“We’ve got toilet paper running all over the damn hillside,” said Hugh Ley at Terrero General Store. “There are little white flags flying all over Windy Bridge.”
The Upper Pecos Watershed Association and the Pecos Business Association contacted public officials, including local legislators and New Mexico’s congressional delegation, with a list of questions and concerns Monday about closures in the Pecos-Las Vegas Ranger District.
“It is critical that the Forest Service maintain these facilities, not only for the sake of providing services for public recreational use, but more importantly because of the very significant negative environmental impact on water quality in the Pecos River and public health,” their email says.
It continues, “Further, the Pecos community depends to a large extent on the economic benefits that summer recreation brings to the area … We have worked long and hard to enhance visitors’ experience in the Pecos area and now we have the largest partner in the program discontinuing services to the public.”
Bruce Hill, spokesman for the Santa Fe National Forest, said Monday that federal budget delays have made it difficult for individual forest areas to plan their spending. Although it’s the middle of the federal budget year, which runs Oct. 1-Sept. 30, the Santa Fe National Forest still hasn’t gotten its final budget allocation for this fiscal year, he said.
“A number of recreation sites have not opened yet because it’s too early to open from the weather,” he said, while adding that many of the sites in Pecos Canyon had opened by this time last year.
Other indications are that the sites already had opened this year.
Ley, who was named as spokesman for the watershed and business groups, said the Forest Service “pulled the trash cans and locked the outhouses” at a number of recreation sites in the canyon in the last two or three weeks.
On the Forest Service website for the area, several recreation sites in Pecos Canyon are described as “closed April 1 until further notice,” including the Lower Dalton picnic area and Upper Dalton fishing area, the Links Tract campground, the Winsor Creek trailhead and fishing area, the Cowles Ponds fishing area, and the Windy Bridge picnic area.
In the same ranger district but outside the Pecos area, the same April 1 closure language is found online for the Big Pine and Oaks Flat picnic sites, and the E.V. Long and Johnson Mesa campgrounds near Las Vegas, N.M., and the Glorieta picnic site on top of Glorieta Baldy.
Ley said there are no barricades keeping people out or signs saying the sites in Pecos Canyon are closed, and people are still using them as the weather warms, he said. Several of the closed areas in Pecos Canyon were full this past weekend, he said, adding, “Everyone was picnicking.”
As a result, trash has been left on the ground in some of those areas, along with human waste that could pollute the water and pose a health risk, he said. “There’s nothing to clean up the messes,” Ley said. “I was down there today, and no one was picking up (the trash) that I could see.”
The groups’ letter noted that since Easter, “… these areas have seen a profusion of trash and human waste in and around the toilet facilities.”
Ley said of area business people and conservationists, “We’ve been busting our butts to enhance the area, improving the stream structure to create better fishing. And now the largest partner in the whole damn process says it’s not going to put trash cans in day use areas.”
Hill said, “We know this is an inconvenience for those who want to recreate. We are cognizant of the concerns and that the local economy is impacted. We promise them we will keep them informed.”
He did not call the Journal back with answers to additional questions by the end of the workday Monday.
In their email, the groups contend that fee-use areas in the Pecos Canyon bring in more than $89,000, while operation and maintenance of those same areas cost only $41,000. They also say they were told that the Forest Service lost 8 percent of its funding for the current fiscal year, so wonder why a 25 percent cut was made to operation and maintenance expenditures for recreation areas.