With 32 trails on Los Alamos National Laboratory property that make up a combined length of nearly 50 miles, employees have abundant access to the outdoors. About 25 of those trails, which span around 36 miles, are also open to the public, primarily near the community of White Rock.
“The trails were created by the many different people who have occupied the Pajarito Plateau,” said Karla Sartor, co-lead of the Lab’s Trails Management Program within the Environmental Protection and Compliance division. “Now they're pathways for getting outdoors and appreciating a rich history in a beautiful setting.”
The land on which the Laboratory sits has been home to many — from Pueblo societies to Hispanic homesteaders to the scientists, engineers and others who worked on the urgent Manhattan Project in the 1940s and support the national security mission today. In recognition of this history, the Lab strives to make portions of the land it acquired for historical wartime efforts as accessible as safely possible.
To shut down or manage and promote?
In 2003, the Department of Energy conducted an environmental assessment of trails that run through Lab property — which in some cases begin or end within Bandelier National Monument, Santa Fe National Forest, Los Alamos County or Pueblo land. The assessment stemmed from a requirement by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which ensures federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of their actions and decisions.
According to that assessment, because some trails connect to other agencies’ land, confusion had mounted about boundaries, which sometimes led to trespassing and unsanctioned trail use. A plethora of cultural resources on DOE property from local Pueblos, homesteaders and the Manhattan Project, which fall under the Lab's purview to protect, also needed consideration. Additionally, restrictions for accessing trails with habitat for threatened and endangered species had to be managed.
“In doing the environmental assessment, we were asking, ‘Do we promote the trails and manage them, or shut them down?’” Sartor said. “It was determined that it's better to actively manage them and create guiding principles for use.”
And the Lab's Trails Management Program was born.
Trails contribute to DOE Conservation Action Plan
Today, 20 years after its formation, the Trails Management Program is still humming along. Installing way-finding markers and re-routing trails away from environmentally sensitive areas and construction zones are just some of the activities. Other maintenance includes trash pickup and removal of downed trees.
Through the regional Los Alamos National Lab Trails Working Group, the program also collaborates extensively with the public and regional agencies that have jurisdiction over paths connected to Lab trails.
Given all the factors — protection of biological and cultural resources, cross-agency collaboration and a federally funded research and development center dedicated to protecting national security — trail maintenance is a challenging task.
But the National Nuclear Security Administration determined it was committed to balancing the Lab’s mission requirements with other land use and stewardship considerations. Now that DOE has a Conservation Action Plan, the Lab's trails, particularly in the 1,000-acre White Rock Canyon Reserve, will contribute to the executive order to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
Study the map; know the rules
Interested in exploring the Lab's extensive trail network? Check out this interactive map of trails.
Keep in mind, you may have to be a Lab badge holder—and bring it with you—to hike, ride, play on some Lab trails. “There are both public (aka nonbadge) and badge-only trails located on Lab property. Badge-only trails are only open to Lab employees, and they must carry their badge with them when using the trail,” said Ditmanson. How can you know before you go? Just check the map!
Be sure to understand the rules for and hazards associated with trail use, which are indicated on trailhead kiosks. The National Park Service patrols all DOE trails that are open to the public.
If you have questions, or if you come across an issue — such as downed trees, excess garbage or hard-to-read signs — contact email@example.com.