Dan Aguilar first spotted the incongruous patch of green grass in the Arroyo Chamiso from the highway.
"I said, 'Let's check it out.' So, from then on, this has been our spot," he tells SFR from the Southwest Activity Node in Tierra Contenta. He's taking a breather while his 11-year-old son, DJ Sanchez, hunts for a basketball that bounced into the landscaping around the 13-acre Southside "SWAN" park. They have the whole court to themselves.
"This is one of our favorite places to come because not many people use it," says Aguilar. It's not easy, though. To get there, he has to drive the entire length of Jaguar Drive from Cerrillos Road, then take a pair of dirt roads to the park's paved entrance. It's a fair bet many people don't even know the park has been open for a year and a half.
That could change by summer.
Crews are hard at work connecting the west end of Jaguar Drive with an interchange on the Santa Fe Bypass—Highway 599—that has been finished for more than a year. It's up to the developers of the Tierra Contenta Village Plaza to grade and pave the quarter-mile stretch of Jaguar and surrounding roads. Once the city signs off on the work, the orange barrels and "Road Closed" signs will disappear and open up a major entrance to the west side of Tierra Contenta.
"We couldn't do anything until that interchange was complete," says Scott Hoeft, vice president of the Santa Fe Planning Group and land planner for the Village Plaza project on the east side of Highway 599. That was delayed by several months, Hoeft says. The property, developed by Katharine Cook Fishman, has space for businesses like a gas station, car wash and convenience store just off the interchange, but also hopes to attract shops, restaurants, professional offices, apartments and a church campus. The west side of the interchange may someday be used to create a new entrance to the Santa Fe Municipal Airport.
The Southside has long been the part of town that's grown fastest. Tierra Contenta has largely fulfilled its mission of providing housing for workaday Santa Feans. But even with a massive new Walmart near Cerrillos and I-25, people who live around the Airport- Cerrillos intersection have felt underserved by amenities for years. Beyond that, Hoeft knows people who live in Tierra Contenta are simply itching for the interchange to open, providing quick access north and south on the highway.
"Everybody wants to use that," Hoeft tells SFR. "Right now, the biggest holdup for us is that crews keep getting pulled off the work for other projects. But we're more than halfway there."
The SWAN park's boundaries bump up against the Village Plaza development. The roads that are being finished will run right to the park's front gate. Leslie Tolman lives in Tierra Contenta and is spending her afternoon chasing squealing kids through the playground, around the interactive sculptures and down the slides.
"This is our favorite park," she says while her 3-year-old son Cameron and his friend Viola Austin busy themselves with a periscope that peeps up over the edge of some equipment. But she says, "It would be nice to have an easier way to get here when our family comes up or when we want to go down to Albuquerque to visit the zoo or Biopark."
The Southside hasn't just been underserved by stores, doctors and dentists—it also doesn't have much in the way of park space. The city's plan for the SWAN park is to nearly quadruple its size. Santa Fe has the second phase of the park's construction, which may include a skate park and plumbed bathrooms, in the current budget.
It's quiet now. But as nice as having a private hideaway can be, the park is meant to be accessible, the land is slated to be developed and, just maybe, the interchange that's meant to be open will be open.