COVID’s impact continues to be felt, but some things are getting back on track, like the Town of Taos plans to refurbish and improve the three public parks within its limits, all of which have fallen into disrepair over the last year-and-a-half: Kit Carson Park, Eco-Park and Fred Baca Park.
According to Town Manager Rick Bellis, there are a number of plans in the works to address maintenance and upgrading of the parks, including a new walkway system and lighted tennis courts at Kit Carson, a new grassy open space on the east side of the Río Fernando River, and upgrading of the facilities at Baca Park.
In August 2019, the Town of Taos approved two $50,000 contracts to A&S Construction to refurbish the walkways and stage at Kit Carson Park. Unfortunately, COVID caused a number of issues that have slowed the master plan down.
“The largest renovation project on the calendar [is] the development of a paved walking trail system in Kit Carson Park, a portion of which … has already been completed and is fully funded but was postponed till next spring due to a lack of contractors due to COVID,” Bellis told the Taos News in an email.
Taos resident Ronald Romero said he comes to Kit Carson Park nearly every weekend during the summer months with his daughter Alyssa (8) and son Tomas (11).
“We like to play basketball sometimes, or just walk [the paths,]” he said. “We play ball, but the cracks in the court make it hard sometimes, like when the weeds start growing.”
Romero said he would like to see some improvements to the courts at the parks, but also says he is pleased with the job the Town of Taos does overall.
“The [sports courts] could maybe use a fresh coat of paint or something, but it’s still a nice park. The basketball courts are actually pretty good. It definitely feels safer than it used to.”
Bellis said refurbishing the Kit Carson basketball courts is a priority, but the master plan calls for that particular phase to begin after the trail system has been renovated.
The tennis courts at Fred Baca Park are also in line for an update, said Bellis. Currently, weeds are growing from large cracks that form a latticework on the court's surface, and a torn net hangs from a basketball hoop at one of its ends.
The “... Town commissioned a Parks and Recreation Master Plan and a Youth & Family Center Plan that calls for the development of a lighted tennis and pickle ball complex to be built with stands adjacent to the Youth & Family Center on the west side [at Baca Park].”
Bellis added that the design has been approved and fully funded, but it was put on hold during COVID. Construction is planned to resume shortly, and Bellis said it will be completed next year.
As for the Eco-Park, Bellis said it is maintained annually and the construction-related debt was paid off this year, “five years ahead of schedule," he added.
There is a possibility, he said, the area may be offered to the school district in the near future, as Taos High School soccer teams are the only ones using it. Plenty of public use happens there, too, however, as can be seen driving by the field during its open hours.
Bellis said the plans to address the parks have been in the works for a few years.
In 2018, Taos allotted $172,000 of its $11 million operating budget to the maintenance of the Town’s three parks, which account for roughly 50 acres of land within the town limits. That budget goes toward cleaning, repairing equipment like lawnmowers, and keeping the trees healthy, with little left over for renovation projects. Parks superintendent Linda Montoya said the utilities at the parks, each of which has its own electricity and plumbing, costs the Town roughly $70,000 a month.
Bellis explained that, while major work is needed, the town has done what it can to maintain the parks over the last several years. For example, he said Montoya and her 20-person team have worked hard to make the parks safer and more accessible for families.
The rest, Bellis said, has been waiting on the pandemic to free up contractors who can do the work.
“The lack of available bidders and contractors due to COVID causing potential contractor worker shortages, construction-related materials shortages [were the biggest effects of the pandemic],” said Bellis. “And a building boom in our area caused a bidding war and shortage of available competitive contractors to do the work.”
Now that plans are back on track, Bellis said the town is looking to install another Town park on Salazar Road and Chamisa Road for “active sports, such as a disk golf course, a bike pump track, and a relocation of a rail system and modular skatepark to replace the old skate bowl at the Youth & Family Center.”
The Town of Taos is also responsible for maintaining the Little League fields at Kit Carson and the Youth & Family Center facilities.
Bellis said the Little League fields are reseeded, the infield and pitcher’s mound rebuilt, and the dugouts renovated annually, a practice that COVID did not stop.
As for the Youth & Family Center, it completed a multi-year, multi-million dollar renovation in 2018. But there are still major plans on the horizon for the center.
Bellis said the “largest renovation projects on the calendar [include] ... the construction of the new tennis complex at the Youth & Family Center, [and the renovation of the skate bowl at the Y&FC.”
Romero said he doesn’t use the Youth & Family Center as often as the parks, but claims he would love to in the future if facilities like the skate park are maintained.
“My boy is a wild man,” he said as Tomas ran full-steam between the large cottonwoods at Kit Carson Park. “Yeah, I think we could definitely use that skate park.”
For more information about the parks, including hours of operation and future plans, visit taos.org.