A new and ‘wild’ park for a chang­ing Taos

The Taos News - - FROM PAGE ONE - By Cody Hooks chooks@taos­news.com The Taos News

Even though Taoseños are en­vi­ously close to some of the South­west’s wildest places, get­ting there is not a given. Not ev­ery­one has a truck or the phys­i­cal abil­ity to get into the woods and back­coun­try, and it’s all too easy to get tied up with work and fam­ily. That’s why a new park, thick with wet­lands and an air of wilder­ness, is start­ing to emerge a mile from down­town Taos.

The Río Fer­nando Park is a 20-acre mix of crit­i­cal river habi­tat and old agri­cul­tural lands that were farmed hard and aban­doned. In the three years since the Taos Land Trust pur­chased the prop­erty and a group of co-work­ers, friends, neigh­bors and, even­tu­ally, the com­mu­nity be­gan imag­in­ing what the park could be, it’s al­ready start­ing to take shape.

Over the sum­mer, a crew of young peo­ple from Taos worked their first jobs re­pair­ing the Vigil y Romo Ace­quia that runs along the edge of the park. This past week, the land was host to a tra­di­tional New Mex­ico matanza.

And at any given time in the week, kids run through the plum thicket or play in gi­ant nests weaved from the limbs of in­va­sive trees — it’s not a play­ground, per se, but it’s filled with play.

The Río Fer­nando Park is meant as a com­pli­ment, not com­pe­ti­tion, to the other parks in town. Kit Car­son is the Cen­tral Park of Taos, with the space to host big events, such as craft fairs and con­certs, while the Eco Park and File­mon Sanchez Park have fields for adult and youth sports. Fred Baca, pop­u­lar for short sprints around the track or tak­ing the dog for a walk, is to the west of the Río Fer­nando Park on the other side of the river.

As Taos Land Trust Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Kristina Ortez said, it’s a park “with a sense of wild­ness about it.”

The Río Fer­nando Park is open dur­ing nor­mal busi­ness hours and only dur­ing the week. The Taos Land Trust plans to of­fi­cially open the park in 2019. At the same time, a num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions and the town of Taos are work­ing to in­te­grate the park and other open spa­ces in the down­town area via trails and eas­ily walk­a­ble paths and side­walks.

Plan­ning the Río Fer­nando Park was jump-started in No­vem­ber with a $575,000 grant from the Na­tional Recre­ation and Park As­so­ci­a­tion and Co­caCola Co.

“The land has changed amaz­ingly over the last two years,” said land trust board pres­i­dent San­jay Poovadan. “It’s taken a lot of work and good think­ing from var­i­ous... veins of our com­mu­nity. It’s an amaz­ing place now and the fu­ture looks good.”

“Río Fer­nando Park is a unique par­cel of wet­land, for­est and for­mer ranch­land. Connecting nearby trails and pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional ac­cess to the park en­sures the com­mu­nity will en­joy this his­toric and beau­ti­ful park for years to come,” said Louis Ba­con, owner of Taos Ski Val­ley and The Taos Ski Val­ley Foun­da­tion, which has pro­vided ad­di­tional fi­nan­cial sup­port to the park and restora­tion ef­forts.

Aside from quar­ter- and half-mile walk­ing paths, the next big project to come out of the grant is the restora­tion of the 7 acres of wet­lands on the prop­erty, as well as the Río Fer­nando it­self.

“Here, we have to work with wa­ter...use it very ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently,” said wet­land restora­tion ecol­o­gist Steve Vrooman.

In the his­tory of the land, the course of the river was straight­ened out, so the fam­ily could farm more crops. But that chan­nel­iza­tion has sped up the wa­ter and changed the nat­u­ral spon­ge­like qual­i­ties of the wet­lands, ab­sorb­ing the surges from floods and fil­ter­ing wa­ter. Around Jan­uary, work to re­store the wet­lands will be­gin in earnest.

Vrooman and his crew will move earth and plants in the wet­lands, such as 1,000-pound chunks of na­tive grasses and dirt, and re­shape the river to a more nat­u­ral me­an­der. Along with re­mov­ing in­va­sive species and en­cour­ag­ing wil­lows to grow in their place, this will im­prove habi­tat for beavers, a some­times unloved but vi­tal player in nat­u­ral wet­lands.

“Beavers are to­tally sym­bi­otic with wil­lows. You have to be part of it,” Vrooman said.

Though the park’s wet­lands will “look a lit­tle rough” un­til things green out in the spring, he said, it’s a nec­es­sary step in cre­at­ing a park that is more to the com­mu­nity than a nice place for a pic­nic, a park that matches the re­al­i­ties of ac­ces­si­bil­ity in Taos and the an­tic­i­pated con­se­quences of a chang­ing cli­mate.

In­stead of dig­ging new wells, “we re­ally have to work with the re­sources avail­able,” said land trust ar­borist Ben Wright. The re­paired ace­quia, which has been dry for decades, may not get wa­ter reg­u­larly. But the project, like the park, was a learn­ing op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­one in­volved, in­clud­ing the town govern­ment that’s com­mit­ted it­self to pre­serv­ing cul­tural and agri­cul­tural tra­di­tions.

The big­ger vi­sion calls for bring­ing more ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties to the park, as well as build­ing a new of­fice, com­mu­nity learn­ing space and park­ing lot, and con­cen­trat­ing that ac­tiv­ity on the other end of the prop­erty that’s not crit­i­cal wet­land habi­tat.

The park is also a key part of the Río Fer­nando Col­lab­o­ra­tive, a group of or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing to re­vi­tal­ize the river all the way from the head­wa­ters to its con­flu­ence past the new park.

Mor­gan Timms

Dozens helped when it came to dig­ging up the meat as it cooked un­der­ground Satur­day (Oct. 6) dur­ing Taos Land Trust’s 2018matanza feast at the Río Fer­nando Park in Taos.

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