Although Río Fernando Park sits close to the center of town, the place has a certain welcome wildness. The Río Fernando flows slowly through it, creating wetlands surrounded by land that was once used for farming and ranching. A red-winged blackbird calls from the cattails and otherwise all is quiet.
The Taos Land Trust purchased the site at the end of 2015 with the help of the LOR Foundation and has been working with the public to identify ways a park can be developed here that serves the needs of all Taos residents.
On a recent sunny afternoon in late March, the Trust invited the public to take a "Walk in the Park." During the lunch hour, families with children and others visited the park site to walk the trails that have been developed so far and to contribute their ideas for how the park might benefit the community in the future.
Nature for wellness
Another opportunity to visit the park is coming up on Sunday (April 29). Called Nature for Wellness Day, everyone is invited to the park from noon to 3 p.m. According to Maya Anthony, programs and outreach coordinator for the land trust, "Nature for Wellness is part of a national effort to get people out into parks and to show how parks can help with health. We will be doing tree giveaways, health talks, walks, games, storytelling and more. Come celebrate with us."
As part of the day, the Taos Tree Board will give away 200 trees. Participants can get wildflower seed mix to throw out onto the park land as they walk the current quarter mile trail and explore the less-visited parts of the site. Anthony says, "As people are walking the land and thinking about places for new trails, they can help plant flowers that attract pollinators and combat invasive plant species."
Other activities will include a botanical walk led by Integrative Medicine de Taos and a story walk. "For the story walk, we take a children's book and separate the pages. The pages are laminated and posted throughout the park. You read the pages and by the time you are done, you have finished the story and had a really nice walk. It is a way to encourage reading and walking," says Anthony.
People are welcome to come any time during the three-hour event and enjoy the food provided. A new free guide to in-town pathways will be available as well.
Organizers at the land trust say that this is the first version of the guide, and they hope people will contribute their ideas to improve it. The booklet has information on the value of time spent in nature and the benefits of walking.
It lists 10 trails with information that will allow potential walkers to identify paths nearby that are appropriate for their needs. It also contains a walking log and emergency phone numbers.
Getting outside for health
Nature for Wellness at Río Fernando Park is being held in conjunction with National Parks Rx Day. The purpose of this day is to reconnect people to outdoor spaces and promote healthy living.
"The idea behind Parks Rx is that we may need extra support and motivation to get outside and walk. If your healthcare provider writes a prescription for an exercise plan that can help provide that extra motivation. There are so many studies that are showing the benefits of time spent in nature. We were inspired by this initiative and wanted to bring something to Taos," says Anthony.
In the information gathering that the TLT has done, they've discovered a gap in access to safe, walkable space by income. People of higher income have greater access to nature while lower-income people face more barriers in getting to a trailhead to get out for a walk.
"We were moved by this issue to try to break down barriers for people to access nature," Anthony says. "We want to provide engaging ways for local people to feel comfortable and have a great time with their families in ways that include nature."
This component of the park use is very important to Anthony. She was born and raised in Taos and studied environmental planning and design at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
After an internship in Nicaragua, she returned home. She worked part-time with the TLT, and her job grew to be full time last fall. She has a commitment to social justice and the environment, so her job with the land trust has been particularly fulfilling. "It has been a great process to get to grow along with all the changes going on here," she says.
The Taos Land Trust is looking into grants to help break down more barriers, including providing strollers for loan while people visit Río Fernando Park and finding ways to help fund good walking shoes.
Park history and future
The Río Fernando Park site was owned by the Romo family and had been used for agriculture in the past. The site is home to the offices of the Taos Land Trust, and people are welcome to check in at the office and walk on the land during the week.
Many school groups come regularly to the site, including students from the Taos Integrated School for the Arts and environmental education students from Taos High School, who use the park as an outdoor laboratory. Earlier this month, environmental educators were invited to the site to brainstorm ways that it can be beneficial as an outdoor classroom.
The master planning process for the land began last fall and is expected to wrap up this September. "We are at the tail end of the visioning process and will begin to move into drafting the plan soon. We've compiled many useful suggestions, such as developing more trails and adding discovery stations that explain the vegetation and wildlife here. Other suggestions include a treehouse and community gardens, along with agricultural demonstrations. Once the plan is completed, we can look into what is feasible, based on available funds," says Anthony.
Connections to other trails and parks will be part of the explorations in the future. Fred Baca Park is located across the river, and people have discussed a low-impact nature trail along the Río Fernando that helps connect different parts of town. Ultimately, this land may be part of a link that connects Fred Baca Park with Kit Carson Park.
The TLT wants to make sure the land is always preserved as a park, but they are open to different possibilities for managing it in the future.
Future opportunities and more information
The Taos Land Trust is hiring 16 Youth Conservation Corps crew positions for youths ages 16-25 to work on the property this summer and learn conservation skills. Deadline for applications is May 13. In June, the Taos Land Trust will host an event to look at possible layouts for the site.
For more information, call (575) 751-3138 or visit riofernadopark.org.