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Walk on the Wild Side: Maintaing Sandia mountain trails takes a volunteer effort

Kerry Wood, wilderness and trails program manager for the Cibola National Forest Sandia Ranger District, works on a trail in Tunnel Canyon south of Tijeras on July 21, 2013. (Nancy Tipton/Journal)

Kerry Wood, wilderness and trails program manager for the Cibola National Forest Sandia Ranger District, works on a trail in Tunnel Canyon south of Tijeras on July 21, 2013. (Nancy Tipton/Journal)

A recent Government Accountability Office report showing that the U.S. Forest Service annual trail maintenance allocation amounts to 16 percent of the money needed does not surprise Kerry Wood, wilderness and trails program manager for the Sandia Ranger District of the Cibola National Forest.

A recent Government Accountability Office report showing that the U.S. Forest Service annual trail maintenance allocation amounts to 16 percent of the money needed does not surprise Kerry Wood, wilderness and trails program manager for the Sandia Ranger District of the Cibola National Forest.

Nor does it surprise volunteers such as Tim Garner, secretary of the Placitas Area Trail Association.

“There’s always a lack of money available for trails,” Wood said on a recent Sunday, as he and a group of about 20 volunteers headed up a trail in Tunnel Canyon, south of Tijeras, to repair damage caused by recent heavy rains.

The trail segments the crew fixed over a four-hour period were part of a trail put in more than a decade ago, much of it by volunteers. Wood said because the trail was well-built, it didn’t sustain extensive damage.

Wood and one other employee are the only ones assigned to trails in the Sandia Ranger District, which covers 1,625,542 acres. The district has about 85 miles of established trails south of I-40. This area has gotten much of the attention from the Forest Service since Wood took the job nearly three years ago.

And, there’s much more work to do, he said.

“It’s certainly more fun to build new trails,” Wood said. But he said the goal is to take the network of existing trails and develop it into a system, adding that well-designed trails require less maintenance.

In these days of “sequestration,” where basic services such as trash pickup and restroom maintenance are threatened due to budget cuts, ranger districts across the country are counting more and more on volunteers to work on trails. And, Wood says, the Sandia district has been lucky for more than a decade to have groups willing to volunteer to do trail work.

“Many people come to volunteering on the trails because they use them,” Garner said. “It really is a way to pay it forward.”

Garner said he and about 100 other members of the Placitas group are anxious to get working on the Placitas Area Trails Project, which is in the first stages of the approval process.

“Our group is pleased with how the plan is developing and are ready to do the work,” he said.

Other groups, Wood said, have interests in trails elsewhere in the district. And, he said, he hopes as the plans move forward, he can entrust the work to more trained volunteers.

Wood said the trail projects now in the works won’t be possible without a continuation of volunteer efforts.

“We’ve got some very dedicated volunteers,” he said.

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