Mayor Berry vs The Bosque

By Alex Limkin

(Originally published in the Alibi, December 13th, 2012)

A great advocate for New Mexico lands and wildlife, Aldo Leopold, is fittingly honored with a trail that winds behind the Rio Grande Nature Center. This mile-long loop takes visitors through lands he knew intimately.

Following the trail lined with cottonwoods, visitors can enjoy quotes from Leopold's writings posted every few hundred yards. These phrases, dating back a century, deal with the importance of our land base and reflect the thoughts of a man who worked to establish public land projects such as the Rio Grande Valley State Park, Albuquerque’s zoo and the Gila Wilderness.

The trail honoring Leopold was dedicated by the city in February 2009. Less than four years later, his work is at risk. Without any supporting data, Mayor Richard Berry has determined that the river corridor and the Bosque are “underutilized,” according to a representative at a recent public meeting. Albuquerque's top dogs believe the Bosque, an "environmental gem," can and should be better integrated into the fabric of the city. They intend to accomplish this by tearing down natural habitats and laying out roads, parking lots and infrastructure.

I attended the town hall meeting at the Rio Grande Nature Center on Tuesday, Dec. 4, to register my opposition. Berry was not present, but members of his development committee were on hand to answer questions. They said the purpose of the meeting was to find out what the community thinks about building in the Bosque.

Although they were not prepared to take comments, I spoke up from a page of prepared remarks because the Bosque cannot speak for itself. The mayor is an accomplished entrepreneur, and that's why I’m worried: Businessmen may be skilled in enterprise, but they are not good at understanding the fragility of a desert river ecosystem or respecting the deep connections Albuquerqueans feel to wild land.  

During my remarks, I wondered aloud if the mayor and the members of his development committee bothered to walk the short length of the Aldo Leopold Forest Trail to read the quotes memorialized there. One near the riverbank where the Rio Grande flows beneath Montaño would have jumped out at them:

"The average Albuquerquean man, woman, or child, is in need of a place within walking distance of the city where he can enjoy a breath of fresh air and a sight of a few trees, a few birds, and a little water ... Just a good trail along the bank and clean woods."

This comment was made nearly 100 years ago when the Bosque was far wilder than it is today.

Berry’s development team believes we don't use the river corridor sufficiently. This stems from misunderstanding. When the mayor and his team visit the Bosque, they see a tract of trees and a stretch of river and think, “What can we build here that will attract visitors to this spot?” They don't understand that people are already coming precisely for what exists there—trees, birds, fresh air, a little water and a "good trail along the bank and clean woods." That is the attraction: nature.

A great part of my recovery from the wounds of war was communing with that sliver of land known as the Bosque, observing the river. The quiet, protected space, a haven where I could walk for miles, connected me to life beyond myself and aided in my recovery. There’s little doubt that the natural world offers healing to anyone who has experienced intense duress in their life.

Unlike other wilderness areas, it’s easy for me to reach the Bosque from anywhere in the city. I can go by foot, bicycle, bus or car, and trailheads and parking are obvious and adequate. Young and old alike can walk the distance required to reach the river. I regularly make the trip with my 86-year-old father, my 3-year-old nephew and my pregnant wife. Miles of trail exist in the Bosque, offering splendid views of the river, and a myriad of plant and animal life along its edges.

At the town hall meeting, the project organizers maintained that development of the Bosque will encourage better stewardship. I disagree. Education and exposure—not development—are the keys to promoting stewardship. Programs offered at the Rio Grande Nature Center and by the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program reach thousands of children a year. If we promoted environmental and outdoor education in school curricula, we could reach thousands more.

It is time to return to Leopold’s ethic and re-dedicate ourselves to the preservation and health of the Bosque. The mayor’s plan to incorporate our wild area into a concrete maze of traffic lights and gridlock, if allowed, would be a great disservice to the environmental gem that is our river wonderland, and one of Albuquerque’s greatest features.
Let the Bosque be.

Hard Road Ahead for Rio Grande Bosque

By Alex Limkin

(Originally published in the New Mexico Compass, September 2, 2013)

— It is time to realize that Mayor Richard Berry’s plan for the Bosque, that we have been told repeatedly is a “conceptual” plan, is now hardening.

Based on the magenta colored line running up their maps, it’s clear that the crown jewel of the mayor’s plan is a 8- to 10-foot-wide road running the entire length of the interior of the Bosque.  Of course, no one on the Mayor’s team is calling it a road. They continue to use the word “trail” to describe what will be a graded surface that could support the movement of an M1A1 tank.  All of this I learned at an August community outreach meeting at Taylor Ranch Community Center.

So what’s wrong with putting more roads in the Bosque? Some people will point to the several roads that already exist there and throw their hands up. They perceive what’s being called the Interior Bosque Roadway as a victory for this threatened area, since the mayor seems to have given up (for the time being) on pedestrian bridges across the river, restaurants, breweries and other seemingly more egregious projects.  But this would be a grave mistake: a roadway through the heart of the Bosque is nothing short of a disaster.

A 10-foot-wide road is not disastrous in itself. In the end, it will resemble any other road through a wilderness setting: By width and uniformity and ugliness, it’s a surgical scar.
But take a moment to think of the construction efforts to make such a road. Think of the massive trucks and backhoes that will have to be motoring back and forth through that narrow beleaguered space, the clouds of diesel fumes they will be expelling, the tons of rubble that endless lines of dump trucks will be hauling in.

Think also of the loss of vegetation—such a wide road through miles and miles of the Bosque.  Do you think construction crews will only clear a 10-feet swath to create a 10-foot wide road? Of course not. Ask any road engineer about the extra width they have to claim just to keep their vehicles and machinery from being damaged by nearby trees. Although the road surface may only have crusher fine distributed 10-feet wide, additional feet on either side will also have to be cleared.

What sort of experience will the Bosque visitor enjoy under these conditions? There is no need to guess. Crusher fine roads already exist in the Bosque. Go to the crusher fine road that has been built on the west bank of the Rio Grande just south of Central, or the crusher fine road that runs through the Bosque from Campbell Road right to the river’s edge. These roads already exist.

Now, imagine the entire Bosque being splintered and divided in the same way.  The feeling that many of us now enjoy of actually being on a trail will be lost–forever. Just as the lanes on any freeway can only be expected to increase, there will be no way to reclaim the intimate space of a trail through the woods once the trees are cut and the vegetation is laid to waste.  What we will have instead of a modest dirt trail system will be a road for city vehicles to pick up trash on, making the rounds of the dumpsters that will crop up to handle the increased trash, a road for police vehicles to make routine patrols on, turning on powerful spotlights in the evening hours, a road for the mountain bikes to rival the speed of the road bikes on the paved Paseo del Bosque Trail.

Finally, what of the wildlife? What of the animals that need to regularly cross the Bosque to get to the river’s edge, to drink, to hunt, to forage. How many more accommodations must they make to our increased traffic? How many more accommodations can they make? What of the kangaroo rats, what of the mice, what of all the animals that regularly require and rely on cover and concealment to get from one place to another? Now, in the middle of the Bosque, they must cross … a road?! A dangerous wide flat open space where they become the easiest prey.  Then, when the mice and kangaroo rats are gone, what of the hawks and the coyotes? Will we resort to seasonally “stocking” the Bosque with wildlife like we do our ponds so we can show our children what a wild thing looks like?

An Interior Bosque Roadway is a disastrous plan, and it is no longer conceptual. It is real. But we can propose alternatives.  Instead of decimating what little habitat is left in the interior of the Bosque, what about building a pedestrian-friendly walkway alongside the Paseo del Bosque Bike Trail?  As it stands now, cyclists on the trail are consistently dealing with pedestrians, many of whom would walk on an adjacent path if one existed.
Put some benches so the pedestrians can take a rest. Put some shade trees so they can have some shade. Put in educational signs so they can learn about the land they are walking through.  This way you improve the lives of the cyclists (who no longer have to weave around the pedestrians) and you improve the experience for pedestrians as well.

Please join me in holding fast to keeping additional roads out of the Bosque by attending the next outreach meeting at which we may register our input with the mayor. Lend your presence, if not your voice, to this ongoing discussion.