Citizen of the Year: Jim Lane

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Enthusiasm is contagious.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Jim Lane, the 2012 Citizen of the Year, sits on a stump carved by volunteers of the Meadow Lake Parks Area Association. Lane is the driving force behind a project that will include four ponds and several seating areas for community members. Lane and other volunteers are vying for a $150,000 legislative appropriation to help revamp the area. The association, a non-profit group, wants to turn the 35-acre area into a wildland park for Valencia County.

For Jim Lane, the News-Bulletin’s 2012 Citizen of the Year, that enthusiasm was channeled into a project meant to revitalize the past and rebuild the future.

Lane is a Meadow Lake resident who had a vision of transforming a 35-acre area into a park, complete with four ponds where residents would have access to horseback riding and hiking trails that could go deep in the Manzano Mountains.

Thirty-some years ago, trees crowded around the man-made lake and residents could be found feeding the ducks or simply taking in the gorgeous views of the mountains.

The land, located at the end of Meadow Lake Road, looked to be more abundant than any dead-end street.

The water was used to irrigate crops of nearby residents in the 1960s and later became a place where families and children could come and spend quality time with one another.

But at some time, those breathtaking views were lost in the heaps of trash thrown, which collected over decades of neglect and misuse of land that was once pristine.

“It was a beautiful, little man-made lake,” Lane said. “But at some point, they drained it.”

Lane, 55, helped organize a mighty effort to recondition the area and eventually formed a 501(c)3, a non-profit organization, after he managed to secure the land from Los Lunas developer and realtor Max Kienhe.

Lane’s vision was to create four small ponds separated by land and picnic tables and benches for folks to socialize and relax as the Meadow Lake Parks Area Association was formed.

But Lane knew the clean-up wouldn’t be easy. So, he gathered a board of directors and set out to clear a huge area filled with trash, old sofas and even a dead horse.

Lane estimates hundreds of man hours were spent clearing nearly 60 tons of debris.

An open house took place that essentially dedicated the land to the community in August 2010.

Now, a couple of trees sit in what was once Meadow Lake, along with a few sitting areas where people can go and relax.

The association charges a $35 annual membership for people who want to use the area, and so far, a little more than 50 people have joined.

Members get a key to the locked gate and many use the dirt walking track that is close to a mile in length.

Bonfires are also popular for get-togethers at a fire pit situated near the middle of the walking track.

Lane said the recent appearance of the land is a stark contrast from an area littered with trash.

“It was a dumping ground,” Lane said. “This community was going downhill.”

But, the Meadow Lake man knows the project is still far from done. There are still obstacles that need to be overcome.

But the obstacles seem to be his specialty.

Lane doesn’t let those obstacles get him down, and he has been the individual who has been the primary motivator inspiring others to get involved.

Nothing has seemed to deter Lane.

He uses two words that embody his group’s progress — “baby steps.”

Lane says the small strides that the Meadow Lake Area Parks Association has made count toward the end result of bringing a “positive experience” to young people in the area who maybe wouldn’t otherwise have it.

The group has persevered from the get-go.

On one occasion, he and fellow Meadow Lake resident Jerry Cline were using a bulldozer to grade the land, and at some point, it took off without the men in it. Cline managed to jump in the seat of the dozer before it landed in a nearby arroyo.

The dozer wound up with a broken track and turbo charger — a rare, 1966 model that no longer worked.

Cline found the exact charger in a scrap pile of old mechanical parts.

“Now, if that isn’t a sign that this project is going to succeed, I don’t know what is,” Lane said.

The group is determined to make sure that more than 5,000 Meadow Lake residents have a place of their own to bring their families one day. Board members have worked together to help piecemeal needed parts of what will be the finished product.

Little items, such as a small pond and a group of purple and white flowers next to a chain-link fence east of the roadway, are all part of the plan.

Next, the group needs the use of a backhoe that they hope will be donated by a business or community member.

The association also hopes to garner a $150,000 legislative appropriation that would help complete the first phase of the project. The phase would “get (the group) going” and include picnic tables and working rest rooms.

But a lack of funding hasn’t stopped the group or Lane from holding events for the public. On a recent Saturday, Lane helped host a “Treasure Map Reading Workshop,” an event geared for children and parents to spend quality time together.

Twelve to 14 groups turned out for the event that had families trekking across an area that spans 1.1 to 1.4 miles depending on the map the group happened to choose. Each map included seven stops where individuals needed to pick up certain items to be able to earn their prize at the end of the trip.

Lane took time to explain the rules to each group and took a picture of the families as they exited the scavenger hunt. Lane explained to one young girl that there would be candy at one of the stops and reminded her to not litter on the grounds.

On one of the maps, group members were required to find a camp fire and take an item from a man who had a container covered with animal fur and then go on to a stop where people were given a drink of water and apples on their way to a horse trail.

At the wood pile stop, participants were required to take a roll of the dice to determine which animal they had to draw to receive a lanyard. They received their choice of petrified wood or a peacock feather along with a snack and drink.

Lane said the group tried to make the scavenger hunt unique so children would be excited about the experience.

“There’s a bunch of happy kids here,” Lane said.

Meadow Lake resident Sonia Estrada took her two children to the event. She said the event was perfect for the weekend since there isn’t many activities going on in her neighborhood.

“I though it would be fun to take them,” Estrada said.

The next weekend, another family activity was scheduled to take place that involved making paper rockets.

Tom Mraz, a board member of the non-profit, said he got involved with the effort after he moved to the area almost seven years ago. He said the association is committed to seeing the project through to its completion.

Mraz said the project is a way to “save kids” so they don’t develop bad habits, such as committing crimes. He said the park is a way for children to participate in positive learning activities.

He said Lane has been the driving force to help continue with the project, and that Lane has been a positive influence on the other members.

“Without Jim here, it wouldn’t happen,” Mraz said. “It would still be a landfill.”

MLPAA Board Member Bob Gosticha said if the group has its way, the park will be the pride of the area. He said “no way” the group will stop until the project is complete, and members of the association can find the funding it needs.

Funding would go toward filling the four ponds and creating a few grassy areas suitable for children.

“It’s not going to be nickels and dimes,” Gosticha said. “It’s going to take some funding.”

Gosticha said obstacles the group has faced are no match for Lane. He said Lane has found resources one way or another.

“If it didn’t come from some place, he found it somewhere else,” he said.

Cline said Lane’s efforts have made others in the group work harder.

The board member, in his third year with the project, said members who want the park to get completed are motivated by the proximity of the area to their own homes.

“This is where we live,” Cline said.

Lane knows there is still a lot to do.

He said a clay bed liner would hold the water 100 percent better than the black plastic liner was able to support the water in the past. He’s experimenting with different mixtures of dirt and clay to help figure which will best suit the ponding areas.

But Lane said the work by others has been instrumental to the group’s success.

Alan Billau, Cline, Gosticha, Joe Griffenberg, Mraz and previous members have greatly contributed to the effort, Lane said.

“There’s no way I could have done it without other people,” Lane said. “They want to see the community grow.”

The leader of the group said members of the association are stewards of the land and gates to the property are locked for non-members to preserve the condition of the land.

The association has received donations from individuals and area businesses, and Lane said he expects more in the future. His positive attitude will no doubt help the group get where they want to go.

“We have done so much with so little,” Lane said.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.