LOS LUNAS — Staff members of Los Lunas Open Space Department wear a lot of hats.
Among the duties assigned to the park rangers are enforcing regulations, creating programs to educate the public about the significance of the natural spaces under their jurisdiction, responding to emergencies and providing general information and resources, such as maps, to the public for use on the trails.
All of this doesn’t include the camps Open Space puts on during the summer to help provide another outlet for local children to get outside.
Even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for the camps, which have to follow state regulations, meaning no more than five campers per dedicated instructor, have been in high demand.
The camps offered by Open Space included a shooting camp, where campers learned how to shoot bow and arrows as well as BB guns.
Initially, there was just going to be one session of the camp with campers, but it sold out so quickly — in about 20 minutes — that they added additional sessions, according to Open Space supervisor Pat Jaramillo.
Additionally, Open Space has put on camps for children to learn about using GPS and geocaching, as well as other offerings, such as a foraging art class and a fly tying camp to learn about how to fly fish.
The department is also responsible for putting on events such as the Los Lunas Fishing Derby, which takes place every fall at the Los Lunas River Park.
In previous summers under more traditional circumstances, the department of Open Space puts on the Outdoor Adventures, frequently through the summer as well as during other times of the year, such as spring break.
Typically, campers learned about archery and BB guns as well as visiting locations such as the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area and the Albuquerque Biopark Zoo.
The camps serve as a way for the department to educate students about responsible behavior outdoors, as well as give them an opportunity to get outside and explore areas they might not otherwise. It helps to instill the love of the outdoors in the campers from a young age so they can take it with them through their lives.
In addition to Outdoor Adventures, the department also helps out with Los Lunas summer recreation camps to teach some of the same skills.
Community outreach is an important staple of the department, particularly educating the community about responsible use of open space land and parks, but it is just one facet of the department’s focus.
Park rangers help to keep the open space areas clean and make sure problems such as illegal dumping, which is a long-standing issue, are kept under control. They also check to make sure potential hazards — either man-made or natural — are either removed or have the risk that accompanies them minimized.
The department also sets the regulations, which are posted at the entrance of open space facilities and dictate the use of the land, as well as when the area is available for use.
Usage and regulations surrounding off-highway vehicles, such as all-terrain vehicles, are also set by the department. In conjunction with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Open Space puts on safety classes for OHVs, where those under 18 years of age get permits to operate OHVs on public land by learning about proper safety techniques, trail etiquette and operating laws.
Dealing with emergencies at open space areas is also a responsibility of the department, including everything from flooding at the River Park to an injury suffered by a hiker.
Going along with that, the department is the one that tracks things like flooding to make determinations about when its necessary to take steps such as closing trails or otherwise restricting access to the area in the name of safety.
The Los Lunas Open Space division falls under the Department of Parks and Recreation and is one of four branches within the department, the others which make up the department are the recreation division, the parks division and the facility maintenance division.
The divisions within the department frequently coordinate together to put on camps, as well as keep facilities clean and safe for use.
Currently, the Open Space department has only four employees, all park rangers. Jaramillo directs the division.
In spite of the challenges COVID-19 has caused for the department, they have been able to adapt to the changes that have come with the state’s public health orders.
When it comes to camps, this has meant following state guidelines about having one dedicated instructor for every five kids. With only four rangers, this has meant an all-hands-on-deck approach, which includes everyone wearing masks and breaks for any equipment which is going to move between the groups to be disinfected.
Jaramillo said the division is trying to come up with new ideas for camps in order to help reach out to more kids with new activities, as well as satisfy the demand that far outpaces the number spots the department is able to open up.
At the archery and BB gun mini-camps in late June, when the available slots filled within minutes of registration opening, this meant adding a second instructor and the second group of campers, with the two groups staying separate and the equipment being disinfected when they switched stations.
It also meant adding additional dates in order to try and accommodate more of the interested people in a safe fashion and allow more opportunities for students who have generally been stuck at home since March to get out and interact with their peers and learn new skills in as safe of an environment as possible.
What began as one session of five campers turned into three sessions within a few days.
Jaramillo said he was glad the department was able to put together the additional sessions and be able to get more kids outside and interacting with different faces.
He felt like it was a relief for everyone involved to be able to be back out conducting camps and getting kids out of the house, as well as to give their parents a rest.
Currently, no more camps have been announced, but future camps will be announced on the Los Lunas Open Space Division Facebook page, and sign-ups can be done at loslunasnm.gov through the Parks and Recreation Department.
There are plenty of open spaces within the village of Los Lunas for residents and visitors to recreate.
The Riverside Park trail, which is a 2.3 mile trail that goes throughout the Rio Grande bosque, is located south of the Main Street bridge.
The north bosque trail system, north of N.M. 6 is also open for the public.
El Cerro de Los Lunas
El Cerro de Los Lunas Open Space Preserve is a 1,700-acre natural preserve with many opportunities for outdoor recreation.
There are more then 9 miles of trail, with well-improved trails for casual hikers and steep rugged terrain for endurance athletes.
The trailhead of El Cerro de Los Lunas (Los Lunas Hill) entrance is located on N.M. 6, three miles west of Interstate 25.
The three main trails that are currently open to the public are the Overlook Trail, the Bowl Trail and the Trailhead.
The preserve is open daily from 6 a.m. to half an hour past sunset. There is no overnight camping allowed in the park.
The preserve is open to hiking and horseback riding only. There are no motorized vehicles allowed in the preserve. All foot traffic should stay on the designated trails, while horses should remain off-trail.
Small pets, such as dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
For more information about Los Lunas Open Space facilities, contact the Pat Jaramillo at 352-7728.