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All aboard the Chili Line Trail

Volunteers work on the La Tierra Chili Line Trail last month. The Santa Fe Conservation Trust recently received a matching state grant to create a rails to trails project to integrate a portion of the trail into the existing La Tierra Trails system. (Courtesy of Santa Fe Conservation Trust)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Cyclists looking forward to new and easier access to the La Tierra Trails system on the north end of Santa Fe will soon get their wish as the Santa Fe Conservation Trust recently picked up a state matching grant to begin work on the Chili Line Trail.

Named for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad/Santa Fe Branch of the rail line that used to connect Santa Fe to the narrow gauge system that ran throughout southern Colorado, the Chili Line ran through northern New Mexico from 1880 until 1941, passing through three counties and three pueblos.

A portion of it passes near the parking area of the Buckman Motocross Park and the money will be used to turn a quarter-mile of the railbed into a connector with the La Tierra Trails system, said Tim Rogers, Trust trails program manager.

The state’s Outdoor Recreation Division awarded the trust $5,850 as one of six groups to be the first recipients of the Special Projects and Outdoor Infrastructure Fund grants.

Two other area groups also received funding as Santa Clara Pueblo got $25,000 for three new ADA-compliant picnic sites, complete with permanent overhead shelters, table, bench and barbecue stands at Santa Clara Canyon.

And the Village of Taos Ski Valley got $18,300 to build a bathroom in the parking lot that serves as the gateway to Wheeler Peak and perhaps the state’s most traveled day hike trail to William’s Lake. The facility will have ELOO waterless, passive solar, evaporative toilet systems.

The six projects are expected to create almost 100 full-time, part-time and seasonal jobs over the next two years, and to generate an additional $304,353 in matching assistance.

The Outdoor Recreation Division created the grants program, which must include matching funds, to help improve access to outdoor recreation within a community, while also bolstering the outdoor recreation economy in New Mexico, said division director Axie Navas. The program focuses on conservation-minded, shovel-ready projects that are open to the public and demonstrate a clear benefit to the community, either by attracting and retaining residents and/or attracting visitors, she said.

The Chili Line “is going to see a lot of use from locals and people from surrounding communities,” Navas said. “The use that trail gets year-round from mountain biking, gravel riding is amazing. It will be very accessible and draw in a lot of people.”

Division officials appreciated that the project combines outdoor recreation with historic preservation, she said, presenting a unique opportunity for the public to combine exercise, fresh air, a natural setting and an educational experience enhanced by interpretation about the land and its past.

The Chili Line “was a colorful character in northern New Mexico history, yet not a lot of people are really familiar with where it was,” Rogers said.

The Embudo Station was part of the line and its terminus depot in Santa Fe is now Tomasita’s Restaurant.

“There’s a lot of railbed still out there and it’s interesting to look at,” Rogers said. “It makes for great trails because it already pre-engineered. This is closest piece of remaining railbed to Santa Fe and it’s within city limits in the city open space.”

Although the entry will be at the motocross trailhead at La Tierra, it will be restricted to cyclists and pedestrians, Rogers said.

“The real purpose is preservation and historic interpretation,” he said. “But it’s more or less connecting to a whole system of 30 miles of trails, so we’re combining recreation and historic preservation together.”

The work is expected to go fairly quickly, Rogers said, with the main goal of protecting it from motorcycle traffic.

“By spring, we should have a natural surface trail,” he said. “Possibly even earlier.”

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