Re-routing part of Williams Lake Trail and building 7 miles of new mountain biking trails are small potatoes for the U.S. Forest Service. But about half of the people who weighed in on the idea aren't into it.
Williams Lake Trail is without a doubt one of the most popular places in New Mexico to play outside.
After the U.S. Forest Service asked people to share their thoughts on relocating the first half of the trail, as well as constructing about 7 miles of mountain biking trails, about half of those who responded don't like the idea.
The Carson National Forest is considering a proposal from Taos Ski Valley to move three-quarters of a mile of the 2-mile Williams Lake Trail, a path that currently follows a utility road in the ski area before reaching the forested ecosystem in the Questa Ranger District.
The "2018 Taos Ski Valley Trails Project," announced June 5, also calls for the construction of six new mountain biking trails totaling 7.2 miles. People had until Tuesday (June 19) to comment on the project.
While the forest service has not yet thoroughly reviewed the responses, an "initial" and "cursory look" showed that out of 28 comments, about half are negative, 30 percent are positive and another 20 percent are neutral, with people offering advice on building trails or conducting an environmental review, according to a Wednesday (June 20) email from Jack Lewis, Questa District Ranger.
It is not clear how many comments related specifically to the Williams Lake Trail or the mountain biking proposal.
"This is great feedback from the public and gives the decision-maker a good basis for how the rest of the analysis will move forward. We will be looking at the comments in greater detail and determining which specialists we will need to utilize to analyze effects," Lewis said.
A local mountain biking organization is among the supporters of the proposal.
"Taos County has unparalleled scenery, terrain and cultural resources which--when combined with a diversity of well-designed trails--have the potential to make the region a world-class mounting bike destination," said Loren Bell, a board member of the Del Norte Mountain Biking Alliance.
While Bell said the area has a "good start" in this effort, sthe current (trails) need to be expanded significantly for locals and also for tourists to "consistently choose Northern New Mexico as their mountain bike vacation destination."
Rachel Conn, a projects coordinator for the Taos-based water advocacy organization Amigos Bravos, told The Taos News her organization will be "watching closely" the development of the TSV trails project.
While "the overall impacts of the proposed (Williams Lake Trail) relocation is dependent on how well they do the (re-vegetation) of the old trail," Conn said. The bigger water-quality concern is at the proposed mountain biking trails, which would be a mix of downhill, cross-country and hybrid trails.
TSV hired Arrowhead Trails, a seven-person company that designs and builds trails in the Southwest, to work on a new route for the first part of Williams Lake Trail. The company has at least one project from New Mexico in its portfolio.
The company's founder, Danna Lambert, said her company uses design standards mandated by the Forest Service, but tries to improve upon them for overall sustainability and water drainage. "Over 25 years, I've seen what works and what doesn't," she said.
The proposed rerouted section of Williams Lake Trail is almost completely on public land and has been flagged, according to the Carson's winter sports coordinator Adam LaDell. Unless the new trail route needs major revision, he expects the forest service to make a decision, and for work to be completed, before snow falls later this year.
While the current Williams Lake Trail crosses private land owned by TSV, no easement exists allowing the public access through it, according to Sandy Chio, director of sales and marketing for Taos Ski Valley. Should the trail be rerouted, the ski area would create a permanent easement where the trail passes through resort-owned land.
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