Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The La Luz Trail Run may just get a second wind.
Three members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have come to the aid of the iconic Albuquerque footrace, pushing back against Cibola National Forest officials who in 2020 stopped permitting the brutally difficult uphill race.
Rep. Melanie Stansbury and Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján on Wednesday sent a letter to Michiko Martin, the regional forester for the Southwestern Region, asking that a permit be issued for the race, which had been run on the first Sunday in August dating back to 1965.
“The removal of the La Luz Trail Race does not properly weigh the importance of the race for the people of New Mexico and the precedent under which it has operated,” they wrote. “We urge you to reconsider including the La Luz Trail Race as a permitted special use activity in the Cibola National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, or LRMP.”
The race takes runners from Forest Road 333 near Tramway up 4,600 feet over 9 miles of paved roads and La Luz’s lung-busting steep sections, switchbacks and rock slides before reaching the finish line near the parking lot at the top of the Sandias.
In 2001, Trail Runner magazine declared La Luz one of the “12 most grueling trail races in North America,” which has contributed to the race becoming a bucket list event for trail runners.
The race hasn’t been held since 2019. The Forest Service in 2020 refused to permit the event.
“I know this is unexpected and comes as a surprise,” Sandia District Ranger Crystal Powell wrote to the La Luz race director announcing her decision. “Unfortunately, recent information has come to light that affects my ability to continue authorizing the (La Luz Trail Run) event.”
The Albuquerque Road Runners organize the La Luz Trail Run. Race organizers wrote to the congressional delegation asking for help last year when they couldn’t get the event permitted.
Powell previously said in an email to the Journal that although the Cibola National Forest has historically given the run a special-use permit, the race is a commercial event and therefore should never have been allowed to take place within a wilderness area. She said the Forest Service reached that conclusion as part of research the service was doing to update the Cibola National Forest management plan.
The New Mexico delegation, however, said in the letter that the race has been permitted for years under direction from the Wilderness Management Handbook and in full compliance with wilderness requirements.
Further, they said that the T’uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Area Act, which recognizes the Pueblo of Sandia’s claim within the national forest, calls for the secretary of agriculture to continue existing uses in the national forest outside Albuquerque. And committee reports for that legislation specifically mentioned the La Luz Trail Run, showing a legislative intent for the race to continue.
“The La Luz Trail Race is a point of pride for New Mexicans and an important source of recreation and tourism,” they wrote. “Race participants have always taken to heart the spirit of the wilderness area, remained on the trail, and closely adhered to a leave no trace philosophy.”
Congress designated the Sandia Mountain Wilderness in 1978, years after the start of the first race.
Race organizers started to use a lottery in 2006 to select a maximum of 400 participants.
In 2019, the race attracted runners from 14 states, including New Mexico, and a runner from Spain, according to UltraSignup. There were 15 finishers from Texas, 13 from Colorado and seven from Arizona.