BY ROBIN GURULE
I support the creation of an accessible bike path in Pueblo Canyon. However, placement is critical, and Acid Canyon is a particularly poor choice for a beginner’s bike trail. The Critical Wildlife Areas of Pueblo and Acid Canyons have steep walls, which provide shade and force water to the surface, allowing willows and other riparian shrubs to thrive, which attract wildlife. Acid and Pueblo Canyons have some of the only remaining examples of this type of habitat in Los Alamos County; from Upper Los Alamos Canyon, Guaje Canyon, Upper Pajarito Canyon, Valle Canyon, Upper Water Canyon, and Upper Frijoles Canyon between Alcove House and Apache Spring all burned. There are at least 2 endangered species that have been located there several times recently: the Jemez mountain salamander and the Mexican spotted owl. Additionally, the “confluence” of Pueblo and Acid canyons has the highest diversity of nesting species in the county. The “confluence” also attracts a large number and diversity of migrating birds that depend on it for food and shelter at a critical time in their journey.
The Ranch School Trail itself is historic and features beautifully laid stone stairs and retaining walls. Any expansion, straightening or leveling would destroy this piece of history which, as previously pointed out, violates the overall county plan. Although the contractor has stated that no habitat destruction will occur, anyone who has ridden this trail knows that a lot of destructive earthworks would have to be done to make the trail accessible to new mountain bikers.
Even after mitigating the worst parts, the trail is still quite dangerous for cyclists and certainly for encounters between cyclists and hikers, due to the narrowness, steep canyon walls, and drop-offs of up to 50 feet.
Additionally, Acid Canyon was once a Superfund site, and although it has been cleaned up, the excavation may bring new chemicals to the surface.
Due to the steep north-facing walls, the trail is snow-covered and icy from the first snowfall until April 1. So at best the trail would not be accessible for almost half the year.
Fortunately, there are several alternatives to a trail down Acid Canyon to the confluence, which have been provided to the contractor and the county.
- (Michael Smith Alternative #1) Olive Street leads to the “high bridge” then east to Walnut Canyon, then the Walnut Canyon Trail leads to the bottom of Pueblo Canyon, luckily downhill from critical areas lined with Pueblo willows Canyon that attract so much wildlife. This is the trail currently most used by mountain bikers to get to the sewage treatment plant. This trail is also accessible from the golf course, so it is easily accessible to cyclists from Barranca and North Mesas, and is a major commuting route for cyclists commuting to school or work. This trail would be better located near the high school than the proposed aquatic center trailhead. Although there are a few switchbacks on the trail down Walnut Canyon, the trail could simply traverse the lower, gentle slope of the hill it descends, eliminating the switchbacks, as Michael describes in his plan.
- (Michael Smith Alternative #2) Alternatively, the trail below Kinnikinnick Park continues along the bench until it reaches an area where a new trail could be built, which would go to the bottom of Pueblo Canyon. From there it continues to the sewage treatment plant.
Both of these alternatives are in wider, more gently sloping areas, which would make building the trail easier, cheaper, and less destructive.