Going for a walk is so beautifully uncomplicated. You do not need any special gear; you simply step out the door and do it. And the benefits are enormous. You get the blood flowing, work all those joints, strengthen those muscles and bones. Hold your chin up and feel the sun on your skin. Things slow down. Check out your world, sniff the breeze and say hello to passersby. These are real connections. The joints and muscles may at first respond with an ache, but you’ll feel good in both body and mind. When you get home, you’ll be full of fresh air. That’s a great feeling.
When I came to Santa Fe 22 years ago (tempus sure does fugit), I lived in the boonies south of town—like on the end of four miles of dirt “road” in the boonies. When I wanted to go for a walk, there was open country in every direction—just take your pick and go. When I moved into the village a couple years ago and went for a walk, I quickly discovered this thing called traffic. What had been an abstract concept suddenly became quite real, with car after car whizzing mere feet from the curb I was on the other side of. It was pretty nasty.
Then I discovered a network of walking trails in my neighborhood’s green space. They wound through the landscape among piñon and juniper, and they were blessedly separate from the roads. “Thank you, thank you,” I thought to whoever put these here. Walking on these trails I’d see people, some totally in shape and some totally out—young, aged, the whole kit. These were my neighbors. We’d say hello, and most everyone smiled. We were not closed in our homes staring at computers or locked in our cars peering through the movie screen called the windshield. We were glad to be out.
Leroy Pacheco and Brian Drypolcher are the people who make up (get ready for this; it’s a mouthful) the City of Santa Fe Public Works Department Engineering, Division of River, Watershed and Trails Section. In other words, they are all about the planning and design of a network of multi-use trails in the Santa Fe urban area. We recently met over coffee (Leroy had tea).
It’s a vast and complex network, with management of the trails falling under various offices: federal, state, county, city and non-profit. Of the total 171 miles, 106 miles are managed by the City of Santa Fe, and of these it’s a half-and-half split between paved and dirt. “We need to tip our hats to the history and planning,” says Leroy. The development of the trails goes back some 20 years. “But,” he continues, “in 2008 the City of Santa Fe voters approved a $30 million bond for Parks and Open Space. I would say the true champions of the trail system are the citizens of Santa Fe.”
Other funding from state and federal sources has come along, but the majority is from the city. Brian adds, “In the last eight years or so, there’s been 20 million spent on trails. It just exploded.” When these numbers settle in, I feel proud to be a Santa Fean, to be part of this major commitment. Not every city has its citizens behind something this wonderful.
I ask Brian and Leroy what’s special to them about the trail system. From their responses, it’s easy to see they invest a lot personally and take pleasure in their work. Brian smiles and talks about a place near Camino Carlos Rael. “If you’re on the River Trail in the summer between six and eight in the evening, you’ll see people walking,” he says. “It’s the cool time of day. You’re looking at this trail winding along the river, and you’re looking up to the mountains. It’s the view scape; it’s a quintessential Santa Fe view.”
For Leroy, it’s about connections and history. “We’re getting kids connected to these trails and getting schools linked,” he says. “There’s an element of hopefulness getting more kids [using the trails so that] it becomes the route to school.” And if as kids we get into walking, the better the chances we’ll continue walking into adulthood. Leroy continues, “I’m from Santa Fe and a descendent from the very beginning.” Many of the trails follow routes of travel people chose way before automobiles were on the scene––the Santa Fe River, various acequias, the rail line. As people today gravitate to the trails, he says, “it’s very gratifying to reconnect to the way people have been traveling in Santa Fe.” On both Leroy and Brian’s parts, there are elements of care and thoughtfulness that are inspiring. “We’re in the top ten bicycle-friendly towns in the U.S., by USA Today,” Leroy notes with obvious pride. That’s an impressive bit of recognition.
The Arroyo Chamisos Trail is my favorite. About five miles of paved trail paralleling its namesake arroyo, it winds along. On a fall day, when the chamisa are blazing yellow alongside patches of flowering asters (yellow and purple; Mother Nature knows how to get it right), and I’m walking along with the Sangres as a backdrop (perhaps they’re snowcapped) … please, someone pinch me! Especially on the weekends, when there are a lot of people—neighbors—to enjoy it with.
Walking as a means of getting somewhere has its own special rewards. When I walk the urban section of the Rail Trail and end up at the Railyard, there’s something special that comes with the realization that I got here on my feet, independent of any machine (Bonus: I don’t have to think about parking said machine.) It’s a feeling of independence and self-sufficiency. I walked here, and I’m going to walk home! No car! Puts a smile on my face every time.
There’s no doubt the automobile is a useful contrivance, but in this ever more congested urban environment, driving certainly isn’t fun. It’s a hassle. Maybe as a society we’ve “been there and done that” with cars. The romance is over, and we’re realizing the downsides: noise, air and water pollution, not to mention the adverse effects on our health. We’re moving away from using cars and toward using our feet. Leroy sees some humor in this. “The new way is kind of the old way,” he says.
The trail system—including the arroyo corridors and the parks—Brian says, is “the commons,” adding, “These are places that don’t belong to anybody in particular; they belong to everybody. It’s where neighbors find neighbors. It’s a whole network of places where the social life of the city is lived.” Which sure beats the social scene on St. Francis Drive, where the typical expression to our neighbor is … deleted because this is a family magazine.
What’s in store for the future? “We’re now focusing on connections,” says Leroy. “We have a lot of the backbone built, but now it’s [about] bringing and connecting neighborhoods to the major arterials. This has been the focus of the last couple of years and the next use of bond money.” We’ll also see an underpass beneath St. Francis Drive, connecting the Acequia Trail behind the New Mexico School for the Deaf to the Railyard.
Over these past 20 years—and on so many different levels—there’s been immense effort put into the city’s trail system, and there’s a tremendous amount of work to come. We owe our thanks to all who are responsible for getting the work done. And we also ought to pat ourselves on the back for opening our wallets. Because as Santa Fe grows, the value of these trails will only appreciate.
Some resources to help get you out on the trails:
City of Santa Fe Recreation Division, Bike-to-Work Week May 12-16, 2014: santafenm.gov/bike-to-work_week
Prescription Trail guides to help plan your route: santafenm.gov/prescription_trails_1
Creative Santa Fe / Walk Santa Fe: creativesantafe.org/walk-santa-fe/
City of Santa Fe Recreation Division: santafenm.gov/recreation_division
City of Santa Fe Parks: santafenm.gov/parks
To see what Leroy and Brian are up to: santafenm.gov/river_and_watershed
For info and a map of the trails: santafenm.gov/trails_1
Santa Fe County: santafecountynm.gov/public_works/open_space_and_trails_program
For some lovely routes around town, click here.