Improvements to Carlito Springs, an open space property owned by Bernalillo County, could include an amphitheater and a commercial kitchen, as planning continues.

A meeting was held last week at the McGrane Safety Complex in Tijeras, where county officials turned out to hear input from the public. More than half of those attending were part of a master gardening group that uses the site regularly.

County Commissioner Wayne Johnson called Carlito Springs “a magnificent spot in the East Mountains,” as he asked for input. “Give us your ideas, and tell us what you think of our ideas,” he said.

The 179-acre spot has a long history. Bordering the Cibola National Forest, the property has a running spring, several cabins, an historic orchard, terranced gardens, a house and other buildings onsite.

Architect Cherry Reens said the property was known as Whitcomb Camp in 1894, and it may be eligible to be listed on state and national registries of historic properties.

According to Bernalillo County’s website, it is named for the spring flowing from exposed bedrock in the north-central part of the property, which ranges in elevation from 6,300 feet to 7,000 feet.

Bernalillo County purchased 177 acres in 2000, added the 2-acre tract with includes the spring in 2008. A hiking trail opened two years ago.

The meeting presented to the public three basic “schemes” for the property, ranging from leaving it as-is to extensive renovations. The county sought input on their ideas, and the people attending the meeting agreed with the county in its preference.

Scheme II, as it was called, would create meeting space and open up the enclosed porch on the house, restoring the building to an earlier configuration.

It would create offices and perhaps a snack or gift shop. A caretaker would be housed upstairs in the building.

One of the cabins would be converted to a museum, perhaps in collaboration with the East Mountain Historical Society, Johnson said. The other cabins on the property could be used for overnight stays for researchers or county-approved visitors working at the site, but not for the general public.

Potential pitfalls include a rock wall that might have to be moved to allow enough space for fire trucks to turn around; a shed might also have to be moved.

County officials talked about the possibility of a 200-seat amphitheater, but the members of the public there thought that number was far too high, suggesting instead a 50-seat amphitheater if one is to be built.

One man from the Carnuel Land Grant said that community’s concern is for the spring that feeds the watershed and how the proposals might impact that water supply. He said the land grant is pushing for a “protection area” that goes up over the top of, and includes the spring.

Dan McGregor, county hydrologist, said the geology in the area is “very complex,” adding that the spring is probably sustainable at 5 to 10 gallons per minute. The county’s proposals for the open space would include composting toilets and a water tank to supply the buildings.

Other discussion focused on whether to build a commercial kitchen or a simple “warming kitchen.”

Residents living near the area said there is traffic to the site all through the night and reported seeing campfires as well. “I’m wondering how much more traffic we want to encourage,” one person said. “It’s getting destroyed by people running rampant through there.”

Another reported that “three loads of wood went out” in a single day.

You can’t literally control the number of hikers illegally parking down the road. It’s a beautiful site with water, such a rarity in New Mexico.”

The consensus of the group seemed to lean toward moderate use of the property and the addition of a commercial kitchen. Infrastructure like plumbing will be a major challenge at the site, county officials said.

To learn more, visit the county’s website at bernco.gov and search for “open space” or “Carlito Springs.” To submit comments, contact calangan@bernco.gov.

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at news.ind.editor@gmail.com.