Article reprinted courtesy Enchanted Circles Trail Association

An update on trail work underway around Taos County and the Enchanted Circle.

Río Grande Trail - Bridge to Bridge segment

Enchanted Circle Trail Association is designing this new trail through a grant from the Department of Interior. The Río Grande Trail is conceptualized as a long-distance trail along the Río Grande, running from Las Cruces to the Colorado border. This will be designated for non-motorized access, including hikers, runners, equestrians and bikers. The B2B 8+ miles is the last missing segment in our area.

ECTA has completed the initial route finding, although there are several areas that need refinement, as in "we scrambled over those boulders, but there's gotta be an easier way through here." As long as the weather holds, we'll keep mapping.

Next step will be to contract for archeologists and wildlife biologists to scour the route to make sure we're not damaging any cultural resources or infringing on fragile habitat. We hope to turn over a complete package to the BLM by the end of next summer.

Taos Valley Overlook trails

We are still working with the BLM to complete the signage layout for the Taos Valley Overlook trails. We hope to wrap this up in the next month or so, and cross our fingers that the BLM might be ready for sign installation next spring. New signage will include big trailhead maps, numbered intersections with a 'you are here' indicator on a simplified map.

We also completed trail maintenance for the Rift Valley Trail improving sight lines at blind corners caused by tree growth, and some trail maintenance with the Field Institute of Taos' high school mountain bike team. Great to get some youngsters helping to take care of their trails.

Talpa Ridge trails

ECTA has made some revisions of the conceptual trail plan submitted to the Carson National Forest in the Fall of 2019. We got another round of input through a series of Zoom calls last summer that included diverse stakeholders: cyclists, hikers, runners, equestrians, and local landowners. We also received a grant to host the internationally recognized trail design team from Trail Solutions in September, and they reviewed our work to date. Thank you to those folks and to all the people who participated in corral meetings, distance coffees, walks on the trails, and map reviews. Your input is very valuable.

Our objectives are to enhance trails in this area to create a shared use system with pockets of preferred direction or use. ECTA is not currently recommending designated use trails, as we do not believe we have the density of users or the number of conflicts to necessitate forbidding one group or another from accessing specific trails. Our recommendation is threefold: install signage to remind folks to go slow around blind corners and to respect other trail users; maintain trails to control speeds through design and improved sight lines to eliminate surprises; and spread users out by building additional trails so that use patterns are not so concentrated on limited routes.

Trails Solutions introduced us to the concept of preferred use by design, or separating users by creating zones that attract specific user groups. This starts at the trailheads. Version 2 of the conceptual trail plan includes three trailheads: one at the current U.S. Forest Service El Nogal parking area; one mid-system just north of the Talpa Reservoir; and a third off of Forest Road 437 that will accommodate horse trailers and create southern access to the trails.

El Nogal is the end point of the South Boundary Trail, a classic ride for mountain bikers, and is also parking for hikers for both El Nogal and the Devisadero Trail across State Road 64. Horse trailers are challenged to use this parking lot as it is too narrow. From the parking lot, we suggest bikers would use the east bridge, and hikers the west bridge, minimizing interactions to reduce conflicts. There could also be a hiker-only trail going east from the parking lot along the Río Fernando.

The central trailhead would take advantage of the more forgiving terrain and be family oriented. A hiker-only trail would allow folks to get up to the first hub without worrying about other users descending. Shorter loops would be accessible, but linking to longer adventures would be right there too.

The trailheads off Forest Road 437 or the Río Chiquito Road would be open to all users, but with horse trailers and equestrians in mind. Currently, the only easy way to ride a horse in this part of the Carson would be if you own a house in the Weimer Foothills or you access the Carson National Forest by trespassing through private property, as trailer parking is not available. We want to protect private property rights and yet make sure equestrians from other parts of the community have access to the forest so close to the town of Taos. Trails linked to the Río Chiquito parking area would be designed for horse use.

Other examples of preferred use by design would be suggested changes to the Ojitos Trail. This is a challenging trail currently as it is fairly steep and includes dozens of swales or rollers to dissuade motorized access. Eliminating these rollers would make this an easier uphill route for bikers, hikers and equestrians, and could be directional to minimize the worry about descending traffic. As an alternative to coming down Ojitos, several routes could be created from upper Ojitos with a range of challenge, from easy to black diamond, again minimizing interactions by design.

We have heard from folks who do not want new trails built here, as it will attract additional visitors and ruin their experience. Our work is not to create a bike park - that is for Angel Fire and the Taos Ski Valley. Our commitment is to design a trail system to fully meet the needs of local communities and the diversity of users and minimize what conflicts there are now. We think we're getting there, and are putting together a visual to help communicate this work.

We continue to work with the Carson National Forest on this project, and anticipate they will be ready to move toward official public comment in the near to mid-future. Please let us know if you have any questions, comments or concerns, as we are happy to hear from you.

Horsethief Mesa trails

ECTA and the Taos Mountain Bike Association also took on the development of a conceptual trail plan for Horsethief Mesa, BLM managed property just north of Arroyo Hondo. This trail system is intended to be a destination-worthy recreational trail experience, complete with parking and trailhead, amenities and connectivity to other trails. It is already a popular trail, but lacks legal access, parking, a trailhead and signage. ECTA's conceptual trail plan was submitted to the BLM in the Fall of 2019, and then included in a public scoping meeting on Zoom this last summer.

There are about 30 miles of motorized routes in the area, and we suggest closing approximately 4 miles due to duplication of routes and ecological damage. ECTA proposes to add an additional 23 miles of non-motorized trails to the 12 miles of single track used by runners, equestrians and mountain bikers, built by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crews under contract with the BLM. We used the BLM's Guidelines for a Quality Trail Experience in the design, and these proposed trails will be accessible to all user groups. Below is an image of the proposed trail layout, and here is a link to the Horsethief Mesa Conceptual Trail Plan as submitted.

The BLM is currently proceeding with archeological survey work on current trails, and looking for the resources to complete the cultural survey work on additional acreage so that new trails can be considered for construction. We hope to maintain momentum on this system, and anticipate more formal public scoping to get community input by mid-year 2021.

Questa to Red River Trail (Q2RRT)

The design for the Q2RRT was completed and presented at a public meeting in the Fall of 2019. The Carson National Forest, town of Red River, Village of Questa, Questa Economic Development Fund, Amigos Bravos, Trout Unlimited, Enchanted Circle Off Highway Vehicle Association, Chevron Mine of Questa and a number of dedicated community members all played a role in the design. ECTA was asked to assume the role of project lead, and we worked with SAGE GIS to create a detailed map of the project that determines trail alignment along State Road 38 connecting the communities of Red River and Questa. ECTA encouraged the Village of Questa, the town of Red River and Taos County to list the project on their Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plans which helps to attract capital outlay and other state investments.

The Enchanted Circle OHV Association along with the New Mexico Off Highway Vehicle Association took the lead on defining a motorized route between Red River and Questa, and secured some funds to improve the route last year, focusing on the Elephant Rock Motorcycle Trail Network, completed this last summer.

Here is a link to the map of Q2RRT alignment complete with land ownership, bridge crossings, suggested enhanced camping facilities and pull-outs along State Road 38.

Trail maintenance

This was a challenging year for formal trail maintenance. We cancelled our Trail Master Training, and the Trail Stewardship event this spring due to COVID-19 sensitivity. Small groups of folks were able to help remove dead-and-down trees that were across some trails, and we will continue to do what we can to keep trail access open.

In response to community concerns about blind spots on the Rift Valley Trail we did coordinate a COVID safe trail maintenance event this fall, and look forward to ramping up again next year.

But here's some news: we would like to introduce the Enchanted Circle Adopt a Trail Program, where community groups, companies, civic clubs etc. formally accept stewardship responsibilities for a trail in exchange for recognition on signage and publications. ECTA will provide volunteer releases and support groups in becoming stewards of trails throughout the community. If you know of a group that would be interested in getting together a few times a year to help maintain your favorite trail, drop us a line, and we'll let you know the details.

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