Santa Fe New Mexican Op-Ed “Nambé Badlands deserve better care” Categories: Press Timelines: BLM Sombrillo Area of Critical Environmental Concern

My View Terry Gibbs

Nambé Badlands deserve better care

Since 2000, Eldorado hikers have trekked Northern New Mexico, from the Ojito Wilderness to the Santa Barbara, from Plaza Blanca to Hermit’s Peak. Never have we seen trails and terrain so badly damaged as when we returned several weeks ago to the Nambé Badlands. This precious, wondrous terrain has been so damaged in only the last couple of years.

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Between 2008 and 2019, we hiked the Nambé Badlands each year to savor its beauty and vistas, avoiding it entirely when rare wetness could cause even hikers to damage to the fragile trails. We did not hike there in the 2019-20 season because of COVID-19.

Our group returned to the Badlands on Nov. 16 for our annual trek. Those of us who had hiked these trails for years were horrified to see the extensive deterioration, degradation and despoiling of both long-designated trails as well as surrounding off-trail areas. New bike paths had been cut across previously untouched ground and through delicate cryptobiotic crusts. Long-designated trails were compressed, heavily rutted and shattered in places. Thus, we thank The New Mexican for its important Dec. 5 “Loved to death” report by Daniel J. Chacón, describing in detail the rapid destruction of this treasured and fragile place.

Knowledgeable and caring local hikers and bikers tread lightly with respect and reverence for the areas we traverse and encourage all who wish to partake of nature’s offerings to do the same. However, the knobby tire marks in the Badlands’ trails and the single bike tracks cutting across fragile cryptobiotic soil we saw from a high ridge, left little doubt as to who and what had caused the severe damage we were seeing.

Before COVID-19, we rarely encountered other hikers in the Badlands, and there were no bikers. Trails were minimal and carefully avoided fragile terrain. However, in the last couple of years, two major events have driven the current destruction.

Many inexperienced people turned to the outdoors to escape the confinement caused by the pandemic, discovering the joys of hiking, biking and camping and other open-air activities they had never felt before. They packed trailhead parking lots, trod trails and crammed campgrounds in numbers that, compared to past use levels, would have taken decades to cause the same amount of “wear.”

This rush to the outdoors was amplified by state and local tourism offices mounting campaigns to promote New Mexico as the ultimate outdoor tourism destination. Even January’s New Mexican story touted the Nambé Badlands as a spectacular mountain biking and hiking locale close to Santa Fe, which it is. However, 10 days after that article appeared, a small but typically sized group of Eldorado hikers (eight to 12 of our 90-plus roster) went there to hike. About 25 cars, half with out-of-state plates, loading and unloading mountain bikes, occupied all the limited parking spaces. From the road, we could see a dozen bikers crisscrossing the rugged terrain. We realized it would be hazardous for hikers, so we went elsewhere.

Necessary actions to restore and protect the Nambé Badlands will not be popular with those who may be limited or denied access. It will take at least a couple of years to prevent the current damage from expanding and to allow time for some recovery. It could be that it will never “recover” but simply erode further. Damaged cryptobiotic soil may never heal in our lifetimes. Those of us who enjoy hiking the Nambé Badlands because of its uniqueness and beauty will miss it if it’s closed. As is the case throughout our threatened natural world, its loss is everyone’s, including future generations.

The Eldorado Hiking Group was founded in 2000 and has more than 90 hikers. Terry Gibbs is one of the group founders, and both he and Peter Glankoff are hike leaders.

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