Community services

PEEC Shares Concerns About Proposed New Community Service Trails

By Katherine Bruell
Executive Director
PEEC Board of Directors
PEEC Staff

As the PEEC board and staff, we are thrilled that Community Services is coming up with new trails that will allow more people to enjoy and connect with nature. Mountain biking is an important activity and popular way for people to hang out these days, which is why we’re on our second year of offering a mountain bike camp for young people in the summer.

We are also committed to protecting nature, in particular the natural habitat of endangered species and the threatened species. And we are always concerned about the safety of people outside and work difficult to mitigate risk in our programs and operations.

The two proposed locations for the Skill Park and 7 Mile Trail are directly adjacent to the nature center. These are areas where we send all out-of-town visitors who ask where they can access a nature trail or near the nature center. As such, they are among the most frequently trails used by visitors to Los Alamos. Transform this area into a central place for mountain biking activities would impact the visitor experience on our trails.

Other concerns with the proposed location of the 7-Mile Trail include:

  • The area around the Ranch School Trail provides food and shelter for endangered people Mexican spotted owls, and they would surely be bothered by even a slight build there and by more intensive and faster use of the trails.
  • This area is also home to 154 species of birds and is the second most diverse bird habitat in the county.
  • Endangered Jemez Mountain Salamanders have been documented in this area (in 2010 by Chuck Hathcock, LANL). Again, the salamander’s habitat would be disturbed even by light heavier, faster trail construction and use.
  • This trail is an ice sheet in late fall, winter and early spring and is not safe for walk during these times, except with spiked shoes. We think it wouldn’t be safe to encourage cycling there during these times.
  • This is a historic trail and even light construction may not be permitted.
  • The first switchback on this trail is a very tight bend and is challenging even for the experienced mountain bikers to do, with the consequences of missing it being a 50 foot drop into the canyon. The other day I saw a mountain biker who was about to descend this track because I was curious how he would negotiate this corner. The answer is that he didn’t – just ignored the whole first section of the trail and descended a steep rock in such that it was positioned to meet the second section of the front trail. We certainly don’t want to encourage that kind of off-road riding.
  • Finally, PEEC frequently brings school groups to this trail, as it is the closest walking trail. space for us to take excursions from the nature center. A class of 25 children on a hike the trail is definitely not compatible with mountain bikers enjoying a fast descent. We have no other trail options to take the kids as they can’t walk any further from the the location of the nature center.

As for the location of the skills park, one wonders why an undisturbed area, with difficulties emergency access, which we use for excursions, summer camps and after-school clubs has been chosen for this construction project. We understand the plans are that no trees will be cut this area, but it is evident from the photos presented at various meetings that the environment definitely be disturbed.

Some safety and environmental considerations for this location include:

  • It is in an area that would be difficult for emergency medical personnel to access quickly by in the event of an accident on the course.
  • This is currently undisturbed habitat, and construction of a skill park there will remove significant understory such as native gambel oaks and native grasses.
  • It’s a long distance from the parking area, so parents will have a way to walk while carrying their children’s balance bikes.
  • It is in a location currently used by children on PEEC excursions and after school PEEC camps and clubs, creating potential conflicts of use when large groups are in the area.

We would like to see more trails that encourage more people to get out in our beautiful natural spaces in several ways. I hope we can find a place that will get people excited about these trails, rather than expressing concerns about endangered species, habitat loss and safety.

Whereas we cannot support the locations currently offered, we would be happy to work with the county and their contractors to find the perfect location for these important amenities in our community.