The Rio Grande Vision is about connecting Albuquerque to the river, while protecting the spectacular amenity and resource that flows through the heart of our community. … Please note that this is a conceptual plan and more design and community involvement will be needed as we move forward.”
– City website request for public input on plans for the Rio Grande bosque
It is extremely easy to criticize a project when you come late to the party and are unencumbered by facts.
The city of Albuquerque has been working on the Rio Grande Vision since at least November 2011, when it “documented existing conditions, compiled and mapped data from a variety of sources, summarized research on comparable river cities and recreation participation rates, compiled information on other Rio Grande-related studies and the land and water managers in the corridor, and provided examples of other relevant river projects.”
Since February the city has asked the public to weigh in on plans to preserve the ecosystem within the Rio Grande Valley State Park while making it more accessible. It’s held town hall meetings and posted a 10-page executive summary, 40-page concept development and 20-page implementation strategy at cabq.gov, all under the theme “connect, protect, excite.”
The plan states clearly that “the Rio Grande Vision is not a recreation plan. It is a conceptual plan comprised of recreation, conservation, and education principles, practices, and improvements that will provide a wider variety of ways for citizens of all ages and abilities to experience and learn about the Rio Grande and the Bosque.”
Its footprint would add improvements to less than .5 percent of the park’s 4,900 acres. Some possibilities include pedestrian bridges, viewing platforms, access paths, boat ramps, natural public parks and public art.
None of the documentation mentions a Ferris wheel. Or water slide. Or arcade. Or coffee shop. Or manicured bluegrass lawns. But that isn’t stopping critics from trying to label a call for input as a concrete plan, developed behind closed doors, to Disney-fy the bosque.
Richard Barish of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club says it doesn’t matter if there were public meetings because Mayor Richard Berry “did not contact groups that would have an obvious interest in what happens in the bosque.” And Dick Kirschner with the West Side Coalition of Neighborhood Associations says there will be “a whole lot of commercial and noncommercial intrusions into a beautiful, natural ecosystem.”
In February, when challenged on whether this was a plan to turn the bosque into an amusement park, Berry shook his head “no” and pointed to the concept development and its focus on natural, unobtrusive features designed to highlight the river and its riparian ecosystem.
FYI, the bosque is hardly in its original, pristine state. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District has built storage and diversion dams, dug 17 miles of new drainage and irrigation canals, incorporated 214 miles of existing canals and has almost 200 miles of riverside levees and a system of jetties and checks to protect against floods while reclaiming land for agriculture.
Last week Berry reiterated the “visioning document” “was created specifically to get ideas on the table to allow the public to have discussions. Most of the ideas in here came from the public. They also came from consultants who specialize in river restoration. And now the job of the community is to evaluate” it.
Evaluation is needed. Politically motivated NIMBY-ism is not. Albuquerque is bisected by an amazing natural resource that is currently most enjoyed by homeless squatters, drug addicts and juvenile delinquents. Law-abiding, nature-loving residents and visitors should also get to enjoy it. And they must protect it.
And those who have read the city’s documentation know those two goals are not mutually exclusive.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.