Environment

Volunteers care for Rio Grande Gorge trails on National Trails Day

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More than three dozen hikers, runners, mountain bikers and horseback riders turned out Saturday (June 3) to give some trails along the Rio Grande Gorge a little maintenance love in the hot sun.

The event was hosted by the Bureau of Land Managementand the new Enchanted Circle Trails Association, which launched in September to create a network of trails around Taos County.

After a primer on some basic trail-building guidelines and a warning to watch out for rattlesnakes, the volunteers spread out along trails leading from the parking lot at the Slide Trailhead at the end of County Road 110 to the Rift Valley Trailhead parking lot off of State Highway 68 to work. Hefting special tools like the ax-hoe combo Pulaski, they built dirt berms, dug water drainages, reshaped single-track curves and scraped back weeds.

Talpa equestrians Pam and Johnny MacArthur trailered their horses to the Rift Valley Trailhead, loaded them up and packed equipment in along the trail to help out volunteers.

The Enchanted Circle Trails Association is working under contract with several local governments, land conservancy and environmental advocacy groups, the BLM and the Forest Service on a grand recreational trail master plan that will be released in July. The groups have met for a couple of years and developed the plan after comments from more than 1,000 people.

Carl Colonius, who worked for years with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp, now helps manage the roll out of the master trails plan as head of the trails association. "The mission of the trail association is to develop, maintain and promote the trails in the Enchanted Circle," he said, while waiting to begin trail work.

Colonius said the master trail idea grew out of a desire from various players in public lands, outdoor recreation and economic development to work across jurisdictions and break down barriers between their groups. "How does the town know where to put trails so they connect with the Forest Service? How does the BLM and Forest Service collaborate on a trail head that accesses trails on both agencies properties?," Colonius said.

John Bailey, manager of the BLM Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, said the agency has seen an increase in visitors coming specifically to use the trails.

Increased traffic on the trails from locals and tourists means the trails need upkeep. Saturday's event was a first for the trails association.

The stealth goal of the trail plan is what Colonius calls "community vitality." "We want a more active, healthy community. If you build trails and co-locate those near the community you will get people in the community using them," he said.

Joan Vandenbos and her husband, metal sculptor Lee Blackwell, joined the volunteers on Saturday to give the trails a facelift. The couple live in Tucson but recently bought property in Taos. They are avid trail users and showed up to get involved. "We're avid hikers," she said. "And we're members of all sorts of trails association. Lee has done a lot of trail building. I'm more on the maintenance side."

For more on this story, see the print edition of The Taos News on June 8.

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