A proposed pedestrian bridge and trail would connect Aztec’s Downtown area with the Aztec Ruins. A pedestrian bridge would cross a section of the
A proposed pedestrian bridge and trail would connect Aztec's Downtown area with the Aztec Ruins. A pedestrian bridge would cross a section of the Animas River, seen in a file photo from earlier this year. (Daily Times file photo)

AZTEC — Trail lovers in the area can stride over to two meetings this week in Aztec to address the future of the city's outdoor recreational opportunities.

Tuesday night, Aztec Trails and Open Space, an outdoor-awareness group, will meet to take up ongoing trail development plans and ideas in and around the city. The all-volunteer group, which includes Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge, Aztec Projects Manager Ed Kotyk and National Parks Superintendent Larry Turk, will address various upcoming outdoor events, including recent efforts to clear two areas along the Animas River of Russian Olive, an invasive species.

The group's president Kelly Townsend has been a member for eight years along with founding member Burbridge. One of the areas recently rid of the habitat-hogging, nutrient-sapping tree is his parents' old cattle-grazing ranchland, roughly 40 acres of undeveloped land just downstream of Riverside Park.

"My parents sold it to the city on the condition that it be kept in its natural state, not subdivided into private plots," Townsend said. "It was their hope that people would be able enjoy the land as it is."

The sale of his family's parcel around 10 years ago was Townsend's entry point into the trails group.

"That's the spirit of the group of us," he said. "A lot of what we do is promote the idea of outdoors activities but also envision what it can actually look like down the road."

A proposed trail system that leads from the newly opened Microtel hotel on the south end of downtown to area parks and the river is an example of the kind project Townsend would like to see discussed at the meeting.

On Thursday, a design team will lead a meeting to share design plans and take public input on that proposed trail project, which would connect downtown with the Aztec Ruins by means of a pedestrian bridge. Townsend said that encouraging access by other means than a car or bus to the national park is a step in the right direction. He believes the project would boost the city's economy and expand its recreational opportunities.

"I think the mind-set is changing for the better," Townsend said. "People are realizing with more and more ability to access the outdoors and the river what a truly remarkable gem this area is and what it affords those of us who slow down and take it in."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.