Moving Mountain Biking Forward in Caliente
IMBA Conservation Manager Aaron Clark leads a discussion in Santa Fe. Image by Leslie Kehmeier.
Recently in Santa Fe, NM, IMBA Southwest and Alaska Regional Director Patrick Kell and IMBA Conservation Manager Aaron Clark gave presentations titled "Strategic Engagement in Land Proposals" and "Successfully Navigating the Planning Process Path." The sessions were well attended by both trail advocates and land managers. Members of our local IMBA chapter Santa Fe Fat Tire Society (SFFTS), and other NM chapters were present, including the Los Alamos Tuff Riders, Del Norte MTB Alliance, Gallup Trails and the Albuquerque Mountain Bike Association. The REI store in Santa Fe did a great job hosting the gathering.
Our esteemed guests also included representatives from Angel Fire Resort, Santa Fe County, City of Taos, Valles Caldera National Preserve, the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program, Santa Fe National Forest, Cibola National Forest, Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Southern New Mexico Trail Alliance, Taos Land Trust, Trust for Public Land and BLM staffers from the NM State Office, Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument and the Farmington District Office. Our goal was to listen to our chapters and help further educate them on best strategic practices for land use planning, with regards to Forest Plan Revisions, Wilderness and National Monument Proposals. The National Forests in New Mexico are currently in the Forest Plan Revision process and there are some other land protection proposals floating around New Mexico, so the event was very timely.
Clark kicked things off by leading the group through a discussion of “Strategic Engagement in Land Proposals." The focus was on how mountain bikers and other trail users can be proactive and positive, rather than reactive and negative, when a local land protection initiative is proposed. A key point that Clark made, in reference to working with Congressional representatives, was this: “Rather than bring problems to a discussion, bring solutions and offer solutions that will be positive for the entire community, either through mountain biking or some other positive contribution that mountain biking may play a role in such as community health, quality of life or economic development. It’s here where your value as mountain bikers will be realized.”
In the afternoon, the focus shifted to a panel discussion led by land managers from the USFS, BLM and NPS. Representatives from each agency offered perspectives and answered questions on a variety of topics, from how to best approach Forest Plan Revisions from a trail planning perspective to how to establish a good relationship with your local land manager. What emerged loud and clear was the importance of getting involved early in the land and trail planning process, developing relationships with the land managers and the value of to remaining engaged and offering solutions throughout the planning process.
The second and final afternoon session, titled ”Successfully Navigating the Planning Process Path,” was again presented by Clark, focusing on the various planning stages, processes and terminologies and what they mean for mountain bike access. The group discussed how the seemingly inconsequential and wonky process of land use planning actually sets the critical stage for any future trail project viability. The discussion touched on the types of comments that work best for mountain bike trail advocacy in different stages of the planning process, and how a Wilderness Inventory is different from Recommended Wilderness and Designated Wilderness.
We concluded the day with an update on local issues, specifically the Forest Plan Revision for the Santa Fe National Forest. The Wilderness inventory process for this revision has not yet begun; however, Wilderness advocates have expressed their desires to expand the designated Pecos Wilderness. In response, the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society has developed a solution-focused white paper, calling for land protection through an alternate designation such as National Recreation Area. A promosing development is that they have successfully negotiated other important trails out of the proposal. Having local county officials and agency staff attend these important and timely discussions will prove critical for future negotiations as IMBA and our local chapter strive to create a reasonable and recreation-friendly solution.
A big thanks to those who came from throughout the state for this event. We are looking forward to developing our partnerships and projects with you all, leading to protected land and better mountain bike access.