The proposed Rio Grande Trail
High-ranking officials meet with residents on historic, conservation plans
ALAMOSA — An all-star cast of government officials played to a capacity audience last Wednesday, Jan. 4, in Adams State College’s Carson Audotorium.
Appearing to address the crowd, hear concerns and answer questions were U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar; Colorado U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet; Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar; Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Several hundred citizens and government officials from around the San Luis Valley, other parts of Colorado and Northern New Mexico jammed the auditorium.
They had plenty of time to contemplate concerns, as the interior secretary, governor and the senators were about 35 minutes late, arriving after the scheduled 9:30 a.m. start of the meeting.
The first purpose of the meeting was for the audience to listen to presentations by the top-ranked officials and, secondly, to ask questions and present viewpoints on economic and environmental issues facing the area.
Secretary Salazar counted 21 questions received from the audience, several of them expressing concerns about the federal government running over private property rights, and more than one about an alleged “backdoor process” on decisions about conservation and possible harm to the prosperity of the owners of grazing animals.
Salazar stated that private property rights would absolutely be respected, noting that opportunities for conservation and economic progress “will not last forever.”
Separately, he noted, “We are, in fact, listening —and at the end of the day, we will make decisions.”
A working draft copy of the “San Luis Valley and Central Sangre de Cristo Mountains Reconnaissance Survey Report,” prepared at Salazar’s request, was available “for the purpose of identifying opportunities to preserve and interpret nationally significant American Latino heritage sites within the San Luis Valley and central Sangre de Cristo Mountains, as well as opportunities for conservation of the area’s landscape, environment and natural resources.”
In addition to recommending that Congress authorize a special resource study of American Latino sites in the area, the draft study also recommended creating a corridor of conservation easements on public and private lands, identifying and developing state heritage tour routes, and providing National Park Service technical assistance to state and local heritage sites.
One of the strongest recommendations was a “Special Resource Study (SRS) of the San Luis Valley and the central Sangre de Cristo Mountains be authorized by Congress.”
“If authorized by Congress, the SRS could examine many potential alternatives for resource protection and visitor experience. Potential management options could include designation of a new national park, establishment of a commemorative center, partnerships between NPS (National Park Service) and existing landholders, and more,” the report said.
Secretary Salazar said he did not think he had ever seen such a concentration of (higher-level) officials meeting with the public in the San Luis Valley to hear viewpoints on interior issues, and added that a focus on “tourism and job creation through tourism” was important.
As an example, he cited the 2003 creation of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, currently drawing 300,000 people to the SLV annually, adding, “We need to continue to build on that agenda.”
Salazar agreed with Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen’s enthusiasm for a trail that would pass through the Valley along the Rio Grande from northwest to southeast. The national scope of the trail is proposed to go from Canada to the Mexican border, it was noted.
The presentation and question-answering period ended around noon, then the meeting split up into “breakout sessions,” including “landscape conservation and management opportunities,” the San Luis Valley trail system proposal and “National Historical Park and other cultural/historic preservation options.”
Salazar concluded his presentation with answers to questions about concerns from northern New Mexico attendees, stating that a similar public meeting with officials present such as senators from New Mexico and, possibly, that state’s governor, would take place before the end of June.
For example, at one breakout session, Monte Vista resident and GIS Specialist of the SLV GIS and GPS Authority Rachel M. Doyle, along with Alamosa County Community Development Director Juan Altamirano, outlined the last two months of work they have put into outlining the obstacles and possibilities of the trail, especially between Alamosa and Monte Vista, noting that they are exploring whether a Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant can be used to help fund it.
A Saguache County resident said she did not want to see her area bypassed in trail making and conservation efforts, while an advocate of the Old Spanish Trail between the east and west edges of the Valley said he did not want it to be ignored, adding, “The Old Spanish Trail needs a comprehensive management plan.”
Mike Gibson, chair of the Rio Grande Roundtable, noted, “putting trails on the river means we will have to be cautious about the runoff, but (if we are) aware of that, this can be done.”
A planned reassembling of the group did not take place, as the break-out sessions were ending about 1 p.m., past the original planned ending time of the meeting.