Trails should be designed for a low-impact human presence
By Ross Coleman
Published in the Albuquerque Journal — Monday, September 16, 2013
I am concerned that we have entered a political arena where sides seem to be drawn along the lines of Rio Grande bosque “improvements” – or enhancements – on one side and bosque ecological restoration on the other.
This need not be the case.
There is no better way to protect the Rio Grande and the bosque than to have residents visit this special place and appreciate all that it has to offer.
We have a rare treasure with this relatively wild river running through our city. There are very few similar urban river reaches remaining in this country.
Our neighbors in Phoenix, El Paso, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, etc. have river reaches that have been far more compromised ecologically than the Rio Grande in Albuquerque – if they have a river at all.
Considering the substantial budget proposed for bosque improvements and restoration in the vision plan, I believe the weight of that funding should focus on the restoration component.
The most significant ecological component missing from the bosque in Albuquerque are wetlands. This is also true both upstream and downstream of Albuquerque.
Most of the floodplain that contained the historic oxbow marshes, wet meadows and wooded wetland areas have become farmland or been developed for residential use.
Two of the areas of highest wildlife and human use within the Albuquerque bosque are the Nature Center and the Tingley wetlands. Wetlands in general tend to have the highest species diversity and abundance when compared to other ecosystems.
If I were to make a single suggestion regarding the Rio Grande vision it would be this: Take a significant portion of the funding (half or more) for ecological restoration. Focus that effort to create groundwater infusion wetlands (mimicking oxbow marshes), wet meadows, wooded wetlands and overbank wetland areas.
The benefits for wildlife and the people who will be visiting the bosque will be tremendous.
I think there is a place for improvements, such as trails that will bring pedestrians into the bosque and along the river. They should be designed with an emphasis on a low-impact human presence.
Interpretive signage in select places that can educate the public about the nature of this local ecosystem and the efforts to restore it should be encouraged. These signs should also indicate the crisis the Rio Grande faces in light of climate change and a very likely drier and warmer future. The signage need not be enormous or intrusive to get the message across.
The value of the bosque to Albuquerque’s residents and wildlife is immeasurable. In the summer it provides a shady and cooler environment, as it has to wildlife and human residents for millennia.
A canoe trip through the Albuquerque reach in the winter displays an incredible abundance of waterfowl and spectacular views of the Sandia Mountains through the trees.
The gilded beauty of the bosque in the fall can be breathtaking. The thousands of birds of so many species that migrate through in the spring and fall lift the spirit of those who notice.
Improvements in the bosque? Yes, with more wetlands and low-impact human use.