Enchanted Circle Trails Association: Get outside, get healthy

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If there are hiking and biking trails nearby that are safe and convenient, people are more likely to use them. And the more they use them, the healthier they get.

“You might make a New Year’s resolution to get in better shape and join a gym, then never go. But if you have weights in your house or shed, you are more likely to eventually pick them up and start working out. That translates to trails,” said Carl Colonius, director of a new organization called Enchanted Circle Trails Association.

If there is a trailhead within 10 minutes of their house, people more often get out for a hike, bike ride or run, according to a regional study by Headwater Economics. If there are commuter paths nearby, people will be more likely to walk or ride their bike to work.

‘Prescription Parks and Trails’

There is a new movement called “Prescription Parks and Trails” that envisions the day when a physician will suggest to a patient that instead of taking a pill to reduce blood pressure or increase metabolism, he or she will take a walk four times a week. Colonius says that the prescription could come complete with a map showing walking trails in town, like the Eco Park, Kit Carson Park and Fred Baca Park.

Kristina Ortez de Jones, director of the Taos Land Trust, says her organization is working with local health partners and the National Park Service to develop a “Parks Rx” program specific to Taos that will focus on creating better access to in-town trails that can be used by everyone for improved health.

Creating and linking trails

Colonius knows something about trails around town. For 20 years, he worked with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps to build trails in urban and natural settings so that the community can get outside and enjoy the benefits, such as reduced stress and better heart health. Now, Colonius is heading up an effort to create links to existing trails in order to create safer and more convenient access to all the recreational opportunities the area has to offer.

The Enchanted Circle Trails Association was founded about a year ago. It was the outgrowth of a multiyear effort to identify the community’s priorities for trails. The Taos Land Trust convened the planning effort, along with the Trust for Public Land. Colonius worked with the process to help make sure that all aspects of the Taos community were heard in the discussions. Over the course of several years, more than 300 people attended community meetings and hundreds more gave their opinions through surveys and outreach events. There was a focus on respecting traditional regional values, such as agricultural use, cultural history and healthy, clean watersheds.

A preliminary plan was created that contains potential trail recommendations and is prioritized into three tiers of possible future projects. To find out more about the trails plan, visit the Trust for Public Land page at web.tplgis.org/taostrails.

New nonprofit

Last summer, some of the planning effort participants came together to discuss how to move the plan forward into action. As Colonius said in a recent interview, “We all know about plans that took a lot of work to create, but didn’t go anywhere.” Along with Attila Bality of the National Park Service, he studied communities that had successful trail plans, which served the local population, attracted new visitors and helped stimulate the economy. The duo visited trail-centric communities, like Moab, Utah; Grand Junction, Steamboat Springs and Salida, Colorado; along with towns in Wyoming and Montana, as well as Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The team looked at the variables in play and worked with the planning group to figure out which strategies might work best in Northern New Mexico.

Chief among the conclusions was that an independent nonprofit would be the best type of organization to move the trails plan forward. Such a nonprofit has the ability to act as a bridge between the federal land management agencies, local governments and the people who will use the trails, said Colonius.

The Enchanted Circle Trails Association was created to help build trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and even motorized vehicles. The focus will be on making safer routes for getting around town and for reaching our extensive system of forest trails. “We want to develop, maintain and promote trails,” said Colonius.

Top priorities and future plans

Colonius explained that the current plan is a good start for creating future trails, but now the effort needs to be on actually building some. Among the top priorities is a bike lane that would begin at the old blinking light location near KTAOS and head northeast on State Road 150 toward the mountains. Although discussions have begun, there are many players, including the New Mexico Department of Transportation and Taos Pueblo. The process is slow. Still, such a project would benefit all users – making it safer to walk and bike and also easier on the drivers who have to avoid pedestrians and bicyclists on the road. “A bike lane would provide connection up to the communities of Arroyo Seco and Taos Ski Valley and the network of trails in Carson National Forest. It would benefit many people, including tribal members. It is a project that the whole community can embrace,” said Colonius.

In addition to new trails, other infrastructure could be provided. In the future, Colonius explained, it might be possible to pull up to the El Nogal trailhead in Taos Canyon and others and be able to scan an informational sign in order to download information on trails and distances. Such an application could also include pictures of the trail that would be useful for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.

It is also possible that the organization can play a role in bringing together diverse groups to come up with new trail connections. Colonius said he is aware that many groups bring their passions and priorities to the table for these discussions. He points out that when siting a new path near the Río Grande, for example, it is important to listen to those people who want to protect wildlife habitat and cultural sites and also to hear from those who want to be able to access new areas by foot or bike.

Making it happen

The Enchanted Circle Trails Association has already begun to improve the experience of hiking and biking in Taos. On National Trails Day in June, the group organized a trail maintenance day at the Rift Valley Trail, which is south of town. Organized with Bureau of Land Management, local nonprofits and outdoor stores, the day offered training on trail maintenance techniques that was then put to use. More than 40 people worked together to improve 12 miles of trails, repairing erosion and removing cactus and sage that were encroaching on the trails. Colonius said that the goal was to improve the trail and also build a tradition of community stewardship. Another trails maintenance day is being planned for the fall.

Currently, Colonius is an independent consultant who works on organizational development and strategic planning, along with running the new trails association. He and his wife have three children – two at Taos High School and one just graduating from college.

Colonius takes a lot of pride when he visits the trails he helped build with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. He said that within a few days of the trail at Fred Baca Park being completed, there were people of all ages out there using it. “At RMYC, I had my shovel in the dirt almost every day,” he said. “I am anxious to get going and build some trails.”

As a nonprofit organization, the Enchanted Circle Trails Association relies on grants, fee-for-service contracts with local governments and federal land management agencies, as well as individual donations. To get involved, find the Enchanted Circle Trails Association on Facebook or call (575) 770-8940.

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