By Scott Manning
While a new group is beginning to research possibilities for a mixed-use recreational area along the Corrales Interior Drain, the City of Albuquerque in conjunction with Bernalillo County is currently implementing a somewhat similar project along the Alameda Drain in the North Valley.
That project in Albuquerque and in Bernalillo County territory is an ambitious plan to transform the ditchbanks along the Alameda Drain. Like the situation in Corrales, the drain in the North Valley is an important piece of infrastructure for stormwater runoff and irrigation water return flow. Both are managed by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD).
Any recreation plan along the drain had to ensure that the drain retained its water-control functions. According to John Kelly, a board member with the MRGCD, the North Valley project has been successful so far because it began with effective collaboration between relevant governments and agencies in the region and with strong community support.
At the beginning, the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (AMAFCA), the MRGCD, Bernalillo County and the City of Albuquerque agreed to work together on a plan for the drainage ditch.
This collaboration proved to be key to the project’s success, Kelly said. Each of the four groups contributed $50,000 for a master plan for the drain. With the plan in place, the MRGCD continues to conduct maintenance oto assure its flood and water control functions. The City of Albuquerque and the County have performed construction and maintenance efforts for the recreational project along the ditch bank.
Without a master plan, advocates for each proposed project had to reestablish collaborative relationships and go through a long process of review before any project was approved. That was because construction guidelines could change between plans. This made the proposal process inefficient.
For the Alameda Drain recreational project, AMAFCA, MRGCD, the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County established a master plan for the entire drain stretching from Sandia Pueblo to Interstate 40. The plan identified potential uses and features in future recreational projects along nine miles of the drain.
Therefore, the master plan greatly streamlined the approval process since those proposals that are consistent with the master plan are approved after they pass an engineering review.
Kelly said strong community support also helped to make the project a reality. Before beginning construction on the project, the City sent out postcards to residents notifying them of the proposed project.
Bernalillo County then continued its outreach by hosting public meetings and by meeting with private landowners.
During this outreach process, aspects of the plan were discarded and revised to better meet community needs. For example, Kelly had hoped to implement a dog park along the route, but this feature was ultimately removed due to concerns of feces polluting the drain. Clear communication with residents built support for the recreation project.
Kelly said that the process went well because the parties involved took the time to plan the project properly and transparently. He suggests that Corrales advocates should start with a master plan and with public engagement. Then the design and construction steps can begin, he suggested.
According to Kelly, Albuquerque and Bernalillo County likely enjoyed several other advantages in planning and implementing the North Valley recreation project. First, much of the drain follows along Second Street, a major public thoroughfare. This allowed for good visibility and traffic along the drain, meaning that many residents wanted an improved surface along the ditch bank and new amenities for recreation.
Another factor: the parties received federal and state funding through the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) from the Department of Transportation because designers were able to tie the trail proposal to transit. The trail runs along major roadways and goes past a Railrunner Station on Montaño, so the drain appears on transportation maps. This unique transportation status opened funding avenues for the massive project.
Now several years into construction efforts, Kelly said the recreation project is a success story because the City and County managed to repurpose a weed-infested ditch bank into a recreational space that benefits residents while preserving maintenance access for the district.
According to Yasmeen Najmi, a planning specialist with MRGCD, the Alameda project is a major experiment in creating a multi-use space that serves both flood control and recreation purposes. The project contains several key design features that make the drain an experimental, multi-use space, taking in many engineering and recreation considerations.
First, designers developed a vegetation scheme that would improve the aesthetics of the trail. Trees and shrubs provide shade for residents enjoying the trail and new ecosystems for wildlife in the area. This vegetation scheme was designed to lower the maintenance requirements along the drain for the district. By planting perennial vegetation including grasses and wetland plants along the ditch bank, designers aimed to reduce sediment erosion into the drain and choke out weeds along the bank.
Second, the project provides MRGCD with an opportunity to educate residents about the history of the drain. The drain was built in the 1930s, and it has provided essential flood control functions for decades. Signage has been added along the trail to teach people about the district’s role in bosque management and about general features in the area.
Third, the project and related features aim to improve the quality of water in the watershed. The Alameda Drain ultimately connects back into the Rio Grande, and AMAFCA is involved with the project to reduce the sediment and pollution transport from the drains.
Stormwater flows into the drain, and this runoff contains sediments and pollutants. Implementation of the plan has added more plants to reduce the erosive impact of the drain, and other efforts have been made to slow down the flow of the water to allow for larger sediment to fall out of the water before it enters the Rio Grande. Fourth, new recreation features have been added to the ditch bank. Low-impact rock now covers the hiking trail, and pedestrian bridges and benches have been constructed.
The City of Albuquerque is even involved in integrating public artwork along the trail. Finally, designers intend for the trail to be well-integrated with transportation infrastructure and businesses throughout the valley. The trail connects to the Montaño and Los Ranchos Railrunner stations so that commuters have easy access to the recreational space. And the trail will connect with schools and businesses, including the Range Café, in the North Valley. Through this type of integration, local communities will be able to enjoy and benefit from the trail. Given the experimental nature of the project, Najmi says that the project will be tested in the coming years.
Its developers designed the recreation features with care to preserve the maintenance needs associated with a major water control network. The MRGCD requires 15 to 20 feet of access on both sides of the drain, so recreational features had to be designed around these limitations.
Access to culverts and drain crossings was preserved, and fences were installed. Najmi says it remains to be seen how well maintenance work can be conducted in conjunction with recreational activities along the drain. Already some changes have been made to phase two of the project after MRGCD recognized that it needed additional maintenance features in later phases of the project.
The project in Albuquerque is ongoing. Both the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are constructing their own projects because some sections of the drain lie in unincorporated parts of the metro area. The County began phase one of its project in 2018 and completed the phase in 2019. That phase stretched from Montaño to Osuna.
Najmi estimated that this first phase of the County’s project cost around $2 million. The County is currently working on building phase two of the project from Osuna to El Pueblo, just south of Paseo Del Norte. The City of Albuquerque is completing the design for phase one of its project. This phase will go along Matthew from the intersection of Second Street and Montaño down to Fourth Street.
Funding is secured for the project phases mentioned above, but Najmi is unsure how the pandemic has affected financing for these kinds of recreation projects. While the ambitious project is ongoing, Najmi did not know when the entire project will be completed.
Najmi and Kelly have received positive feedback from members of the community about the recreation offered along the trail. The trail receives a high quantity of pedestrian and cyclist traffic, and traffic has been higher than usual during the pandemic as families seek out safe and local forms of recreation.
Najmi pointed out that a recreation project along the Corrales Interior Drain would require that the Village perform maintenance. The MRGCD works to maintain the flood control features of the drain, but due to insurance constraints, the district would be unable to maintain the recreational features.