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The Destruction of Patrick Smith Park


In an excellent report in today’s New Mexican, Chris Quintana describes how what was once a gem of Santa Fe’s historic Alameda has been ruined by the city’s neglect:

. . . Monsignor Patrick Smith Park has always been one of the city’s more lush parks. Tucked between Canyon Road and East Alameda Street, the 5-acre property is hemmed by stately cottonwoods running along the Santa Fe River. But today, even after one of the wettest summers the city has seen in years, the park’s grass has withered into a brownish yellow husk that crunches under foot . . . The only plants that grow reliably are weeds. Goatheads abound, and gophers have invaded.

We’re supposed to accept, from the city’s convoluted excuses, that all of this was unavoidable. The irrigation system, you see, just broke — suddenly, completely, catastrophically beyond repair. And there was nothing anyone could do but sit back and watch as, over the coming years,  a five-acre oasis of beautiful grass was left to die.

IMG_0133And then they were unable to fight the ensuing invasion of weeds and gophers. They were unable to bring in water trucks to keep the turf alive until the sprinklers were fixed. Stuff just happened. And now, as the costs of fixing the mess have escalated, officials don’t quite know how they will pay for it.

In a city where water conservation is paramount, providing a few green public spaces is especially important. Patrick Smith Park was once one of the best.

What makes this situation even harder to excuse is that the money was already available, as part of a multimillion dollar bond project that voters approved in 2012 to pay for park maintenance throughout Santa Fe. Of those funds, $140,000 was supposed to go to fix the irrigation system and for other work in Patrick Smith Park.

Mr. Quintana, the New Mexican reporter, goes on to show how the death of the park and the neglect of many others is tied to the deepening scandal over the mismanagement of the bond issue. Be sure to read his piece for the troubling details.

Meanwhile, in its meandering way, the city says it is finally addressing the problem. But first, for some reason, there had to be an archeological survey — to replace an irrigation system that was already there. It took an entire year, the New Mexican reports, to find a company that would do it for a bargain price. Then the city solicited bids for a contractor to fix the sprinklers but the estimates all exceeded $67,000, which is more than was allocated  by the parks bond. So that means juggling funds, we’re told, which will take yet more time.

This morning I walked down to this depressing wasteland, through the narrow passageway from Canyon Road, the walls covered as usual by spray-painted graffiti. There were more graffiti tags on park signs and a basket ball backboard. Trash cans were overflowing and there were beer cans scattered on the ground.

Rob Carter, the new Parks Department director who inherited this fiasco, told the New Mexican that the park is his “number one priority” and that work will begin next spring. That is good to hear but it is hard to be optimistic. If the city tries to do this on the cheap, the millions of weed seeds sown over the past few years will quickly spring back and crowd out the new grass. I hope that our city councilors and the citizens of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission will be watching closely to make sure Patrick Smith Park  gets the quality of work it deserves.


George Johnson
The Santa Fe Review