail is also accessible from the golf course, so it is easily accessed by bikers from both Barranca and North Mesas, and is a major commuting route for bikers going to school or work. This trail would be more conveniently located by the high school than the proposed Aquatic Center trailhead. Although there are a few switchbacks on the trail going down Walnut Canyon, the trail could just cross the lower, gentle slope of the hill it descends, eliminating the switchbacks, as Michael outlines in his plan.
- (Michael Smith Alternative #2) Alternatively, the trail below Kinnikinnick Park continues along the bench until it reaches an area where a new trail could be constructed, which would go to the bottom of Pueblo Canyon. From there, it continues to the sewage treatment plant.
Both of these alternatives are in wider, more gently-sloped areas, which would make the trail building easier, cheaper and less destructive.