By Jim Owen
A Silver City group seeking to expand area hiking trails has applied to the National Park Service for continued funding.
A grant from the federal agency's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program financed the Gila Conservation Education Center RTCA Committee's pursuit of several projects during the past year. A newly formed group, the Silver City RTCA Coalition, last week sent a letter to the NPS requesting a grant for next year.
Accomplishments in 2014 have included the designation of Silver City as a "gateway community" for the Continental Divide Trail, and progress on a Silver City Master Greenways Plan featuring trails and parks. More than 75 area residents have served on subcommittees working on the projects.
An extension of the grant "will sustain the momentum the last year's efforts have created," the letter stated. Some of the money would be used to develop a "connector path" linking the town with the CDT trailhead at the Little Walnut Picnic Area.
"We are trying to negotiate easement agreements," said Bob Wilson, who chairs the RTCA Committee and is one of the leaders of the RTCA Coalition. He reported that a possible route for the connector path is from the new dorms at Western New Mexico University to the nearest boundary of the Gila National Forest.
Hikers now must either walk up Little Walnut Road, or be shuttled by motor vehicle to the trailhead. Wilson noted that the new path would tie in with the Master Greenways Plan. He said that, eventually, the CDT and local paths might be accessible from a trailhead in the downtown area (possibly at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center).
The coalition told NPS officials that other goals for next year include building public support for the Greenways Plan and installing signs on trails. The group also is investigating the feasibility of creating a state park incorporating the connector path and the town's parks and trails.
An April celebration in Silver City will mark the beginning of the year's CDT through-hiking season. Last year, more than 150 hikers passed through the area. That was up from about 40 through-hikers in recent years. Wilson said he expects the number to continue increasing.
The next meeting of local trail advocates is set for 3 p.m. Wednesday in the third-floor Seminar Room at WNMU's Student Union.