Turtleback Trails


Pedestrian bridges, trail, and river access improvements along the Rio Grande in Truth or Consequences and Williamsburg provide access to the natural environment that help our community grow healthier and wealthier.  Click here to see the Turtleback Trail Network Plan.


In 2018, a few local trail runners started talking about how great it would be if we had year-round access to cross the Rio Grande at Rotary Park to access the thousands of acres of public land on the other side.

In 2019, the coalition they helped build worked with the City of Truth or Consequences to get a technical assistance grant from the National Park Service to develop a plan for improving recreational access to public lands nearby.

Our vision is for up to three pedestrian footbridges, one or two in T or C and one in Williamsburg, with trails connecting them on the other side of the river. These amenities will be used by hikers, runners, bicyclists, birders, commuters, physical therapy patients, class field trips, high school sports teams, and all residents and visitors. The bridges could also be accompanied by water access amenities for tubers, kayakers, paddleboards, and fishing enthusiasts.

Better access to outdoor amenities will increase tourism spending and visits, which will spur business growth and city revenues as our community becomes known as a gateway to the Rio Grande Trail.

In short, we envision a community that is healthier and wealthier.


  1. Improve Community Health
  2. Conserve & improve Rio Grande habitat and cultural/historical resources
  3. Increase municipal revenues in the form of GRT, Lodgers Tax
  4. Improve visitor and resident experiences
  5. Attract new residents and businesses
  6. Enhance the reputation of T or C and Williamsburg as "gateway" communities to the Rio Grande
  7. Provide outdoor learning for people of all ages
  8. Enhance community pride


Our Steering Committee consists of representatives from the Sierra County Tourism Board, the City of Truth or Consequences, the Village of Williamsburg, T or C Public Schools, New Mexico State Parks, Sierra County, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, and MainStreet Truth or Consequences, Jornada Resources Conservation & Development Council Inc., Sierra Soil and Water Conservation District, Sierra county cooperative Extension Office and Hot Springs High School Envirothon Team. 

The audience for our envisioned improvements includes:

  • High school athletes.
  • Students.
  • Winter visitors
  • Physical therapy patients
  • Hot springs visitors
  • Trail runners
  • Birders
  • Mountain Bikers
  • Rio Grande Trail hikers
  • Kayakers
  • Tubers
  • Canoers
  • Wildlife Biologists
  • History Buffs
  • Fishing enthusiasts
  • Artists
  • All our neighbors


As a community-led project, organizers have implemented multiple strategies to collect feedback from community members, including:

  • Chalkboards in Rotary Park and Williamsburg were installed in summer 2020.  New questions are posted periodically by volunteers and the resulting community responses added to a spreadsheet. The data will be used by planners to attempt to realize the shared vision of the community.
  • In August 2021, in partnership with the City of Truth or Consequences, landscape architecture firm Groundwork Studio led a two-day workshop on desired improvements to Rotary Park. Approximately 75 community members participated.   
  • In August 2021, we produced a brochure describing the project and envisioning potential improvements to water and trail amenities. The brochure was distributed at the weekly Farmers Market, the downtown brewery, Morningstar Outfitters, and the community board in Rotary Park.
  • In summer 2020 we launched a Facebook Page that as of August 2021 has amassed 650 followers and reached 1800 people in the previous month.
  • In spring 2021 organizers met with local independent media, resulting in an article that further informed the community as to our efforts. At least 185 community members read the article, according to the publication.

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Each summer, visitors and locals enjoy access to tubing and kayaking a beautiful stretch of the Rio Grande. Many put in at the Third Street Bridge and take out at Rotary Park. Both access points are primitive. Our project envisions improvements to both sites.

Our stakeholders have identified river access improvements as an important complement to the footbridge & trail improvements.

One vision for such improvements includes newly developed boat launch sites, paved parking, and ADA-accessible features, restrooms, and the opportunity for concessionaires to seasonally set up shop. (Image below)

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Every fall, the federal Bureau of Reclamation utilizes heavy equipment to install a rock dam at Rotary Park. Every spring, they remove it.  The purpose of this work is to maintain hydrostatic pressure in the downtown hot springs district.

It is an effective solution but has downsides, including:

  • Disturbs local riparian habitat
  • Interrupts visitor access to Rotary Park during installation and demolition
  • Requires unsightly "spoils" piles on both sides of the river
  • Prevents aesthetic park improvements

A new and better solution would allow BOR operators to utilize an adjustable dam to provide the same  function with none of the above disadvantages and new advantages of including a footbridge and water recreation amenities as part of the construction.


Each winter, while the dam is up and the river in downtown T or C is slow and deep, regional fishing enthusiasts and locals flock to the riverbank in Rotary Park to try their luck. In fact, the state stocks the water to improve their chances.

The riverbank is steep, overgrown, and often muddy, reducing the quality of the experience and accessibility.

We should improve fishing access amenities to ensure that mobility-impaired individuals can enjoy them.


We envision up to three pedestrian bridges crossing the Rio Grande, possibly at Ralph Edwards Park, Rotary Park and near Williamsburg Community Park.  They are functional, attractive and designed to prohibit unauthorized motorized vehicle use. 

The exact locations of the bridges will be determined by evaluating criteria such as proximity to residential population, river hydrology and potential impacts to natural and cultural resources.  

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A beautiful new bridge cannot connect up to a dusty gravel lot, and improvements to Rotary Park, possibly based on the city's ratified Wetlands Concept Pan (below), should be implemented in tandem with the bridges.

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The Turtleback Trails Network would  consist of four trail corridors or areas.  

     1.  A non-motorized multi-use pathway connecting Rotary Park to Williamsburg Community Park on the river's southside.  Exact trail alignment is determined by evaluating user experience, aesthetics, ease of implementation, user accommodation and potential resource impacts.  

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     2.  A universally accessible pathway connecting Rotary Park to Ralph Edwards Park on the Rio Grande's southside.  Specific alignments will require private landowner cooperation and partnerships.  

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     3.  A hiking, running, mountain bicycling and horseback riding trail network along the flanks of  Caballo Mountain and Palomas Gap on Bureau of Land Management lands.  It would utilize mining and ranching roads and some singletrack alignments.  This network would provide about 60 miles of trails.  (map not available)

The Rio Grande Trail http://www.riograndetrailnm.com? will traverse New Mexico from northern border to southern border along the Rio Grande corridor.  A segment of trail in Elephant Butte State Park has been designated.  Designating the trail through the Fish Hatchery area and along A005 and our new Rotary Park to Williamsburg Community Park trail would allow TorC to pursue regional trails tourism opportunities. 



Trail facilities support and enhance the experience of trail users and include trailheads, staging areas, overlooks, displays, benches, signage, and other structures.

Informational, educational and regulatory signage could be placed at trailhead locations and along the trail segments.  Trailhead signs could tell trail users about the trail system: trail lengths, accessibility information, and permitted uses.  Leave No Trace and visitor safety messaging would be appropriate on trailhead signage.  Rules and regulations for using the trails should be posted at traihead signs too.

The trail users experience can be enhanced by installing educational signage/exhibits along trail segments.  Interpretive themes can help trail users and school based outdoor classrooms learn about the history and ecology of the Rio Grande corridor through Truth or Consequences and the Village of Williamsburg.   Some interpretive themes being considered include: human settlement in the area; Rio Grande flyway, water delivery and management; geology (hot springs and mining)

Resting places along the various trail segments, particularly along the Rio Grande corridor, may encourage older residents and families with young children to use the trails.  Resting places could include shade ramadas, benches and picnic tables.  Other trail features may include barriers to prevent motorized vehicles along certain trail segments.


Each potential trail alignment connecting the bridges will be analyzed through the following evaluation criteria:

  1. Visitor Experience (road dust, traffic, safety, wildlife, shade)
  2. Character / Aesthetics
  3. Environmental / Cultural Issues
  4. Ease of Implementation/Construction
  5. User accommodation  (i.e. a person depending on mobility assisted devices could never get to the upper bench from Rotary!)


The conservation and education working group is examining the possible environmental and cultural adverse impacts the Turtleback Trails network could cause.   The Rio Grande is an important wildlife corridor and habitat.   Additionally, there are cultural resources in the project area that continue to need protection.  

With park and trail improvements, more opportunities exist for outdoor learning.   Partnerships with schools youth groups and civic clubs for conservation projects, classrooms and activities are being considered.  


If we implement this vision, we believe these will be the results:

  • Increased GRT and Lodgers Tax for our community
  • Increased intergenerational communication as different constituencies interact
  • Better education for our local students in the form of hands-on natural history and science and cultural teachings
  • Increased health for all our community members
  • Accessible outdoor adventures for our youth
  • New businesses and families will move to town to access our amenities
  • Enhanced community pride
  • https://www.railstotrails.org/build-trails/trail-building-toolbox/planning/trail-towns

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SierraCountyTrails
Attila Bality, National Park Service Outdoor Recreation Planner:  Attila_Bality@nps.gov
Merry Jo Fahl, Executive Director, Jornada Resource Conservation: jornadaresourceconservationdev@gmail.com
John Masterson, torch-bearer and editor of this document: magnafix@gmail.com

Draft Document for Discussion Only - Page  

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