Hikers, bikers flock to Cibola on last day before closures - Albuquerque Journal

Hikers, bikers flock to Cibola on last day before closures

Kyana Montoya, 23, scouts for yellow-rumped warblers Wednesday on the 10K South Trailhead in the Cibola Montoya, a University of new Mexico graduate student studying biology, said her thesis will be affected by the closure of some NM forests. From Thursday morning, the Santa Fe and Carson national forests are closing to the public, along with parts of Cibola National Forest, due to the largest wildfire in state history continuing to grow across northern New Mexico. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

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CEDAR CREST – Hikers, mountain bikers and field researchers flocked to Cibola National Forest on Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the final hours of public access before the forest closes to visitors Thursday until at least July 18.

Forest Rangers announced earlier this week the temporary closure of Santa Fe, Carson and parts of Cibola national forests in the wake of wide-spread forest fires and droughts across the state.

On Wednesday, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department announced additional restrictions and temporary closures for the Manzano Mountains, Hyde Memorial, Pecos Canyon, Cimarron Canyon and Fenton Lake state parks due to “extreme fire danger.”

The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has currently burned more than 300,000 acres in northern New Mexico, according to the department.

In Cibola National Forest, cars lined Highway 536 and filled up trail head parking lots as hikers squeezed in their last outing into the forest until at least mid-July.

For several people enjoying the last day of public access, the closures came as unwelcome but unsurprising news.

“It’s terrible but it’s necessary,” said Chris Rice-McClure as he prepared for a 13-mile bike ride up a trail off Highway 536 in the Cibola National Forest.

McClure rides his bike along a trail leading up to the Sandia Crest on a weekly basis and said that while he is disappointed by the closure of Cibola National Forest he was slightly surprised that the announcement didn’t come sooner.

For some, however, the national forest closures meant a forced change in summer plans.

“It’s devastating,” said frequent Cibola National Forest visitor Victoria Govea.

“I love hiking, I love nature and I really get overwhelmed easily with the heat here. … Going up to the mountains has always been therapeutic for me, so I’m devastated,” she said.

Govea said she often visits New Mexico’s many national parks as a way to escape the heat during the summer months and the closures have her rethinking her plans to continue living in Rio Rancho – and the state.

Govea learned of the closures from a fellow hiker Wednesday while walking on the 10k Trail near Sandia Park with her dog Riley and said that if she had known about them ahead of time, she would have tried her best to make more visits to the mountains.

Kyana Montoya, a 23-year-old graduate student studying biology at the University of New Mexico, also said the closures would impact her life.

Montoya, who recently finished her first year of graduate school, said she met with her adviser just days ago to map out several sites for field work centered on the yellow-rumped warbler – all of which are in forests set to close Thursday.

“So honestly, it’s hard for people like us biologists who want to study the flora and fauna around but we can’t because things are being displaced, habitats are being destroyed,” she said.

Montoya said the closures mean that her thesis could be “potentially interrupted.”

Bret Cunningham, a barista at Cabra Coffee, doesn’t believe business at the Cedar Crest coffee shop will be too impacted by the forest closures, and is “intrigued to see what happens customer-wise.” (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

For businesses in Cedar Crest, the closure of hiking trails in the nearby Cibola National Forest may come with a decrease in business – however, several workers in the town said they are ultimately in support of the closures.

Patrick Johnson, owner of the restaurant and brewery Rumor Brewing Co., said that while a sizable share of his customers are usually hikers from the nearby hiking trails, he is in full support of the closures even if it comes at the cost of fewer customers.

He said he sees it as a trade-off if it means the Cibola National Forest can be spared from the types of devastating forest fires that are currently raging in the northern part of the state.

Bret Cunningham, a barista at Cabra Coffee, said the closures probably won’t change business traffic significantly, but it will put an end to hikes in the forest on days off.

“I am glad that we’re gonna (close the forests), but I definitely love going out on hikes so I’m a little heartbroken about it,” Cunningham said.

Hikers and businesses bordering the soon-to-be-closed parks aren’t the only ones affected.

Charlie Ervin, owner of Two Wheel Drive in Albuquerque, said he’s heard concern and sadness from customers for the wildfires ravaging New Mexico, and for the extreme drought that parts of the state are feeling. He said neither he nor others with a passion for biking trails around New Mexico were surprised by the closures of the Santa Fe and Carson national forests, along with the closure of the Sandia Park Ranger District.

Patrick Johnson, owner of Rumor Brewing Co. in Cedar Crest, says the national forest closures will be hard on business, as hikers are some of his customers, but he believes it is important for the forests’ health. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

“To us that have been in the area for quite a long time it’s ‘Here we go again,'” said Ervin, who has owned the bike shop on Central for nearly 40 years. “People understand why it’s happening, particularly if you’re one who has been in the forest this spring. It’s very obvious that it’s a tinderbox. The ground is just, you know, literally dust.”

Ervin said the biggest question customers have is what trails are open to ride. He contemplated making a Facebook post, he said, to help point those mountain biking enthusiasts in the right direction. But he hasn’t done so yet.

He did say, however, that if closures continue, “it will change folks’ habits.”

“It could actually help business,” Ervin said. “It depends on what the phenomenon could be. People that were always solely mountain bikers might decide to invest in more of a roadworthy machine because all of a sudden they can’t go mountain biking. … Results can be mixed.”

All U.S. Forest Service land in the Pecos-Las Vegas Ranger District, the Carson National Forest Service District, and the Santa Fe National Forest Service District including: Cowles Ponds, Gallinas River, Rio Mora, Chama River, Eagle Rock Lake, Hopewell Lake, Rio Grande at the Taos Junction Bridge, Rio Hondo, Rio Pueblo, Canjilon Lakes, Los Pinos River, Pecos River, Pecos Canyon State Park, Red River, Rio Mora, Jemez Waters, Trout Lakes, Lagunitas Lakes, McGaffey Lake, San Gregorio Lake, El Vado Lake, are closed. Other closures include Coyote Creek State Park, Morphy Lake State Park and Monastery Lake.

Matthew Narvaiz and Adrian Gomez contributed to this report.


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