Category: Uncategorized

Vegas Verdes – Gallinas River Park: A Natural Green Space

Published in the Las Vegas Optic on July 14th, 2021.

Summer is here (at last) and the Gallinas River Park beckons. The park – natural, green, and cool – awaits you. All sorts of benefits derive from an untamed natural space – especially when a river runs through it. We Las Vegans are pretty lucky, you know. Few towns and cities can claim a true nature park at their center.

Appearances and conditions of a nature park are defined by Mother Nature. While beautification processes such as mowing, trimming, pruning and grooming, are essential in traditional city parks, our nature park requires a different kind of management. Human intervention, for example, will be needed for the selective removal of invasive plants and their replacement with non-invasive, native varieties. As much as possible, through cooperation with the Las Vegas Parks Department, the Friends of the Gallinas River Park and Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance will attempt to insure that plants and animals in the park are left undisturbed.

When trees, shrubs, and plants are left alone to thrive, they provide shade, food and cover for all kinds of wildlife. Insects aerate the soil allowing for moisture retention and abundant plant growth; butterflies and bees pollinate flowers. Insects become food for birds, reptiles and a host of small creatures; invertebrates make fine meals for fish. A thriving Bosque keeps the river healthy. When the river is healthy – shaded and cleansed – it allows fish and invertebrates to flourish.

Instances of interdependency go on and on. Every species of plant and animal relies on every other species for sustenance or a healthy environment – often both. If humans disrupt this…

…mutual aid society, by mowing, for example, or otherwise altering the natural cycle, we all lose.

If instead, we nurture the natural processes and reduce mowing and other grooming activities, families and individuals of all ages get to enjoy a walk through a luscious, friendly, natural river park. As they walk, they might notice wildflowers never before encountered or observe signs of beaver recently returned. They will almost certainly see some happy fishermen along the river.

Vegas Verdes: Beaver Visit the River Park

Published on May 25, 2021 in the Las Vegas Optic.

At one time in our history, beaver were plentiful in rivers all over North America. With the arrival of the Europeans and the growing demand for fur, beaver pelts became an internationally traded luxury item and the beaver population declined. Some rivers, the Gallinas through Las Vegas for example, haven’t seen any at all for a number of years. The beaver, with their engineering feats, are known to promote water quality and quantity. Let’s welcome beaver back to the Gallinas River Park.

Beaver sightings were recently reported in the area near Prince/Independence Streets. Lest the readers suspect the spotter couldn’t tell the difference between a muskrat and a beaver, beaver are much larger than muskrat (a beaver is 3 to 4 feet long and 44 to 60 pounds while a muskrat is no more than 2 feet long and weighs 1-4 pounds). There is physical evidence of their presence in the same area. Two trees have been taken down and the telltale teeth marks can be
seen on two others. It’s believed that the beaver are attracted to the south end of the Gallinas River Park because of new deep water resulting from restoration work. Still, it seems the beaver have yet to decide if they will stay. If they do stay, the Friends of the Gallinas River Park (FGRP) plan to protect the few trees in the area by caging them with wire mesh, and hope the beaver is encouraged to find a more congenial place to settle. An ideal locale for them might be the north
end of the River Park where trees are plentiful and beaver are known to have previously resided.

It is true that beaver have acquired a poor reputation. They do, after all, take down healthy trees. They build dams in rivers and sometimes in acequias. The dams they build make ponds and those can and often do, flood nearby human
enterprises. Think of hay fields or roads or somebody’s back yard. The running water associated with culverts and acequia diversions can confuse the beaver so that they think their dam has sprung a leak . . . then the beaver try to stop the leak by clogging the culvert or the diversion.

But wait . . . we humans can take steps to protect what we grow and what we have built. We can cage trees; we can construct a flow device thru the beaver dam that will regulate water level and maintain the pond at a constant non-threatening height; and there are mitigation methods to safeguard acequias. In the River Park, the willows and cottonwoods that the beavers cut for food and dam and lodge building will regenerate themselves over time, leaving a vibrant bosque. We humans might also find better places to build than in flood plains.

It is true that beaver have acquired a poor reputation. They do, after all, take down healthy trees. They build dams in rivers and sometimes in acequias. The dams they build make ponds and those can and often do, flood nearby human
enterprises. Think of hay fields or roads or somebody’s back yard. The running water associated with culverts and acequia diversions can confuse the beaver so that they think their dam has sprung a leak . . . then the beaver try to stop the leak by clogging the culvert or the diversion.


But wait . . . we humans can take steps to protect what we grow and what we have built. We can cage trees; we can construct a flow device thru the beaver dam that will regulate water level and maintain the pond at a constant non-threatening height; and there are mitigation methods to safeguard acequias. In the River Park, the willows and cottonwoods that the beavers cut for food
and dam and lodge building will regenerate themselves over time, leaving a vibrant bosque. We humans might also find better places to build than in flood plains.

Vegas Verdes: Keep the Gallinas River Park Clean and Beautiful

Published on Feb 17, 2021 in the Las Vegas Optic.

Pollution in all of its variations seems always to be with us. But…that doesn’t mean we should learn to live with it. Consider Las Vegas. We residents are lucky that our water comes from high in the mountains and flows through rural – nonindustrial – areas. The quality is pretty good, though not perfect. Trash is a major source of pollution and for the Friends of the Gallinas River Park, trash – whether it’s in the river or in the river’s environs – is a never-ending concern.

Enter the Las Vegas San Miguel County Chamber of Commerce (LVSMCC) on a mission to re-invent itself and looking for ways to funnel some resources into the Las Vegas community. The Chamber and the Friends group put their collective imagination to work and came up with a number of ideas for beautification/clean-up projects in the River Park. The Chamber demonstrated its commitment to the whole enterprise by funding the grant writing process. The grant proposal submitted to the Keep New Mexico Clean and Beautiful program of the New Mexico Tourism Department was successful. The City of Las Vegas is the fiscal agent for this project and it ultimately benefits the entire town.

The Keep New Mexico Clean and Beautiful grant program funds projects that contribute to the goals established by Keep America Beautiful. These are: end litter, improve recycling, and beautify communities. Our Las Vegas project contains four items: youth education, youth employment, foundation for irrigation, and a water bottle refill station. What, you may ask, do any of these have to do with beautification or clean-up?

Young adults will be hired to first instruct younger children in river health and maintenance and second to take charge of regular River Park clean-up operations. The outcome will certainly be a cleaner and more beautiful river park. An equally important result will be the growth of community pride among the town’s young people. New Mexico Highlands University and Luna Community College students will lead classes for children in all of the city’s elementary schools. The youngsters will learn about the damage to our environment done by litter and how to think in terms of litter control, reduction and removal. The classes will include much hands on learning, giving the pupils firsthand experience with their river and their neighborhoods and how to keep them beautiful and healthy.

High school students from both school districts will be hired to work alongside volunteers, keeping the park and surrounding areas clean, removing trash build-up, and devising ways to permanently reduce the amount of litter accumulation.
It is expected that lessons learned will be passed along to other students and anyone else whose lives they touch.

To increase eye-appeal, a number of small garden areas are planned for the river park entrances at Bridge Street. Non-effluent, non-river water back up irrigation is needed for establishment of the vegetation and in times of extreme
drought, used according to existing watering restrictions. The irrigation foundation segment of the proposal arranges for connections to the city’s water supply at the selected sites. Once a source of water is assured, appropriate irrigation systems can be designed and installed. And the water bottle fill-up station – that is a nifty answer to how to reduce plastic trash while offering a convenience to all of the walkers, joggers and runners on the trail. Should you have doubts about the extent and severity of the impact of plastic on our environment, here are some statistics. Less than 10 percent of all plastic produced since 1960 has ever been recycled, yet even were that percentage higher, the problem would not go away. The existing methods for recycling plastic are neither effective nor efficient, but they are expensive. A small percentage of discarded plastic finds its way to landfills, but most wind up polluting our oceans, lakes and river, or killing our environment. Still – there is more to trash/pollution control than recycling. Remember the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Plastic bottles are durable – they can be REUSED again and
again…and yet, again.

The new water bottle refill station, to be positioned along the path of the river walk north of Bridge Street and just inside the gateway to the park, is a state of the art piece of machinery. It requires no power source, and will get its water from the city’s system. Best of all, it encourages us to use our personal stainless
steel water bottles or, if we haven’t got one of those, not to trash our plastic water bottles, but instead to keep using the same one. For those who want to receive information about all the activities of the Friends of the Gallinas River Park, send a message to jerickson@hermitspeakwatersheds.org. Ask to have your name put on the e-mail list.

Vegas Verdes: Gallinas River Park Design Ready for Your Review

Published on December 9th, 2020 in the Las Vegas Optic.

A conceptual draft of the long-awaited “shovel-ready” drawings, showing the future Gallinas River Park, is complete. When the final design is approved by the Las Vegas community, it will be a blueprint for what the revitalized park will look like.

The 2018 Community Design Workshop attended by representatives from every part of Las Vegas and its surroundings produced, after three days of discussion, debate, and idea exchange, a conceptual master plan of the future River Park. The current draft is a compilation of all the ideas, recommendations and desires expressed during the workshop and in later group conversations. It is also a document that exhibits how the best can result from compromise and collaboration. The conceptual draft of the “shovel-ready” drawings is based entirely upon the master plan.

But wait … there is yet more work for the community before the final draft can be submitted for approval. On Thursday, Dec. 10 at noon, the City of Las Vegas, together with Gallinas River Park Collaborative (GRPC), and Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance (HPWA) held a webinar to show off the draft and invited more suggestions from Las Vegans. Amy Bell, landscape architect of Groundwork Studio in Albuquerque, presented the information and graphics, described the work, and received comments. To view this important presentation go to: Webinar

When you view the webinar, one of the first things you will see is a copy of the park plan. Study it carefully – it includes all sorts of intriguing features and unexpected delights. Begin at the north end, near Mills Ave. and the Highlands University recycling center. At present, a utilitarian piece of pipe closes the trail to vehicles; further south, a block long, most unsightly, concrete divider hugs the east side of the trail – also to prevent vehicle access. Both of these barriers are to be replaced with custom designed fencing featuring river themes. Elsewhere along the trail, chain link fencing that separates the river walk from commercial enterprises or from the Highlands University campus is to be made interesting with inventive decorations.


Other sites dotted along the river walk will be devoted to public art. Opposite the old trolley barn (now the McCaffrey Media Arts Building) an abandoned rail spur can be seen. The space near it is designated as the Railspur Sculpture Garden. At the south end of the river walk on the west side near the first foot bridge is a fallen cottonwood. Instead of hauling it off, the plan is to convert it to something eye-worthy – a dragon or other fanciful creature. Many of the sites up and down the trail are labeled eddies. Don’t be confused by the word – it is meant to convey a gathering place for two or maybe a few persons. They might be places to contemplate scenic views or appreciate works of art, or just to sit.

Of course, a park is not a park without play spaces for children, and if it is a river park, good fishing spots are a must as well. Strategically placed flat-top boulders plus a fishing deck are spotted up and down the river and provide reliable access to the fish. Since it is essential that park amenities be accessible to all, an ADA (Americans with Disabilities) fishing/observation platform is planned at the bird watching pond (now under construction). On either side of Bridge Street, two nature play areas pop up where children of any and all ages can gather and let their imaginations rule.

Other park essentials – some that appear on the plan, others not there yet – include an amphitheater, an outdoor classroom, more trash cans, lighting for safety, and walk-way repair. The exercise equipment, installed ten years ago or so, will be moved and grouped in a single designated space for easier access. River walk users may observe the dense Bosque on the Northern section of the river and wonder how some of the planned structures and especially fishing access can possibly find space in this tangled thicket. The area is indeed in need of thinning and that task is to be directed by Tierra y Montes Soil and Conservation District – Las Vegas. The work will be carefully supervised with dead growth, some low-growing vegetation, and invasive species of trees, such as Siberian Elm, to be removed.

All parties concerned with both river restoration and park revitalization have been particularly attentive to the need to work together. It would not do, for example, to construct a fishing deck at the very place where boulders for bank stabilization are to be situated. Oxbow Ecological Engineering LLC (the organization that plotted the stages of river restoration), Watershed Artisans (the construction company implementing the restoration plan) Groundwork Studio (the designer of the park), and Tierra y Montes Soil and Conservation, routinely check to make certain that they are not getting in each other’s way as they progress toward completion of their various tasks.

We implore you to watch the webinar, again you may find it here: Webinar

After you’ve watched the webinar, had some time to digest the information, and find yourself full of questions, comments, or have a suggestion, please send your comments to amy@groundworkstudionm.com or call Amy at 505-212-9126.

She’s accepting comments and feedback until January 31, 2021

Vegas Verdes: Birding, Fishing for Kids in the Gallinas River Park

Published on October 28, 2020 in the Las Vegas Optic.

The Gallinas River Park, thanks once again to the efforts of Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance (HPWA) and the Gallinas River Park Collaborative (GRPC), is to receive another grant for project funding. This time it is for an appealing and indeed stimulating youth program. The Park has been awarded one of the 25 inaugural grants from the brand new Outdoor Equity Fund. The fund was created as part of New Mexico Outdoor Recreation – a division of the Economic Development Department – and signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in April 2019.

The Fund’s goal is to increase state revenue while seeking at the same time, to insure that the state’s diverse populations are encouraged and emboldened to enjoy the many opportunities for outdoor recreation that New Mexico has to offer. In 2019, the state convened an Outdoor Economics Conference in part to promote and explain the fund. Word of the conference reached Las Vegas and HPWA sent a representative who returned greatly excited by the possibilities and proceeded forthwith to submit a grant application.

The grant proposal’s grand vision is generations of Las Vegans adoring their river – enjoying its gifts and looking after its future. The practicalities are more down to earth. The proposal will fund a program, beginning in the spring of 2021, to teach the art and craft of fly-fishing and bird watching to area young people. Two Las Vegas area individuals – each expert in his field – one a devotee of fly fishing, the other an enthusiastic birder, will instruct participants.

Fly fishing is much more than simply throwing a line with a man-made fly on the end of it somewhere in the vicinity of hungry fish. Those who engage in the pastime learn fly selection – which ones mimic the local trout diet – and also about the habitat that nurtures the fish and how to protect it. The birders learn which birds are likely to be spotted along the river and when; and what kinds of vegetation provide haven for the birds. Some, with the necessary ear, will learn to distinguish a bird by its song. Birders and fly-fisherman alike must learn patience, concentration and close observation. Both pursuits are challenging and will inspire appreciation for the river and a desire to protect it. The proposal also provides for the purchase of enough equipment to insure that everyone who wants to participate will be properly kitted out.

This aspect of the grant allows HPWA to create a gear library – a permanent stockpile of fly fishing and birding gear that will be available for use by the Las Vegas community for years to come. The gear will include rods and reels, fly lines and flies, and other fly-fishing needs and for the birders, bird identification apps and books as well as binoculars. The proposal specifies two goals: to entertain and to inspire commitment to maintaining the health of the river. The grant makers loved it – and that means future grant applications for the Gallinas River Park will be certain to receive consideration.

The Gallinas River together with its Bosque is ideal for bird watching. Likewise, now that ponds and riffles that disappeared decades ago have been restored, it has become a fly-fisherman’s destination. These are demanding yet absorbing pastimes and can be indulged right in our backyard. The trick is to excite the curiosity of our young people and to assure them the wonders and entertainments of the river are theirs to enjoy – the next step is to convince them that the future health and prosperity of the river is in their hands.

The COVID-19 pandemic was not anticipated by the Outdoor Equity Fund when it was established. Nevertheless, the opportunities made available by the grant fit perfectly with the needs of our present situation. What better way to maintain distance from each other than doing something that requires us to keep our distance from each other? You wouldn’t want to accidentally snag your friend’s ear on an errant fish hook, so keep enough space to cast that fly safely. And if you’ve spotted a strange bird and are waiting for it to show itself – quiet is essential. It’s much easier for a single individual to be quiet than for a group, gathered close on the river bank.

Not every village, town or city has a river flowing through it. Las Vegas does and we are lucky. We are lucky also, because a growing group of residents recognizes the need to protect the river. They understand that one sure way to do that is by engaging the young people. The search for ways to interest children and young people in their river and to involve them in ongoing care for and stewardship of the river is never ending. The grant money will do much to further this effort. If you or someone you know is interested in participating, information is available from Elizabeth Juarros at ejuarros@hermitspeakwatersheds.org.

Vegas Verdes: A Coming Attraction on the River Park

Published on September 16, 2020 in the Las Vegas Optic.

The unfolding plans for the revitalized Gallinas River Park, an enterprise led by Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance (HPWA) and the Gallinas River Park Collaborative (GRPC), include some very intriguing and creative projects. One that has been in the plotting stage for some time, just recently was awarded a grant to begin con­struction. It is an arboretum with an irrigation system fed by storm water harvested from a nearby parking lot. It is destined for the North end of the River Park near the Highlands Recycling Center and extending South to the ball field and will occupy an integral place in the overall design for the Gallinas River Park.

Selection of featured vegetation in the arboretum and layout for planting is to be determined by local landscape experts. Aaron Kauffman of Southwest Urban-Hydrology has designed the rainwater harvesting and irrigation project and will
over­see its construction. Our Las Vegas arboretum will be an outdoor exhibit of
trees, shrubs, and perennial plants with displays that focus on species that are suit­able for our climate and soils. It will be accessible with pathways and borders, identification labels and an interpretive sign.

And finally, it will provide an opportunity for us to learn about the characteristics to look for when selecting trees and other vegetation, and how to keep them alive, once they are in the ground. Residents with small yards will be interested in smaller trees; others might want to learn about plantings that will provide color. Still, others want to avoid mistakes such as locating a sun-loving shrub in total shade or a delicate perennial in the path of the wind.

There is no decision yet as to exactly which trees and shrubs will be included in the arboretum’s exhibit. Natives will be preferred, however a number of non-natives have adapted well to our part of the world and will not be excluded. Culturally traditional/medicinal species will be among the plants chosen for display. Examples of some trees that may not be familiar to many of us but that love our climate are the golden rain tree and the lace-bark elm. These are not natives, but they thrive here. A small native tree that might be something new to try is the New Mexico privet. For all species that are eventually selected for the arboretum, emphasis will be on drought tolerance and known viability in our area.

No matter the size of your plot, the use of invasive vegetation is an error to be avoided by all. Invasive trees and shrubs are usually non-natives that have been imported for what might have at the time, seemed to be a good reason. Once established, they take over and drive other plantings away. The Siberian Elms that line our streets come to mind, though some arborists have recently reminded us that they do provide shade. And in the hotter months, we need shade. Nevertheless, we might be looking for alternatives and the arboretum will be able to help.

Roughly 15 trees, 30 shrubs, and 60 perennial plants are proposed for the arboretum, and though they are mostly drought tolerant, they yet require water —especially until they become established. The water harvesting aspect of the arboretum project is a truly brilliant plan. The rainwater that now falls on the parking lot at the recycling center runs toward the arboretum site and into a storm water sewer. The new system will capture that valuable water before it gets to the storm drain, redirecting it into a specially designed concrete collection basin at the edge of the parking lot.

From the basin, water will be distributed via a covered perforated pipe (sometimes known as a French Drain) laid along a shallow gravel filled trench. From that, the water will be able to seep into the soil and reach the tree roots. Once the water leaves the collection basin, none of it will be lost to evaporation. No irrigation water will be taken directly from the Gallinas River. In times of drought, a simple solution answers the need.

A proposed tap into the effluent line that runs beneath the site will provide supplemental irrigation. The irrigation structure to be used for the arboretum is a
large system and beyond what most homeowners would need. Nonetheless, it will demonstrate the possibility of capturing and using rainwater from such surface as patio, driveway and roof. It is water that otherwise would slip away down a storm drain. The arboretum and its irrigation system together will showcase possible plantings for all landscapes both large and small, and will reveal a new approach to dry-climate yard watering for homeowners.

Vegas Verdes: The Next Stage

Published on August 19, 2020 in the Las Vegas Optic.

After much time and effort, the hard work of funds procurement has once again paid off and money is in hand to begin Phase II of Rewinding the Gallinas. The New Mexico Environment Department has awarded Hermit’s Peak Watersheds Alliance (HPWA) $485,000 from the River Stewardship Program. The final design for the project is complete and the contracts have been awarded. Let the work begin!

The grand plan of the Gallinas River Park Collaborative (GRPC) together with HPWA envisions a revitalized and rebuilt river park with a restored and healthy river at its heart. Last fall in this space, we described with great enthusiasm the already completed Phase I of Rewinding the Gallinas covering the one-third mile downstream from Bridge Street to the second foot bridge. That project saw the planting of many species of riparian vegetation and the replacement or addition of meanders, riffles and pools in the river that had long ago disappeared. It also added storm water runoff treatment in the form of rain gardens constructed in the West Las Vegas High School parking lot, as well as three other storm water treatment structures closer to the river. If one were fanciful, one would notice the river perk up and smile.

Work is now set to begin on the quarter-mile from the second foot bridge downstream to Independence/Prince Street. This section of river will cost more to revive than did Phase I because there are some unique problems to be addressed. The footbridge footings are too close to the river. Ideally, they would have been placed several yards away from the river bank on each side. Their position interferes with the water flow and river bank and bed erosion has resulted. The restoration plan calls for strategically placing and anchoring boulders in the area around the bridge, in and near the river to stabilize the river banks and prevent further erosion.

At three sites, two on the west side and one on the eat side, culverts direct dirty, contaminated, trash-filled rainwater runoff directly into the river. An elegant solution to this problem is to install storm water infiltration basins. These basins, each 10 to 15 feet in diameter, stop the flow and direct the water downward into the soil which filters out contaminates and other impurities. Water from one of the culverts on the west side will flow into a single infiltration basin.

In times of high flow, the excess will continue along a flood-plain swale that is filled with plants and where more downward seepage takes place and finally, any remaining water arrives at a wetland pothole – which to our untrained eyes, looks like a tiny pond with cattails and other water plants. The second site on the west side is where the Arroyo Pajarito now drains through a dilapidated culvert and empties directly into the river.

The culvert will be removed and a series of step pools (infiltration basins situated in a descending line) will receive runoff from the arroyo. On the east side, the water from the culvert will be redirected into another series of step pools and from there into a quite large pond that will further remove contaminates. The pond was originally built in the 1980’s and attracted ducks and other aquatic birds. Because of regularly dropped sediment, the pond is today a shallow wetland, entirely hidden by cattails and with no open water – thus fewer birds. The project will restore open and deep water to the pond thereby enabling it to maintain diverse plant life. It will once again attract water loving fowl – making birders happy. Furthermore, the pond will collect and store significant amounts of carbon, doing its part to reduce greenhouse gases.

Phase II also carries on where Phase I completed its work. Its plan call for the restoration of natural structural features of the river that have, over decades, been lost. Meanders, riffles and runs will be constructed, and pools scooped out in the meander bends. Judiciously located boulders will be installed and anchored. Beyond the river channel, more riparian vegetation of great diversity is to be planted and attention will be given to the maintenance of wetland areas to insure a mix of open water and marshland. Thus the restored Gallinas will allow trout to thrive and will slow and deflect the stream’s energy and reduce erosion. The riparian environment will provide habitat for the critters that feed the fish as well as for other wildlife, and shade to cool the river. Wetlands are home to still more plant life, and will help mitigate flooding and providing storage for excess water. The River’s valley, through which the Las Vegas stretch flows, is narrow and so the river and its environs must accommodate.

I hope readers remember the flood of 2013 – the small parking lot on the east side of the river on Bridge Street was under several inches of water. With the work now underway, the river will have a greater ability to keep much of the water we saw in that flood within its banks or in the soil. If you have questions or comments about what’s happening along the River, or if you would like to view the design plan, you may e-mail Lea Knutson at lknutson@hermitspeakwatersheds.org.

Vegas Verdes: The River Park is Your Park

Published on July 2020 in the Las Vegas Optic.

In 2020, the Gallinas River Park and its river have seen and will see many astonishing improvements. The Task before us is to ensure that every citizen of Las Vegas comes to realize that each of us and all of us owns the Park. We are living in an unbalanced time and none of us has a perfect handle on how best to cope. The confined inactivity and isolation imposed by COVID-19 has required adjustment. Each of us needs a place where we can go for a few minutes or a few hours; where we can reconnect with our carefree self and breathe deeply. The place is the Gallinas River Park. It is owned communally and equally by all of us for our common use. Ownership means there are no barriers to its use.

There are, sadly, some individuals or groups that believe they don’t belong on the river or in the Park because they haven’t the means to buy fancy outdoor equipment, or their skin is the wrong color. It matters not if we are black, brown, white, LBGTQ, straight, even a little crooked, or all of the above; nor does it matter if we drive a Mercedes or a Ford pick-up. The Park offers the same escape to each of us, and we each need it now more than ever.

The Park runs along the river for roughly two miles and so some part of it is close enough to reach by foot for many of us. Except during Riverfest, there are no crowds.

The City of Las Vegas, mindful of the personal security worries of solitary walkers and others, expects to establish foot (or bicycle) patrols along the river walk. The City also wants to hold a “Senior Citizen Day at The Park” with guides and assistance. To keep trash at bay, there are regular clean-ups and at least one public work day is planned so that all of us can get our hands dirty.

Take a leisurely stroll and you will encounter others doing the same. Dog
walkers find the perfect environment for entertaining their pets and said pets
are either on a leash or have just finished obedience school. Moms and dads,
having run out of at-home diversions for their 2-6 year olds, discover the real
meaning of a “walk in the park” and their kids begin to learn about the
wonders of the great outdoors.

One Las Vegas man volunteers his time trying to direct the attention of
teenagers beyond themselves. In an effort to expose the kids to outdoor
activity and disconnect them from their screens, Aaron Gallegos shows teens
the river walk possibilities – the river ponds for swimming and fishing and the
bicycle/walking path. He also instructs them in the proper use of the exercise
equipment that is situated at intervals along the river park.

If you drive to the park, you can leave your car at Bridge Street and set out in
either direction walking just as far as is comfortable.

Strategically placed benches provide a temporary resting place and a nice vista
as well. The Park is ideal for bird watching if that happens to be your passion.
And look out for public art. A few of the boulders that are part of the landscape
have been decorated by a phantom artist. The Gallinas River Park Collaborative
(GRPC) has inaugurated “Saturday Walk In The Park.”

This is a guided stroll – to join, meet at Bridge Street at 9 a.m. You will discover
in the wonderfully welcoming community of Las Vegas, the Gallinas River Park
is a jewel of a welcome mat.

Vegas Verdes: Willows to the Rescue

Published in June 2020 in the Las Vegas Optic.

We all know what riparian vegetation is – don’t we? It’s the bosque. It grows along and near a riverbank and is essential to the good health of any river. Rivers, including our own Gallinas, can deteriorate or undergo changes that adversely affect their health; but if their riparian vegetation is in place and thriving, rivers will recover from whatever afflicts them and likewise thrive. A crucial part of this vegetation is willow especially, and also cottonwood – the woody vegetation. Willows and cottonwoods have been largely scorned by us – the unwitting public – as too water hungry. Those two trees should, instead, be appreciated and preserved.

Owing to their distinctive characteristics, willows especially and also cottonwoods have astonishing capabilities that do much to maintain the health of the river. Their root systems, their trunks, and their leaves and branches each play a role in the river’s continued good health. Together, the whole tree helps preserve the shape of the river, maintain water quality and regulate water quantity; contribute to drought and flood mitigation and climate control, and create fish and wildlife habitat.

Willows’ root system, for example, is dense and far reaching. The roots as well as the branches slow rain water run-off and direct it downward into the soil. The soil takes over and filters out toxins and other impurities. After that, the water may remain to recharge ground water or slowly return to the river, cleaner than it was before.

Think of an August monsoon – a heavy, though short, downpour. Where does all that water go? Some of it races down our streets and alleys and into storm drains. Near the River Walk, however, are several industry sites with asphalt yards. The rain coming down on those naturally heads downhill. If that flow is not redirected, it and all the contaminants it has picked up from the yards will go straight into the river. Willows to the rescue.

The same root systems hold a river together. When willows grow on either side of a stream their roots form a kind of hammock beneath the bed and prevent the bank and bed from eroding. As banks erode, they crumble and fall into the stream leaving behind a diminished bank that is further away from the stream. It can make a stream too wide and too shallow. The water slows down and the sun has a lot more time to heat things up. Warm water holds less oxygen than does cool water; warm water evaporates more rapidly than does cool water. The slow flow also drops sediment that otherwise would continue to travel downstream. The sediment fills up pools and the pools disappear as do the trout that need them. Bed erosion causes a different and likewise detrimental set of conditions. When the river bed erodes, it becomes too deep and straight – like a channel or a trough. When that happens, the water flows faster and faster and is quickly lost to the area.

These types of erosion contribute to an unhealthy stream. When willows grow on the banks, erosion is prevented. The stream keeps its shape – its meanders, riffles, and pools – and that means it flows not too fast and not too slowly. Willows foster the growth and development of macro-invertebrates. These are such critters as stone flies, caddis flies, dragonflies, may flies; all of which provide food for trout. The willow canopy (branches and leaves) provides food for macro-invertebrates.

The canopy also produces cooling shade to reduce evaporation and then traps much of the evaporation that still occurs to create a cool and moist environment that prevents yet further evaporation. The resulting micro-climate is heaven to flies, wildlife, and people, and keeps the water cool too.

In 2019, volunteers with the Gallinas River Park Collaborative (GRPC) undertook a difficult but satisfying task. The volunteers planted three hundred willows and forty cottonwoods along the Gallinas, a few hundred yards south of Bridge Street. They, along with riparian plant life already present, are to be the chief protectors and sustainers of the river. It was certainly cause for consternation when the GRPC discovered that many of the new plants had been damaged – snapped off near ground level. It’s not possible to know who was responsible or why the damage was done. We can help to reduce the chance of it happening again by spreading the word that doing harm to the riparian vegetation ultimately harms the river and us.

Without the willows to maintain a cool and moist environment, to prevent erosion and evaporation, and to enable the cleaning and storing of rainwater, the river’s riparian ecosystem will dry up. The trout will disappear as will all of the wildlife that depend on the river and its bosque. It is true that willows need and use water – they are not desert plants – but considering all they give us in return, our Gallinas environment will happily support them.

Vegas Verdes: It’s Happening Along the River Walk

Published in May 2020 in the Las Vegas Optic.

Amy Bell, principle architect at Groundwork Studio, has been hired to produce shovel-ready drawings for the Gallinas River Park improvements. These drawings will honor the conceptual design developed during our Community Design Workshop. Amy has already begun work to produce shovel-ready drawings and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The Gallinas River Park is owned by the City of Las Vegas and extends for about a mile and a half from Mills Avenue to Prince/Independence Street. The drawings will convey the future appearance of that entire length.

Many new park features will appear in the completed shovel-ready drawings. Among these are a children’s playscape that encourages discovery and exploration, an outdoor amphitheater, spaces to encourage quiet contemplation and observation of the river environment, trash cans, a drinking fountain, trail development, landscaping (especially at the entrances) and carefully placed lighting for public safety that yet does no harm to the wildlife.

During this process, two public meetings are planned, though at this time the form they will take is flexible. A method will present itself and the Gallinas River Park Collaborative will get the word out. For up-to-the-minute information, consult Facebook, watch for notices in the Optic and the radio, or get on the Hermits Peak
Watershed Alliance mailing list by a message to Jacob Erickson; jerickson@hermitspeakwatersheds.org.

The State of New Mexico Capital Outlay program, San Miguel County, the City of Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Community Foundation united to produce the needed funds to support this design work. Once the design drawings are achieved, funding for construction will be needed. Senator Pete Campos and other legislators came together for the 2020 legislative session in January and awarded $238,000 of Capital Outlay funds for phase one construction in the Gallinas River Park. Because of the pressure on the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislature will be holding a special session in June, where funds will be reevaluated. It is possible that the funds allotted to the river walk will be rescinded. Please contact your Legislators to express your support for this revitalization project.