"It would be so awesome to be able to just ride in from town," Santa Fean Alysia Lujan tells SFR as she stops to catch her breath on one of the La Tierra Trails that branch off from the popular La Cuchara trailhead parking lot behind Unity Church, off Highway 599. "I don't have a bike rack on my car."
There's no question that Santa Fe loves the outdoors, and the many choices of public trails within a 20-minute drive of the city are part of its charm. Yet many of these places are hard to reach by bike or by foot without taking the risk of sharing a busy highway or narrow road with notoriously reckless New Mexico drivers.
This is why Santa Fe's Grand Unified Santa Fe Trail Organization, GUSTO for short, has spent years steadily increasing the number of pedestrian and bike trails that connect our outdoor open spaces.
Most recently, GUSTO volunteers completed two new connector trials on the north side of Santa Fe that link the La Tierra Trail System north of the relief route with easily accessible urban paths leading towards the center of the city.
On Friday and Saturday, the organization plans to lead groups of hikers and bikers from the Santa Fe Railyard along a loop that's newly made possible.
"Connectivity is what GUSTO is all about," says Tim Rogers, GUSTO's trail manager. "Especially for bikers, these two new trails make it possible to get out there from downtown without having to use a car at all."
The organization was founded by the Santa Fe Conservation Trust with the ambitious goal to create a sustainable and well-connected trail system around the entire metropolitan area of Santa Fe with a looped network of multi-use paths that would link each of Santa Fe's existing and well-loved trail areas by 2020. Looking back, Rogers chuckles at the naivete of this initial timeline.
"We had no idea that to work with private landowners and public entities to get easements on the land for some of these trails would take years in some cases," he says, "but each new connection brings us one step closer to our goal."
David Shaha, who came down this week from Taos to ride, tells SFR the La Tierra Trails are known among the mountain biker community further north because of the many well-maintained, well-marked trails that crisscross terrain perfect for any skill level. "You guys are very lucky to have this resource so close to town," Shaha says.
Ben and Monika Stokes, a mother-son duo from Connecticut decked in professional-looking gear came to Santa Fe for spring break. Ben is on his local youth cycling team at home, and they were looking for a place where they could train and ski during the same vacation.
With spring break in full swing, the La Tierra trials boast a tourist-to-local ratio of 12-to-1 by SFR's informal count. And while we found this surprising, Randy Randall, director of Tourism Santa Fe, says access to trails for hiking and biking is integral to Santa Fe's quickly growing reputation as an outdoor recreation destination. "The International Mountain Biking Association gave Santa Fe a silver ranking—that puts us among some of the top biking destinations in the world," he says.
David Bell, owner of Mellow Velo bike shop, says the bike tourism industry has definitely benefited from the expansion of trails around the city. But Sarah Noss, executive director of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, says community access and local participation is the primary purpose of the GUSTO trails, which are all built by volunteers and community groups. The trust furthers this mission with programs such as Vamonos, which leads community walks along urban trails in the city, and a program called Passport to Trails that takes fourth and fifth graders from schools at the Southside to hike the Dale Ball Trails.
"For us the trails are about building community, about nurturing the next generation of conservationists," says Noss.
Yet the goal of equitable access to nature highlights a disparity in the equity of Santa Fe's geography. For the most part, the northeast hills of the city contain the the trails—and also the neighborhoods with the highest home values. Noss tells SFR that the rapid expansion of Southside neighborhoods has made developing dirt recreation trails in the area difficult.
"We are trying to be as equitable as possible by making sure that everyone has access to the wilderness through our trail systems," she says, "and by making all community members aware that trails are a free resource that are available to all."
To get to the new trails:
Park at the intersection of Tano and Ridgetop roads. The trail is most clearly marked by a sign on the west side of the intersection. After about 10 minutes on foot heading west, the path intersects with a well-used (though unofficial) track leading into the La Tierra Trail system. SFR advises use of a trail map in this area that still lacks signage.
From the Tano and Ridgetop intersection headed east, the path connects down to a paved urban trail that ends in a neighborhood near the De Vargas Center.
The Dog Park Connection:
Going north on Paseo de Las Vistas past the Frank Ortiz Dog Park on the left, take the first right onto Buckman road, then right onto Camino de Los Montoyas. The trail is on the right and is marked by a hiker utility gate. Follow the green Santa Fe hiker signs that mark the correct path at confusing intersections. This trail leads to a Santa Fe Relief Route underpass and eventually to the La Cuchara Trailhead behind the Unity Santa Fe Church. From here, trails lead into the greater La Tierra Trail system.
GUSTO Open House
3-6 pm Friday March 29; 9-11 am Saturday March 30. Free.
Railyard Park Community Room,
701 Callejon St.,
GUSTO Trails Sampler
11 am Saturday March 30. Free.
Bike ride leaves from Railyard Community Room (701 Callejon St.) at 11 am; hike meets at trailhead at North Ridgetop and Avenida Rincon at 11:15 am; horse ride meets at La Tierra Trails/Frijoles Trailhead at 11:15 am.