The trail, long and narrow, winds its way around obstacles, skirts steep and exposed sections, reveals wonderful views of the surrounding landscape and gets my heart pumping. While I could be describing my favorite section of the Atalaya Trail, I’m actually describing my experience as the executive director at the Santa Fe Conservation Trust (SFCT).
Land is an important part of life in New Mexico, and conserving land is an issue that concerns us all. No other private, nonprofit organization in this community is as focused on conserving the open spaces in and around the city of Santa Fe and ensuring access to the natural world that lies just beyond our homes as SFCT. We are equally dedicated to conserving land in Santa Fe, Río Arriba and San Miguel counties.
We envision a northern New Mexico where diverse communities work together to create deeper connections between people and land, preserve our rich traditions and cultural heritages, and build mutual respect and friendship by better understanding and appreciating the land and the values we all share.
SFCT sees these places, not as commodities, but as vulnerable communities needing a voice. For 20 years we have been advocates for the protection of open space and iconic vistas, wildlife habitat, clean watersheds, productive lands, dark skies, recreational trails and trail users. We have done this by working in cooperation with many public agencies, nonprofits, and volunteers, financial supporters including foundations, conservation advocates and landowners—in fact all our conservation easements were voluntarily donated by private landowners. Our success has been possible due to the hard work and dedication of all of these people who have been committed to making our community a more livable place.
One reason why people choose to live in northern New Mexico is easy access to our neighboring public lands. “Wild land” experiences are often the cornerstones of people’s mental, physical and spiritual health. SFCT’s efforts to improve permanent access and build trails are connecting people to nature, creating new opportunities for recreation and advancing the health and well-being of the young and the old. In fact, outdoor recreation has become an economic driving force in many communities.
Access to healthy foods and clean water is an economic, health, and social justice issue in many parts of America, including the counties we serve in northern New Mexico. It is also a land conservation issue.
As you can see, the work of SFCT follows a winding and varied pathway, with branches that reach out and touch all of us in one way or another. There is room for all of us to participate. We hope you will join us in our mission to save land for everyone, forever.
Charlie O’Leary is executive director of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.