Kit Carson Park: Trees, Rock’n Roll, and Community Democracy

By: Bill Whaley
13 August, 2019

Defying Tradition, Embracing Short Term Benefits, Ignoring Long-term Investments

On August 14, Wednesday, at 5:30 pm, the Friends of Kit Carson Park will meet to discuss the displacement of peace and quiet in the Historic District, sanctioned vandalism in the Park, and the fiats issued by the passive-aggressive Mayor, Manager, and Town Council.

One need only observe the parallel crimes against nature perpetrated by the new owner of the Kachina Lodge, who cut down the trees, emulating the way the Kit Carson-led troops massacred the “Peach Trees” in Canyon de Chelly to the horror of the Dine, to understand the “symbolism” of similar acts in Kit Carson Park. The empty parking spaces at the Kachina testify to self-destructive acts of cutting down trees. Who in the community could possibly recommend doing an event or visiting the once fabled Van Vechten-Lineberry Best Western Kachina Lodge?

A recent report in The Taos News noted how gross receipts taxes for the community had fallen in comparison to the prior year despite the music and concerts in the park. What gives with all the empty storefronts on the Plaza and in the Historic District?

By focusing on one sector of the economy, weekenders, food and beverage enthusiasts at the expense of retail and long-term guests, the Town marketers ignore the investment in the history and cultural attractions. Nor has the Town seen fit to report on the actual financial effects of the investment in concerts, despite SRO attendance and subsequent joy of music lovers.

What is the Town Council hiding?

The town treats previous plans for parks and trees as an afterthought even as they ignore the competing and negative noise effects, for instance, on The Taos School of Music at the TCA. But if you elect an “out-of-town” lumberjack and firewood seller as Mayor, you’re likely to get someone who doesn’t understand the finer points of chamber music or root damage done by constructing a giant metal bandstand. An autopsy of the trees killed and hauled off for firewood from the Kachina confirmed that the trees were healthy, according to Friction sources.

The Town addresses issues in the Park with an axe instead of tweaking the shrubs with a pair of clippers.

Caveat: This is not a conflict, contrary to popular over-simplification, between “old white people” and “young rock’n rollers”. Many of the critics, supported the former Solar Fests and the number of Baby Boomers seen at the concerts belies that easy distinction. More readily, the controversy stems from the refusal of elected officials to consider modest changes and the request for accommodations by organizations with historic claims and lifelong investments in the environs of the park…as well as citizens who believe in democratic give and take as opposed to rule by executive order.

Alternatives exist.

The bandstand reminds one of images from Lili Riefenstahl’s “symbolic” Triumph of the Will but in this case, Manager Rick Bellis’s will and execution by the Mitch Miller storm troopers from the Town’s Public Works department. Neither the crowds nor the loud music matter as much as the arrogant disregard for tradition, the people’s rights, and the obligations to maintain the historic culture and a sense of fairness and neighborly regard for residents and the attractions which have drawn people historically to the community.

As one younger friend, a born and bred Taosena said to me, “The town has forgotten that governing is the art of human relations.” I went looking for fresh eggs at a late hour in last week’s Saturday farmer’s market and was surprised to see brick and mortar vendors with booths, as well as the “material goods” for sale in defiance of original promises about selling, exclusively, farm fresh vegetables.

Thanks to ingenuity, the Plaza is experiencing seeds of resurgent vitality in Maye Torres’ gallery, Jen Hart’s Manzanita Market, and Rolling Distillery’s Lounge, Patrick and Carmen Woodall’s revitalization of the McCarthy Rock House, and the steady work offered by Shree Yoga, which attracts locals, second homers, and visitors. Ranee Malanga of Artwares still supplements the poorly trained public works department with her own stash of brooms from the witches’ closet.

However, on the north and west side of the Plaza empty storefronts testify to the general direction i.e. of the moribund Plaza Theatre Building on the southside and the County’s lamentable and lagging commitment to the historic Courthouse on the northside. All these empty storefronts speak of both structural retail weaknesses and the passive, if sheer laziness of the Town, in terms of failed leadership and unimaginative current policies.

Instead of working with landlords and retail merchants, the Town has been singularly focused on embellishing Rick Bellis’s resume as music producer to the disadvantage of the commercial community at large. (Whatever happened to the “Holiday Inn Express”?)

Between plans to annex Upper Ranchitos and applying for jobs in larger municipalities…like Rio Rancho Bellis is as busy as a rat in heat.

We used to complain about Manager Gus Cordova’s 19-year run as town manager, a time when the trains ran on time and the Town squirreled away seven million dollars in reserves at local banks. Little did we know…what Gus knew. His successor Manager Tomas Benavidez once warned the council and community about inheriting empty storefronts a la Raton.

One raton has already resigned to chase the cheese in Santa Fe. But there’s a bigger rat eating up everything in sight at Town Hall.