With a clock set for seven minutes per presentation, a little over half of the 15 members of the Talpa Trails Foothills Working Group outlined five proposals for trail development within the Talpa Foothills, then made way for public comments.
For those who were not among the 150-200 people who made it to the working group's community feedback meeting at Bataan Hall on Monday (May 15), not to worry: There will be a second public comment meeting next Thursday (May 25) at 5:30 p.m. inside the Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Center, 202 Chamisa Road.
There are currently almost no officially designated U.S. Forest Service-maintained trails in the Talpa foothills, which experts and laymen trail-users alike generally agree leads to erosion from user-created trails, as well as conflict among public lands users who may be on bicycle, horseback or foot. The Forest Service has indicated it intends to build official trails in the area, whether they are improvements on existing trails, new trails or both.
Among the public commenters on Monday, there were advocates for "no new trails." However, most appeared to recognize a need for professionally-designed trails as a means to reduce conflict between forest users, increasing access to public lands, and reducing erosion and protecting the watershed.
In his comment, Roy Madrid, Taos High School cross country running coach, echoed the feedback of many others, saying that he liked the idea of more access and more dispersed trail use. At the same time, Madrid said, consciously avoiding new trail development within the southwest corner of the Talpa Foothills, which the working group has come to refer to as a "cultural area," is important.
"I know the cultural and spiritual area in Talpa is really important to the community," Madrid said, advocating for a map proposed by Carlos Arguello, commissioner for the Acequia del Monte del Rio Chiquito, and Darlene Vigil, District 3 Taos County commissioner. "And I think that should really be an emphasis of something we maintain and protect moving forward with bike trails.
"But as a distance runner in high school coach of our distance team, I've seen our decades-long training grounds, all of the trails, just becoming either a bit crowded — or the access is just completely chopped off," Madrid added. "We can't really access the trails anymore because it's become so restrictive from people coming in and, with private land, just blocking access."
One blocked-off access point involves a legal dispute over an easement across private land next to Paseo del Cañon East that once gave trail users an alternative to the ever-congested El Nogal Trailhead at the mouth of Taos Canyon. On May 5, an attorney for the landowner in the dispute, Elisabeth Bamberg, notified the 8th Judicial District Court that he would need until May 22 to respond to a lawsuit filed by the Town of Taos over Bamberg's blockade of the easement.
None of the group's conceptual proposals, all of which may be viewed at the Talpa Foothills Working Group webpage, are final. Peter Rich, forest planner for the Carson National Forest, re-mapped all five of the proposals that the group brought to the public so the proposed trails may all be viewed atop the same detailed map of the Talpa foothills portion of the forest.
The working group will reconvene after next Thursday's feedback meeting in order to finalize its recommendations to the Carson National Forest, which is responsible for moving forward with a trails plan for the area. Because the suggested trail development is on federal land, whatever plan the Forest Service ultimately proposes must undergo further review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
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