Another summer of popular concerts and events has come to a close as Kit Carson Park in Taos readies for its winter lull, but some locals are wondering if …
Another summer of popular concerts and events has come to a close as Kit Carson Park in Taos readies for its winter lull, but some locals are wondering if the events are worth it.
"It's right in the middle of town," said Taos resident Suzanne Betz, who lives close to the park. "Families use that park all year-round, every day, and no one seems to have foremost in their mind that this is a jewel in the center of Taos."
For at least three years, the town has partnered with AMP Concerts and others to bring annual concerts and events to the park for the community to enjoy. While thousands of people flock to the park for these events, the crowds have caused an uncomfortable amount of wear and tear for some residents in the area. "The concerts have done a great job of wrecking the grass in the park," Betz said. "I think they have lost sight that it is a park for the people."
Betz is an artist rooted in Taos and has walked in the park nearly every day since she first arrived in 1990. As part of a group of community members who frequently use the park for walking, Betz said the park has changed dramatically since the concerts started a few years ago.
In front of the concert stage, at the southern end of the park, a barren patch of dirt sits where hundreds of fans stomped to the music of their favorite bands. According to town officials, this patch of dirt was the previous baseball field where they struggled to get grass to grow in the first place.
"It takes time to irrigate it and we have to catch up from the water we missed," said Mitch Miller, Taos facilities and special events director.
According to Miller, the dirt area ran into further issues when an unexpected load of gravel was dropped in the area in 2017. The previous year's lack of precipitation also put a strain on the grass, and the town ran into further issues when watering was limited due to a pump failure off a town well in April.
Despite the issues, residents and park users say the grass is only one problem in the park, and the concerts have been adding to the deterioration.
"It's a jewel, in terms of a town asset that seems to be increasingly degraded by this use," said Taos resident Bob Silver, who lives close to the park.
Defining a park
The town has owned Kit Carson Park since 1988 after acquiring the 20-acre plot of land from the State of New Mexico. The town was charged with maintaining the park as per the deed of the property.
Locals feel the park is not intended for large-scale concert events, such as the Meow Wolf Vortex or other events that close the park off to the community. According to a parks rules and regulations form, the park can be rented out for gatherings of over 50 people if the proper forms are turned in and various checks are met. Anyone, approved by town officials, is allowed to rent out the park for an event.
Taos town codes state that the council has so authorized the use of the park for events, such as festivals and parties. In addition, the town has the authority to dictate how long the event can last in the park.
Those hosting the events at Kit Carson Park maintain that the events are for the benefit of the Taos area.
"It is our goal to work with the town to hopefully make Taos and Kit Carson Park into a destination and concert venue," said AMP Concerts Director Jamie Lenfestey.
Lenfestey has been working with the town for the past three years bringing in several major acts and events. During those three years, Alabama Shakes, Dwight Yoakam and even Meow Wolf have made appearances at Kit Carson Park.
"We're just trying to make cool things happen up there," Lenfestey said.
Thousands of people regularly attend the concerts in the park. During the events, the public can use the park facilities daily. While the concerts are usually ticket-based, the park may see a closure of certain areas the following day for cleanup or maintenance, according to Miller, but the closure is minor.
A large stage originally set up at the beginning of each summer and dismantled in the fall may now become a permanent fixture in the park. As a cost-saving measure, the town has decided to forego the $30,000 cost of setting up the stage each year by leaving it set up on the south end of the park.
Several rules and regulations of the park have been thrown into question for several of the events, including decibel levels and overnight camping. According to the town's park rules and regulations, camping is not allowed in any town park. For the Meow Wolf Vortex, Town Manager Rick Bellis said the town made an exception and allowed camping. Bellis also indicated past exceptions to camping in the park during festivals but said it would not be common protocol for every show.
"The point of these events is to bring tourism to stimulate the economy and bring business to the community," Bellis said.
While town officials say the events benefit the town, Bellis said he could not yet provide to The Taos News a list of revenues directly attributed to the concerts over the summer.
Bellis said town revenues from shows are made from ticket and alcohol sales and gross receipts tax collected from the money spent while visitors are staying in town. Bellis also did not provide details on what percent the town was supposed to receive for each ticket sale or from the sale of alcohol.
Facelift for the park
Town officials recognize the importance of Kit Carson Park to the community and have held several meetings to gain public input on its future.
In early 2018 a master plan for all town parks was published by Santa Fe design company Design Office. After several public input meetings, a comprehensive analysis of the needs and wants of the community was assessed and plans for the park were formed.
Residents will be seeing some changes at Kit Carson Park, including a makeover of some areas, such as the restroom facilities in the back of the park, according to Bellis.
Bellis said the bathrooms are a constant haven for vandalism and vagrancy and are most often locked because the area was broken or must be maintained. As a result, the bathrooms will eventually be taken down. In their place, portable restrooms will be used at major events.
In addition, the town is seeking funding for repair of the asphalt walking trail that has been damaged by use and tree roots. According to Miller, if the town repairs a portion of the trail, the entire length must be updated to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bellis said the town has already been improving the park.
"There are now more grass areas than ever before in the Kit Carson and Baca Parks, and we are continuing to work every week to expand and improve the play areas, picnic areas, shelters, and the size and condition of our parks that were neglected for decades in the past," Bellis said in an August social media post.
Bellis said the town is hard at work trying to combat the vagrancy and vandalism issues the park sees on a regular basis and hopes to make the park safe. Part of the solution begins with having more events, or at least more of a town presence in the park. According to Bellis, the more activity going through the park, the less vandalism the park sees.
The parks master plan encouraged participation from the community as well as input from residents. Efforts like the parks plan as well as Strong at Heart were set up to gather information from the public as to what they wanted to see in the parks. Town officials said the public is encouraged to attend future park planning meetings.
"They are your parks, facilities and town," Bellis said in an August social media post, "be a part of the process."
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