The proposed plan for the Talpa Ridge Trail System inched forward last week after three meetings were held to gather public input, and comments were gathered through the weekend.
The trail system has been in the works since 2017 and is the culmination of efforts by the U.S. Forest Service, the Enchanted Circle Trails Association and other local nonprofit and volunteer groups. As the plan approaches completion, it faces a few final hurdles, namely opposition from some local homeowners.
The proposed system of trails would expand the current hiking, biking and equestrian opportunities from the El Nogal Trailhead that leads to South Boundary Trail, the Ojitos Canyon trail, the current Talpa Traverse (which is not technically an official trail) and the Rio Chiquito trailhead off Forest Road 437. The proposed network would create four different access points, with the goal of spreading out trail users.
Members of the Forest Service and the Enchanted Circle Trails Association (ECTA) detailed “version three plus” of their plan, which ECTA founder and board member Carl Colonius described as a “multi-use trail system” that helps alleviate heavy traffic on specific trails by utilizing “preferred use by design” – optimizing some routes for certain user groups so they are more likely to gravitate toward those areas.
For example, about 20 percent of the proposed system will be designed with mountain bikers in mind, but the trails will not be exclusively for that activity. Other trails are designed to help draw equestrian and human traffic into different areas that might not be as attractive to mountain bikers, Colonius said.
The Forest Service has been developing the plan in conjunction with ECTA (a 501(c)3 nonprofit) who has provided the resources and manpower to create the plans because Forest Service staff remains limited. Carson National Forest Service Supervisor James Duran described the plan as “a community based proposal that serves everyone.”
The groups have been gauging community interest for four years and identified the Talpa Traverse trail as the number one trail users would like to see expanded. They have also been aided by the International Mountain Bicycling Associations Trail Solution’s team, which has developed trails for hiking and biking all over the world.
Camino Real District Ranger Michael Lujan said he thinks “we have the right folks doing this work.”
But not everyone wants to see that work reach its end goal.
After the presentations were given, worksheets were passed out for attendees to write down their thoughts on the plan to share with the Forest Service. Listening to several comments, it was clear there were people who both favored and opposed the trail system (the arguments between the mountain biking community and the local neighbors got so contentious last year that tacks were found laid out in an apparent attempt to cause flat tires, reported Cindy Brown in the Taos News in June 2020).
Local resident of the Weimer Foothills area John Johnston made it clear he opposed the new trail development for a number of reasons, including a potentially dangerous increase in bike traffic, possible environmental impacts and the cost of additional tourism to the community and more. He called the development “a complete misuse of the National Forest.”
When it comes to mixed-use trail systems, Johnston said he feels “the reality is that mountain bikers immediately take over the mountain because hikers don’t like to be around it, equestrians don’t like to be around it.”
Johnston said he saw the new trail system essentially as a “bike park,” similar to one in Angel Fire, a statement Colonius strongly disagreed with. “We’ve designed it specifically not to be a bike park,” said Colonius.
Johnston also worried that the trails would largely be used by visitors and not locals. “It’s from people coming here on vacation, they have no connection to our community, they don’t really care if they damage the area or present a hazard, they just want to have a good time and go home.”
Another neighbor, Lewis Rosenthal, agreed with Johnson: “We will have to live with the consequences of this ambitious expansion of the trails … I’m not opposed to law abiding, recreation … But I think we need to be convinced that we can handle the increased potential traffic.”
Carlos Argüello, a lifetime resident of Taos and seventh generation Taoseño, said he opposes the expanded trail system because he feels it will bring about greater changes. “It looks like an economic move to bring more and more tourism to the area. And I don’t like that direction that things are going,” he said. He also added that as a neighbor, he worries the trails will also displace local wildlife.
Another Weimer Road neighbor, who chose to remain anonymous, also spoke to the impact on animals. “One of the reasons we live there is because we want to see and rub shoulders with elk, deer, bear, bobcats [and] coyotes,” he said. He also worried about possible use of the trails by motorized vehicles, which he said will be hard to police.
He suggested that the entire trail system be moved “around the corner … I’d just like to see the whole thing shifted about 90 degrees to the southeast, down to the Río Chiquito area.”
Pam MacArthur, a horse ranch owner in Talpa, said while she has lived around the trails for nearly five decades, she does not support further growth. She explained that during the pandemic “hordes” of mountain bikers began using the Talpa Traverse trail. She said encounters with them weren’t always pleasant. While she said the majority of bikers know to share the trail and watch for walkers and horseback riders, “It’s only one that’ll get your back broken,” she said.
MacArthur acknowledged she was lucky to live next to a trail system in a National Forest that allows for equestrian use, but said she doesn’t feel that the goal of spreading out user groups will help separate bikers and horseback riders. “I’m not sure the user groups will separate. I think that people on bicycles are going to go straight to the lowest trail,” she said.
“I realize it’s the National Forest that gets to decide whatever they want to do. But it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. And it’s certainly not the right place,” she added.
While some of the immediately affected neighbors were vocal in their opposition, just as many people spoke in favor of the Talpa Ridge Trail System.
Jenny Lancaster, another local equine enthusiast who has frequented the Talpa Traverse said she looks forward to the development. “The trails are beautifully kept and bring a wonderland of curves and ups and downs through cactus flowers and the glorious smell of sage,” she said. “My riders are happy to move off the trail to accommodate bikes and hikers, which is really the right thing to do. The bike riders are almost always very considerate to slow down and say hi as they pass to not spook our horses. It’s just a lovely place to be all the way around.”
“I’m excited that we’re putting some trails in. It seems there’s not as many mountain biking trails as there could be, so it’s exciting to see people wanting to make some pr
ogress in that direction,” said meeting attendee Paul Mohr.
“I think it’s awesome,” agreed Rich Montoya, who has lived in Taos for 24 years and currently resides in Talpa. “Anything that works to get more people out, exercising, enjoying the outdoors with more options is what the community needs.”
Montoya said “if you choose to live next to the forest, that’s great. It’s a wonderful place to live. But we have to realize that it belongs to everybody, and is for everybody to use.”
Jonah Salloway, another 23-year Taos resident residing in Cañon, said he feels strongly that the trails are for everyone and is glad to see a proposal to develop them further. “Just because [some neighbors] were able to afford to buy a…