By Scott Manning
A small group of Corrales residents meets regularly to discuss plans to transform the Corrales Interior Drain into a recreational trail for walkers and for cyclists. This group is just beginning the planning process, but a similar project has already been partially implemented in Albuquerque’s North Valley along the Alameda Drain.
On June 9, Doug Findley organized a Zoom meeting to discuss the possibility of constructing a recreational space along the entire length of the Corrales Interior Drain. The Corrales Interior Drain is a drainage ditch and irrigation water return feature that runs north-south through the central area of Corrales east of Corrales Road.
At Findley’s suggestion, Mayor Jo Anne Roake said July 2 she intended to appoint a group to look at the potential for better using the area around the drainage ditch. The mayor said she hoped to appoint the following at the July 21 council meeting: Doug Findley, Rick Thaler, Ed Boles, Sayre Gerhart, Jeff Radford and John Perea.
The group has as its mission “to identify and help implement ways in which the Interior Drain and its right-of-way may be improved for safe, enjoyable and essential public use while maintaining tranquility for adjacent residents.” The Interior Drain would retain its primary function as a drainage infrastructure for the village. But Findley and collaborators propose that the ditch bank become a mixed-use space that also supports recreation.
This is not the first time that residents have proposed transforming the land along the Corrales Interior Drain. Over a decade ago, Radford, a charter member of the Corrales Bicycle, Pedestrian Advisory Commission, suggested that the Village support a plan for the ditch bank to be used for recreation and —possibly— a shady area for parking for visitors to the nearby businesses along Corrales Road.
The proposal he floated years ago would have part of the ditch replaced by a perforated underground culvert that would continue the original drainage function for adjacent land. Radford said that concept was suggested by former Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District Chief Engineer Subhas Shah in the 1980s when Corrales residents complained about mosquitoes breeding in stagnant, smelly ditch water.
Now, this group of Corrales residents plans to meet and work closely with Mayor Jo Anne Roake to advance the idea of a new recreational space along the drainage ditch. Once they have achieved committee or task force status, they plan to work with the Conservancy District (MRGCD) and with Corrales residents to transform the ditch bank.
Going forward, a recreational project along the ditch bank faces several challenges. First, the Village and the MRGCD would need to evaluate property rights claims along the Interior Drain to make sure that the land could be legally used as a recreational space. Some members of Findley’s group worry that private landowners may have specific property claims to land on the ditch bank.
In this scenario, the MRGCD controls the ditch bank for drainage and water usage purposes. The property agreements with the MRGCD could contain reversion clauses in which land use rights would be returned to private property owners if the drain were to be used as a recreational space. To resolve the property rights issue, the Village would need to conduct a professional land survey of the Interior Drain.
Second, the group of Corrales residents does not yet have a clear vision for the recreational project. And without a clear plan, the group will struggle to identify the structural and engineering challenges associated with it.
Members of Findley’s group decided at their meeting to begin contacting Corrales residents and specialists to determine the needs of the community and to construct a recreational plan that meets those needs. For example, the group intends to seek the expertise of biologists to determine the ecosystems along the drain.
Third, the project will require funding, and Corrales will need to invest in maintenance efforts to support the recreational space. At the June meeting, participants expressed confidence that funding avenues could be identified. Were the group to create a space that supports fishing in the Interior Drain, it could seek funding from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Again, funding avenues can be determined once advocates draft a specific proposal.
Finally, Findley’s group recognizes that implementation of the project will require the assistance of several agencies in the region. The MRGCD must be involved because the district controls the area around the drain and uses the ditch banks to perform maintenance work.