Santa Fe Living Treasures ‚Äď Elder Stories

 The idea behind the trust was strong and simple: that the most sure way to preserve priceless portions of the magnificent open spaces that abound in the Santa Fe area was to secure permanent easements that would protect the land from development forever. And almost at once the young trust was faced by an urgent and overwhelming challenge.

A famous movie actress announced plans to build a mansion high upon the 9,121-foot Atalaya Mountain, the tallest peak looking down upon Santa Fe from the east, and a developer blasted out a roadway to provide access to property he owned in the same area. Until then, most residents had assumed the land was part of the Santa Fe National Forest.

Faced with the prospect of another splendid vista marred by ridgetop mansions and scattered subdivisions, a coalition of environmentalists, politicians, hikers, bikers and American Indians coalesced to fight for Atalaya in its pristine form. Leading the effort was the Santa Fe Conservation Trust. After lengthy negotiations, a settlement involving five landowners, two local governments, two federal agencies and the city/county extraterritorial zoning authority saved Atalaya--and even the road scar healed over.

When the Balls stepped down from the trust in 1999, almost 30 easements had preserved 18,112 acres--a total greater than similar land trusts in Texas and Arizona combined. Arrangements were in place for more than a dozen miles of a Rail Trail paralleling the train tracks running from downtown Santa Fe to the village of Lamy. Key segments of the historic Old Santa Fe Trail had been protected. Plans for trails near the new bypass Highway 599 were being laid. And a City Wilderness Area was under study.

Though no longer leading the Conservation Trust, Dale and Sylvia still had another astonishing contribution to make. Within the vision and know-how they had gained at the trust, they wanted to provide easy, non-erosive access for hikers and mountain bikers through the marvelous hills, valleys, forests and canyons lying between the city of Santa Fe and the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.

Working with experts from the National Park Service, Dale and Sylvia began piecing together what was to become the Dale Ball Foothills Trails System. Little by little over a four-year period, the project created more than 20 miles of new established trails. Interconnecting with other new or old trails, the total network now exceeds 30 miles.

“I had a dream that Santa Fe would become a hiking center,” Dale reflected with satisfaction in his 80th year. “What else is an old man with a lot of energy to do?”

Story by Richard McCord

Photo © 1999 Steve Northrup