Great Outdoors

Conflicts on Talpa Traverse Trail turn dangerous

By Cindy Brown
For Taos News
Posted 6/23/20

A rise in people out on the trails this summer can lead to more conflicts between trail users such as hikers, mountain bikers, runners and horseback riders. On at least one trail near Taos, the rise in conflicts recently took a dangerous turn.

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Great Outdoors

Conflicts on Talpa Traverse Trail turn dangerous

Posted

A rise in people out on the trails this summer can lead to more conflicts between trail users such as hikers, mountain bikers, runners and horseback riders. On at least one trail near Taos, the rise in conflicts recently took a dangerous turn.

In mid-May, 50-75 small tacks with sharp needle points possibly upholstery tacks were found on the Talpa Traverse Trail about half a mile from its intersection with Ojitos Trail in Taos Canyon. The tacks were carefully laid in the dirt in a horizontal line across the entire trail at the bottom of a set of rock stairs which is at a blind corner on the trail. Just last week, a series of approximately 11 obstacles constructed of stones and sticks were discovered on the trail by horseback rider Karen Soomekh.

The Talpa Traverse also known as the Talpa Foothills Trail is an unofficial trail across Carson National Forest land. It was built by horseback riders and others, creating an access from the Weimer Foothills area to the forest across an easement given 30 years ago for a bridle path. Today it is a favorite particularly among mountain bike riders and equestrians for its views, rolling terrain, and proximity to town.

History of cordial interactions and conflict

Soomekh says in her 17 years of riding the trails, she has never seen acts which seem meant to harm people and animals on the trails.

In fact, Soomekh and others say that most trail users go out of their way to be cordial and courteous to each other. "I call out to bicyclists and hikers as I approach on my horse," said Soomekh. "Most bike riders are responsive and step off the trail to let us pass. I apologize for interrupting their bike ride, knowing they may have lost momentum going up a hill."

Although harmful acts haven't been seen in a long time, this is not the first time someone has tried to prevent people from accessing the trail. According to Pam MacArthur, longtime horseback rider and member of the Taos Saddle Club, the trail came about in the early 1990s because three local horseman who liked to ride the area cut the trail. An easement was given to allow horseback riders access across private property to reach public lands. Soon after, a nearby homeowner tried to cut off access by stringing barbed wire across the trail and burying pieces of rebar.

A group of locals staged a raid and cut down the wire and pulled up the rebar. At least one member of the raiding party got arrested as a result. However, when the matter was pursued in district court, then Judge Joe Caldwell ruled that the trail was a legal access. Horseback riders and hikers have made use of it ever since.

Mountain bikers soon joined the others using the trail. Bike numbers have noticeably increased in the last several months.

More conflicts

Recent opinion letters sent to the Taos News have shown that with increased use comes increased conflict. On April 27 John Johnston wrote "My wife is an avid trail runner who runs either the South Boundary, Ojitos, Carmelita, Talpa and Talpa Traverse trails every other day, and she covers 8-12 miles at a time.

"Lately, the trails are becoming congested due to the fact that COVID-19 shutdowns are reducing recreational options, and people are not working," Johnston continued. "These trails are all multiuse, and mountain bikers are swarming them. Many are not being respectful of the runners and hikers also using them.

"There have been many close calls with bikers careening around blind corners, and narrowly missing people and their pets. My wife has had three close calls in the past week, and several of my friends have limited or changed their outdoor activity due to this issue."

The Taos Mountain Bike Association responded with their own opinion piece saying they were disappointed to hear that there are rude riders on the trail. The association points out that because the trail is an informal one, it has never been built to proper standards. "A simple thinning of branches to widen the trail and remove blind corners would greatly improve the safety of the trails," says the letter.

Although the TMBA has volunteered to take on this work, it is not allowed on the trail until it is incorporated officially into the Carson National Forest system. There may be a path forward to incorporating this trail and other nearby social trails into the system if a community consensus can be reached on how to approach it.

A plan for the future

Late last year, the Enchanted Circle Trails Association, a group dedicated to creating recreational opportunities for all users, presented a draft plan for development of the area to Carson officials, called the Talpa Ridge Inventory and Conceptual Trails Plan.

"We have been awarded a grant from Trail Solutions of $8,000 to improve the plan," said the trails association director Carl Colonius. "We were one of only eight grantees and we will be matching the grant with funds from the TMBA and ECTA to bring in trail experts this July to take a look at our plan and recommend adjustments."

The Carson staff has asked the trails association to gather community input on the plan - a process which has been slowed considerably by the COVID-19 virus and the need to maintain social distancing. The process may begin soon with a series of online ZOOM meetings. "We want to hear from a diverse group including Weimer neighborhood representatives, trail experts, horseback riders, mountain bikers and hikers. We want to identify strengths and weaknesses and search for common ground," said Colonius.

Although separating mountain bike trails from other users has been part of the discussion, in the draft plan, there is only one trail specifically identified as a short three-quarter-mile mountain bike descent route. It would be signed for mountain bikes but open to all users.

Sean Ferrell, district ranger for the Camino Real Ranger District, said, "I've hiked the Talpa Traverse with mountain bikers and I can understand the attraction to the trail. There are lots of ups and downs, in and out of arroyos. It is super fun because of the way the trail flows."

He acknowledges that there are many blind corners that can be unsafe if anyone is traveling too fast. His office has been receiving more calls from users regarding problems on the trail. "It is clear the status quo isn't working," he said.

Ferrell points out that the trail is close to private land in some stretches and any plan will need to define appropriate points for public access. Although there has been no community consensus reached on an appropriate trail system in this area, Ferrell has seen the enthusiasm from many users for this trail so close to town.

"What I get excited about is how passionate everyone is about this trail. It is such an indication that people want quick access to trails close to town as part of our big landscape of recreational uses. We see this as an opportunity to begin to create a system of connected trails in the community's backyard," Ferrell said. "The Carson wants to be able to accommodate all users so that they can have similar experiences. We can properly direct that passion to create a community decision, not just one made by the Carson. We can figure it out together; it will take longer but it will be worth it. Everyone should win."

In the meantime, Ferrell asks that everyone be aware of the other users and be considerate.

Mystery

The recent dangerous incidents involving tacks, rocks and sticks on the trail have been reported to the Carson office, but apparently not to the police.

The identity of the person or persons who placed dangerous obstacles on the trail remains a mystery. Several trail users believe it is a nearby property owner unhappy with the increase in mountain bike usage. Another person suggests it may be a hiker hoping to discourage both mountain bikers and horseback riders.

Whatever the reason, users should be vigilant on the trail and on the lookout for any unusual or dangerous situations in order to keep everyone safe.

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