Change is inevitable. Whether you want it or not, it happens. Santa Fe now has a new courthouse, a Super Walmart and a train to Albuquerque, among other advances. However, for the most part, change seems to happen rather slowly in Santa Fe.
For those of us who love this area as it is, that’s a good thing. There is something timeless and beautiful that happens when one is able to sweep one’s eyes across the landscape and see the natural world as it was intended. In some cases, it happens effortlessly through benign neglect, but, in other situations, it requires a great deal of effort and organization to preserve something that we cherish. That is why, a little over 20 years ago, the Santa Fe Conservation Trust (SFCT or Trust) came to be.
Over the last couple of decades, the Trust has worked directly with landowners to help them enter into conservation easements (CEs) to permanently preserve more than 35,000 acres of land in northern New Mexico. The Trust currently holds 26 CEs in the Santa Fe foothills, preserving 445 critical acres around important landmarks such as Atalaya and Sun mountains, Sallie’s Hill, Cerro Gordo and the Dale Ball Trail system. The Trust has also been very active in the Galisteo Basin, where it holds and monitors 28 CEs, preserving 7,438 acres of vital wildlife habitat and rich cultural resources.
The next time you drive to Las Vegas, New Mexico, look to your left and your right along Interstate 25 at the ranches, homesteads and meadows, little changed from the days when wagons traveled the Santa Fe Trail. The Trust holds CEs on almost 20,000 acres of that landscape, ensuring that it will remain forever pristine. Similarly, the Trust has worked with local landowners to preserve the fish and wildlife habitat in the riparian areas and mesas along the Pecos and Los Piños rivers and around Abiquiú Lake.
All this preservation is great stuff, but what if you want to strap on some boots and sweat a little in the backcountry? Well, the Trust works with the city and county of Santa Fe and the Trails Alliance of Santa Fe to make sure that you can do that also. That effort started in 1993 when Dale Ball, SFCT’s founding executive director, worked with private landowners, government agencies and the U.S. Congress to secure the gateway to Atalaya Mountain and maintain access to the rugged trails that lead to its summit. The success and popularity of the Atalaya Trail galvanized a broader effort, which led to the creation and expansion of the current Dale Ball Trail system. To date, SFCT has quietly helped to create and maintain over 75 miles of public trails in and around Santa Fe, the most recent being the La Piedra Trail linking the Dale Ball system to Little Tesuque canyon.
Inevitably, when my family has visitors from New York, Los Angeles, or some other part of the planet, we all end up lying down in the driveway and looking up at the night sky. They can’t believe all those stars are really there. Because we have fewer man-made lights than most cities, we can look up to see many more stars against a truly dark sky. Rarely do I lie on my back in the driveway for more than a few minutes without spotting at least one shooting star or a satellite. SFCT supports dark skies by enforcing terms in CEs, limiting outdoor lighting, throwing educational “star parties,” and supporting the New Mexico Night Sky Protection Act.
So, the next time you look up at the dark night sky, across the horizon at our lovely foothills or down at a rocky trail on your way up a mountain, think of the hard-working staff, board members and supporters of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust and ponder what our area would be like if they had not spent the last 20 years protecting, preserving and advocating for natural beauty and access to the backcountry.
George Strickland is a board member of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.