Hidden treasures have their place, but the city's urban trail system isn't it. So the Santa Fe Conservation Trust has lined up an ambitious schedule of 42 free, hour-long public walks in a program called Vamonos to help people maximize their use of the 50 miles of trails around town. The hope is that these group events sprout a community that sees people pairing up to walk more on their own. The end result of that could be a boost to physical and mental health, perhaps just where the city needs it most, and at little cost.
"The thing about walking is, you don't need any special equipment," says Sarah Noss, executive director at Santa Fe Conservation Trust. "You just need some shoes on your feet and maybe a hat, and we'll provide some sunscreen."
Each walk will be led by a health professional or someone aiming for a demographic like families or seniors. The schedule includes "Walk with a Doc" sessions on the River Trail, "Walk with a Notable Local" near the Southside Farmer's Market, bilingual walks with a community health worker, walks for seniors and people with disabilities and family walks. (Note: SFR's editor and publisher, Julie Ann Grimm, is among the notable locals.)
They're paying particular attention to the Southside, Noss says, where these trails are less frequently used.
"When you think about the trail system here, it is kind of a younger demographic—people with mountain bikes and gear to go out there, and people that live closer to the trailheads, which are primarily on the north and east side of town," Noss says. "So we do have a concern about diversifying our own constituency and reaching out to a much broader demographic."
Those same Southside neighborhoods also see increased incidences in some of the health conditions walking can help relieve, and a higher concentration of uninsured people who could benefit from this kind of preventive medicine.
A community health needs survey by Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center found that half of Santa Fe County's population is obese or overweight and, as such, is at increased risk for some chronic diseases. Regular brisk walks can prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic, as well as strengthening bones and improving mood.
"Walking in general is an excellent way of improving public health in a way that doesn't cost a lot of money and could lower health costs for everybody," Noss says.
For Alondra Hernandez, heading two of the bilingual walks came as a natural extension of her efforts as a community health worker at La Familia Medical Center; she teaches programs on healthier eating and physical activity for families. Patients tell her they don't know where trails are or are nervous to walk alone, she says, and so a guide and some company could go a long way toward sparking a healthy habit. Offering these walks in Spanish removes yet another barrier.
"We just want to motivate them and then see how far they can go on their own—because eventually they will have to do stuff on their own," she says. "We just want to be the starting point."
In addition to boosting those health benefits, Daniel Fernandez, ADA coordinator for the City of Santa Fe, points to how it could improve mental health, particularly for people with mobility devices. "It's a mental thing, to be able to get out with people, have conversations, enjoy the outdoors—almost like a social event," he says. In a city that doesn't even have sidewalks on every street, he says, the Vamonos program offers a chance to showcase routes that anyone can access. "It's all about getting out, getting healthy, socializing, getting to learn Santa Fe," he says.
Here's to making sure none of that stays a secret.
Walks run from May 1 until Oct. 23. A complete schedule is available at sfct.org/vamonos.