Current Update (Fall 2023)
After an involved, mediated, multi-month public feedback process, which was more extensive than is typically held for any Forest Service project, the Carson National Forest is digesting the community input. They are working to find solutions to the issues while balancing the many, sometimes competing, ideas identified through the working group process to create a management plan for the Talpa Foothills.
About the Area
The Carson National Forest faces growing management concerns in the Talpa Foothills area east of the Town of Taos, a popular destination for our community despite having few legal system trails. The Forest Service has received increased calls for action to address the following issues:
- Trespassing across private property to access the forest,
- User conflict on the non-system Talpa Traverse Trail,
- Development of illegal trails causing erosion and threatening waterways,
- Increased demand for trails close to the Town of Taos,
To develop a strategy for addressing these issues, the US Forest Service asked ECTA to help develop a concept for a multi-use, sustainable trail plan that would provide appropriate, legal access to the area, increase trail opportunities for all users to distribute use, and replace the erosive user-built trails with well-designed, modern, sustainable trails.
The goal was to create a shared-use system that would best meet the growing demand for public land access by all non-motorized users, including hikers, equestrians, trail runners, dog walkers, and mountain bikers. As the process is long and involved, the plan must consider the usage 10, 20, and 50 years from now, allowing for more trail development as usage increases.
By providing equitable access to public lands nearest the region’s major population center, this plan ensures that neighboring communities have legal, convenient, and diverse opportunities to enjoy the many benefits that public lands provide our community.
The Public Feedback Process
The Forest Service asked ECTA to develop a well-thought-out plan to address the above concerns they could then take to the public to begin a broader conversation. This conceptual plan was initially presented in a series of public meetings in 2021 and was used as background information as part of the 2022-2023 Talpa Foothills Working Group process.
This working group comprised 15 community representatives from a broad spectrum of interests who discussed diverse interests, hopes, concerns, and fears about managing recreation in the area. During the process, the public could submit individual feedback through the working group representatives, an online survey, mail, and email. Additionally, three public feedback meetings were held for folks wishing to provide their ideas in person.
The Forest Service will review the working group suggestions and public comments to determine how to best balance the many different needs for public access, recreational opportunity, environmental sustainability, and cultural preservation.
Once the Forest Service determines the best course of action, they will take the plan through a full National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process, which will include more opportunities for public feedback, as well as evaluate the potential impacts different management strategies may have on the ecology, wildlife, and community.
A Community Resource
During the 3-year community-driven development of the Enchanted Circle Trails Plan, the Talpa Ridge area was identified as the top priority for natural surface trail development in the entire region. This area represents the best opportunity for close-to-home access to public lands to benefit the residents of Taos, Talpa, and neighboring communities.
Although public lands surround these communities, access to the forest is limited, and the few trails that exist are not able to keep up with the recreational needs of our residents. Driving to other trails is a barrier that makes the benefits of outdoor recreation all but inaccessible to many of our neighbors.
Key Features of the Conceptual Plan
The trail plan ECTA developed was the product of a multi-year process incorporating extensive public feedback, consultation with a world-renowned trail design firm, and hundreds of hours of ground-truthing by community volunteers.
A Well-Designed Network to Move People
The proposed trail system employed a “hub and cluster” design that provides multiple routes of different trail styles and challenges that diverge and converge at various hubs throughout the system. This allows different users to tailor their trail experience and length to their mood on any given day.
For instance, ECTA recommends that Ojitos be a climbing trail shared by hikers, bikers, and horses. To persuade bikers NOT to descend on Ojitos, we propose Tea Time Trail, which would have small features (berms, roll-overs, etc.) that would be attractive to bikers, giving horses and hikers relief from sharing Ojitos with faster-descending bikes.
Ample Legal Access Points
To alleviate pressure on the single USFS trailhead in the area (El Nogal) and the Town of Taos Youth and Family Center, which is the trailhead of the Outward Link Trail that connects to the Ojitos Trail, the plan calls for the addition of 2 new parking areas and trailheads. One was suggested to be a mid-trail system, located off Maestas road, and the others located on Forest Road 437 along the Rio Chiquito, catering to equestrians. A legal mid-system trailhead somewhere off Maestas would alleviate private property trespassing, giving the community access to the forest while respecting personal property.
Sensitive to Community Concerns
During ECTA’s multi-year process, the Talpa Ridge Conceptual Trail Plan was been presented to numerous community groups (Taos Saddle Club, Lions Club, Rotary Club, and neighborhood associations, etc.) through multiple open community meetings both in person and online to attain input. ECTA adjusted this conceptual trail plan significantly during its development to incorporate constructive input, avoid sensitive areas, and limit development near private homes.
Designed for Future Growth
Recognizing that the Taos and the surrounding area will continue to grow in population, the trail system was designed to accommodate usage 10, 20, and 50 years in the future. Not all of the trails would be built at once, but given the long and involved process of environmental assessment, community feedback, and planning, it makes sense to consider the trails that will be needed in the future during this process. Otherwise, the Forest Service will need to start the process again in 10 years, wasting time and taxpayer money.
Frequently Asked Questions
Right now, there is limited legal access to the National Forest. ECTA’s plan proposed two new trailheads that create ample convenient legal access to your public lands that will help reduce the instances of illegal trespass as community members try to find ways to access their public lands. Further, implementation should include clear signage of what are legal trails and no trespassing signs on non-system access points to reduce confusion.
Recreational usage by our community continues to increase and will continue to do so regardless of whether we build more trails. This plan addresses congestion by providing more trails to distribute users, minimizing visitation to any one trail, thereby reducing encounters. Further, the trail plan designs specific trails to appeal to certain user groups to naturally spread out users to areas that are more fun for them. This approach is called “preferred use by design.”
Finally, when people refer to conflict on our trails, they often cite the non-system Talpa Traverse trail, which is poorly designed and filled with blind corners that lead to people being startled. This trail can not be improved until it becomes an official system trail. Sustainably built trails help reduce user conflict through their design and implementation to ensure everyone can share the trial safely.
While the lines on the map may look like a lot, the proposed trail system is far less than many similar close-to-home trails in New Mexico and the West. ECTA’s conceptual plan prposes 5.9 miles of trail per square mile. By comparison, the La Tierra city trails in Santa Fe have 11.19 miles of trail per square mile. The Grindstone area in Ruidoso, NM, has 8.73 miles of trail per square mile. Residents in Bernalillo, NM, enjoy 6.96 miles of trail per square mile at the Placitas trails. The City Creek trails on the edge of Pocatello, ID, have 7.15 miles of trail per square mile.
Our community has consistently asked the managers of our public lands for more convenient trail opportunities near where we work and live. The Talpa Ridge area is the closest public land to the region’s major population center, making it ideal for close-to-home recreation opportunities. Further, an extensive multi-year community-wide engagement effort that included thousands of surveys, dozens of meetings, and focus groups identified the Talpa Ridge area as the highest priority for new trail development in the region.
Unfortunately, the desire for trails in this area is seen by the proliferation of illegal, user-created trails that, in many cases, were built straight up the side of hills, creating erosion problems and resource degradation.
As part of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process that any new trail development must undergo, the effects of wildlife, sensitive plant species, soil, and water, as well as community resources, will be considered thoroughly by experts in these fields. At the same time, there are different management objectives to consider on our public lands, and areas close to population centers like this are managed for a different set of needs than more remote areas or Wilderness. The Forest Service must continually balance the needs of recreation users, hunters, and subsistence users and those potential impacts with preserving our public lands.
The current illegal trails and ATV tracks in the Talpa Ridge area are poorly located and un-maintained. These cause significant erosion and sedimentation problems. By contrast, well-constructed sustainable trails, as proposed in this plan, require minimal maintenance and have little to no impact on soil and water runoff. As part of implementing this plan, the existing erosive user-created trails will be rehabilitated to further protect the waterways upon which downstream communities rely.
The Talpa Ridge area currently suffers from a lack of management, which has led to the creation of unsustainable user-created trails and ATV tracks that cause erosion and endanger our waterways. Further, the increasing usage by our community of this area — the closest public land to the region’s largest population center — has resulted in increased congestion and the potential for user conflicts. Public lands should be managed for the benefit of the public, which includes all segments of the community, and a well-designed, sustainable trail network will mitigate many of the issues currently being experienced in the area.
Further, the Talpa Ridge area was identified as the highest priority for natural surface trail development by our community during the creation of the Enchanted Circle Trials Plan in 2017. This plan incorporated the input of a wide range of voices through dozens of community meetings, as well as thousands of individual surveys and engagement with neighbors.
During the community-led development of the Enchanted Circle Trails Plan, between 2014 and 2017, dozens of public meetings, presentations, and surveys incorporated the input of hundreds of residents, municipal leaders, and civic groups. Through that process, establishing legal access to the currently un-sanctioned trails in the Talpa Ridge area was identified as a Tier 1 priority.
At the request of the Forest Service, ECTA developed a conceptual plan through another multi-year process, which included feedback from community members, neighborhood associations, and user-group representatives, as well as consultation with a professional design firm that has developed multi-use community trail networks worldwide.
That plan was then presented to the broader community through public meetings for more feedback and revision.
The Forest Service then used the Conceptual Trail Plan developed by ECTA as background information for an extensive, multi-month working group process incorporating multiple avenues for public input, including several community meetings, surveys and direct engagement.
Finally, as the plan progresses through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process, there will be more opportunities for public engagement.
Connections to nature are important for an individual’s physical health, mental health, and spirituality. This has been shown repeatedly through multiple studies and is something anyone who has spent time in the forest has felt in their own way. It is well-documented that people accessing trails within 10 minutes of their homes tend to have better health and a higher quality of life. The Talpa Ridge on the Carson National Forest is the closest opportunity for this near Taos County’s largest population center.
This is why it is crucial to provide legal, well-managed access to close-to-home trails so that everyone can have equitable access to the many benefits that connecting with our public land provides.
The shared-use trail system conceptualized by ECTA is designed to accommodate all non-motorized users. It includes new trailheads and trails designed for horse trailers and equestrian use since horseback riders who do not live next to the forest currently have no practical, legal access to the trails. Other trails will be constructed to appeal more to hikers and runners and, by design, spread users out on a system that proposes fewer trails per square mile than similar close-to-home networks in New Mexico.
Implementation can take many forms, but one pathway is to apply for the ample grant money that is available for creating healthy outdoor recreation opportunities near where people work and live. This can be used to hire local youth corps crews and/or professional trail-building firms. At the same time, many of the proposed trails will be able to be hand-dug by community volunteers.
Sustainably built trails that shed water and minimize erosion require little tread maintenance. To help address the annual tree-fall, trash, and other concerns, the Forest Service will be supported by community partnerships like ECTA’s Adopt-a-Trail program, which gives local businesses and community groups pride in helping to maintain area trails for all users.