For more information or to get involved in the project, contact Marcel Bieg at firstname.lastname@example.org; Kent Ford at email@example.com or Attila Bality at Attila_bality@nps.gov or go to go to www.facebook.com/FourCornersPaddleTrail. For more information on the National Water Trails, go to nps.gov/watertrails.
AZTEC — Much of the discussion at City Hall focuses on highways and infrastructure, streets and walkways -- typical fare for any municipality.
During a special meeting on Tuesday, Aztec Commission focused on blueways.
Steve Mueller, director of Parks and Recreation for the city, offered a presentation highlighting the liquid highways that run through Aztec and the plans to connect cities together by way of raft, canoe, inner tube, paddle board or kayak.
The Four Corners Paddle Trail Project is a multi-agency group invested in enhancing water sports along 90 miles of the Animas and San Juan rivers in New Mexico and Colorado. The group's members want to see more people floating, paddling and enjoying the rivers.
Mueller, who is a member of Aztec Trails and Open Space and is involved in the Paddle Trail Project, strapped commissioners in life vests and guided them along an overview of the group's accomplishments, the potential for river-based recreation at access points throughout the city and the benefits of exploiting one of the area's richest natural resources: rivers.
"Getting on the river is still an untapped resource. It's just a nice place to get away," Mueller said. "The river is for everybody."
The project aims to increase river use from Hermosa, Colo., north of Durango, down the Southern Ute Reservation, through Aztec and into Farmington, where the Animas and San Juan rivers intersect. Paddle trails also could be available along the San Juan through Bloomfield, from Quality Waters to Kirtland.
"Over 100 people were involved in the Fiesta Days free paddle rides this year and the year before," Mueller said. "It shows there's an interest and enthusiasm for everyone enjoying the river."
Commissioner Roberta Clover agreed.
"I think it's a really great project," she said.
Attila Bality, the outdoor recreation manager for the National Park Service in New Mexico, is helping with the planning process. His work involves coordinating interested parties -- from rafting enthusiasts to land owners, schools and city governments -- to help make river recreation more available to residents and tourists.
"One challenge of the project is to ensure every party meets the same standards and maintains consistency, from one area's access point to another," Bality said. "The place the project is at now is to hold community meetings this fall to find out from folks where they paddle, what they'd like to see, as well as raise greater awareness and river safety."
The group was inspired in part by former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's establishment of a National Water Trails System in 2012.
"What's cool about the Four Corners Paddle Trails Project is it's truly from the ground up, all about getting people in the water, helping local communities enjoy more of the outdoors for one- or multiple-day trips," Bality said. "It combines the best ideas and passion for river-based recreation through many, many voices. That's the difference."