Safety plans in place for annual walk

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With Good Friday approaching, the thoughts of many turn to the annual pilgrimage to the top of Tomé Hill. For most, those thoughts are of a spiritual nature.

But for the public safety personnel around the county, thoughts of the betterment of the soul are surpassed by thoughts of water stations, portable toilets and the strategic staging of emergency medical services.

Last week, Glenda Chavez, the county's emergency management coordinator, met with departments from across the county and the state to firm up the safety plans for the annual walk.

Representatives from the Belen and Los Lunas fire departments, as well as county and municipal law enforcement agencies, the state department of transportation and even the FBI were present to make sure any last minute questions were answered and a solid plan was in place.

"I want to thank everyone," Chavez said. "You are doing a huge service to make this a good pilgrimage for those going up. Thank you, and your work is appreciated."

Chavez said the Valley Lutheran Church at 3259 N.M. 47, just south of Otero Road, would have water available for the walkers, as well as bathrooms. She said private individuals along the highway also traditionally hand out water, as well.

Suzette Lindemuth, director of the Center for Ageless Living, just north of South El Cerro Loop, said the business would be willing to open up bathrooms for pilgrims to use as well.

Lindemuth also asked where emergency medical personnel would be stationed, so that information could be passed on to the walkers.

Chavez said medical rescue corps tents would be located at the base of the hill near Tomé Hill Road, at the Valencia Y in Heritage Park and at Willie Chavez Park in Belen on River Road.

Along with medical personnel, Chavez said law enforcement and fire staff would also be staged at those three areas, with the operational command post at the base of the hill.

To keep the area around the hill free for pedestrian traffic, Chavez said Tomé Hill Road would be closed from N.M. 47 to the hill, as it has been in years passed.

The county's public works department will also be erecting temporary barricades on all ditchbanks leading to the area, again as a way to control and deter motorized vehicles where foot traffic will be heaviest.

A&A Pumping Service will also be providing portable toilets along N.M. 47, said company owner Tony Padilla.

"Last year, we did 14 or 16," Padilla said. "Let me know how many you need this time and where you need them."

Valencia County Fire Marshal Casey Davis said the bulk of the complaints about the portable toilets last year were that there weren't enough at the base of the hill.

Padilla said he would put three or four additional units at the base near Tomé Hill Road and the same number on the south side of the hill at the park containing the sculpture, La Puerta del Sol.

"People also complained that the toilet paper ran out," Davis said.

Chavez said they are stressing and reminding people on the pilgrimage that they need to be prepared.

"Bring your own water and toilet paper," she said. "We're not going to have reserves to offer."

Rita Padilla-Gutierrez, secretary for the board of directors for the town of Tomé Land Grant, said the Thomé Dominguez de Mendoza Community Center, at 2933 N.M. 47, could open its lot for parking.

"Maybe you could place a few port-a-potties there," Padilla-Gutierrez said. "We already have two near the baseball fields and that may alleviate the people coming from the south."

This year, Chavez said parking for walkers will be at Heritage Park, Albertson's Grocery Store, the Tomé community center and officials with the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus has also offered space.

She is hopeful those locations will keep people from parking on the shoulders of the narrow, two-lane highway.

State police will be patrolling N.M. 47 on motorcycle units and Los Lunas Open Space officers will be on the ditches on off-highway vehicles.

There will also be two county animal control officers out patrolling at the bottom of the hill to keep pilgrims from taking dogs up to the top, Chavez said.

"We've had issues in the past and are hoping to stop them there," she said. "The owner of the hill (Valley Improvement Association) does not want animals taken up the hill."

Chavez said safety personnel would begin setting up stations in various locations between 5:30 and 6 a.m., and are expected to remain out and about until some time between 3 and 4 p.m. on Good Friday.


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