A land battle is brewing near one of the trailheads of the controversial Talpa Ridge Trail System – more specifically, the Outward Link trailhead. When bikers and hikers headed to the informal parking lot off Paseo del Cañon (just east of Taos Charter School) to access the trail this week, they found themselves met with mounds of dirt, “no trespassing” signs and barbed wire.
What for years had been an access for hikers, bikers and dog walkers to reach the South Boundary or Ojitos Canyon trails had just become private property. Lore Bamberg and her mother Liz live in a house they say has been heavily impacted by the recent surge in trail users, so they decided to try to do something about it: They bought the land encompassing the trailhead and easement (or legal access to cross public or private property).
The Bambergs purchase of the land and interpretation of its use has prompted outcry from local mountain bikers, trail improvement groups and outdoor enthusiasts. A legal battle seems to now be brewing over whether or not the Bambergs have the right to close off an easement some see as “prescriptive” or “historic.”
The Outward Link Trail got its start in 2004 when the Resh family (the former owners of the land) signed a resolution and agreement with the town of Taos to allow the public to access the already existing trail system. Access was granted through the creation of a 10-foot easement running through part of the land. The trail was then developed by the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
The Taos News acquired a copy of the agreement this week, which states that the Resh family’s intention was for the easement to be a “perpetual right of way of easement.”
Lore Bamberg, who moved to the area several years ago to live with her mother, interprets the document differently. She said she and her family have a clear legal right to block the trailhead. She said she believes the easement is now void. “The land isn’t even in the town of Taos; it’s outside their jurisdiction,” she said. While this is true, the Outward Link trail’s official start is located at the Taos Youth and Family Center Parking lot, which is within town limits.
Bamberg also said “the contract as written is impossible to execute,” explaining that several of the terms of the contract were contradictory. “Nobody looked at a map,” she continued. “Nobody did a survey. There are terms in that contract – such as the town of Taos bringing the trail into their Parks and Rec Department to maintain and pick up trash – that haven’t been met.”
The contract and the trail don’t match,” she continued. “We are fully within our rights to challenge the sign and close down the trail. Please respect the process and find alternative routes for your outdoor activities.”
The sign marking the trail currently states it was created by the town of Taos, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. and the New Mexico Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department.
Carl Colonius, Director of the Enchanted Circle Trails Association, who is developing the proposed Talpa Ridge Trail System, which connects to the Outward Link Trail, disagreed with Bamberg’s points. He said it doesn’t matter whether or not the trail is located within town limits.
“The town can negotiate an easement outside of town limits,” he said, referencing the nearby easement negotiated by the town leading to the large Weimer-area water tower. “Yes, that trail is outside of the town limits, but that doesn’t change the legality of the agreement that was made between the Resh family and the town of Taos.”
He explained that the easement signed with the Resh family was meant to remain in effect regardless of who owns the land.
Colonius said that if for some reason there is a problem with the easement, either the town “not crossing their T’s or dotting their I’s,” there is still another legal precedent to allow for the trail to continue: a “prescriptive easement.”
A prescriptive easement that exists on a piece of land for greater than ten years essentially becomes part of the public right of way in New Mexico. The state says “the use necessary to acquire title by prescription must be open, uninterrupted, peaceable, notorious, adverse, under a claim of right, and continue for a period of ten years with the knowledge or imputed knowledge of the owner.”
In this particular case, Colonius argued that the Outward Link Trail would qualify.
Too close for comfort
“The reason we ended up buying the property is that the people who previously owned it got overwhelmed by the trail,” Bamberg said. “And they didn’t want to live there anymore and they were set to build a house. That’s how impactful this is … We’re already overwhelmed and we’re not being heard.”
She said she will often look out of her house to see people going to the bathroom in the trees or taking selfies with their house in the background. She said it wasn’t as big of a problem before the pandemic, but with the new focus on the trail and its listing on several hiking and biking websites, the traffic has become too much for them. “We can see the trail from our window...so we know how much traffic is on there. It feels like people are walking right through our backyard,” she said.
“Private property needs to be respected for people’s homes and how vulnerable they are in their homes,” she added.
Phil Martinez, another homeowner in the area, says he’s also been impacted by the trail. He said he isn’t upset at the fact the trail runs through his property, but says some of the people who use it don’t respect the fact that people live nearby. “I wouldn’t mind the trail being there. But people don’t respect other people’s property and cut the fence and drive into the property.”
He said his fence will often be cut and he will see ATV or dirtbike tracks in the area. Motorized vehicles are prohibited in the agreement the Resh family signed with the town. Signs telling ATV users to stay away are clearly marked. Martinez said the problem persists.
“If people were to respect the property, I don’t think it’s a problem. But they don’t, they just throw trash and cut fences, and they drive through the property. And that’s not right,” he said.
Bamberg said she feels the solution is to redirect those seeking to access the National Forest to the El Nogal trailhead, just several miles away from US 64. Colonius countered that “the El Nogal trailhead doesn’t have the capacity for the entire Camino Real Ranger District,” and said it was important to spread out the use.
For many, the overnight berms, barbed wire and signage they encountered this month were a shock.
For those who use the trail regularly, like 81-year-old Sharlene Ellsworth, who also lives close by, the blockade is an annoyance. “I go out of my front door every single day and hike up to the black water tower … That’s the only exercise I get everyday,” she said, adding that the slight incline of the trail “is so perfect for me, and there’s no other place I can do it.”
Ellsworth said she is still “circumnavigating the piles anyway,” because “this is my special place to walk.” All in all, Ellsworth said she wants more conversation and less division, and hopes that positive communication can help all parties reach an amicable conclusion.
Local biker John Hutchinson said that the El Nogal trailhead “is too steep for old people and kids. If you were to funnel everybody in that little narrow trail, it’s just going to be a melee of mountain bikes and dog walkers and old people with walking sticks.”
When local doctor Jacob Gonzales found out about the blockade, it was almost too late. As he made his way down to town after biking the South Boundary Trail, it was getting dark. When he approached the end of the Outward Link trail he saw something shiny at the last second – it was bailing wire fencing off the trail. “I hit the brakes and I was like ‘Oh my god’. Then I turned around and saw the sign that said ‘private property you must go into the canyon to access the National Forest.’ ”
Gonzales was upset, to say the least.
As he completed the trail the next day, this time in daylight hours, he came upon an even more dangerous blockage, barbed wire. He said he doesn’t understand why people would want to block access to the trail.
“They’re trying to take control of the land to change people’s way of life,” he said. “You should be a good neighbor, a good citizen, a good person in this community and try to find some solutions so that everybody can get along.”
Erick Mack, a board member of the Taos Mountain Bike Association, said he doesn’t think the Bambergs have a legal argument for blocking access to the trail in light of the existing easement agreement. “I’m just, I’m confused because it seems really open and shut to me,” he said. “I mean, [the trail] has been in place for and used for years.”
Mack was upset to see the way in which the blockade was created with the addition of potentially public hazards. “They’re endangering the public.” He said he feels there are plenty of traditional, legal routes for upset neighbors to take. “We have a legal system, and we have ways to file these grievances and figure this out in public without endangering our neighbors.”
Jeff Englehart, a mechanic at Gearing Up Bicycle Shop, echoed Mack’s statements. “I think that this outward link trail issue is really just an extension of privileged entitlement,” he said. He also doesn’t understand the belief that “if you own vast amounts of wealth, that it somehow gives you the right to bully or coerce the have-nots into accepting their status quo.”
As the controversy heats up between the neighbors and the trail users, they have both looked to the town of Taos for guidance, and both the Bambergs and Carl Colonius foresee legal action in their future.
As of press time, the town of Taos had not responded to requests for comment.