In Costilla County where over 99 percent of land is private, a new trail system emerges

Courtesy of Mick Daniel, San Luis Valley Great Outdoors
Trail building in Rito Seco Park in Costilla County

Located just east of the town of San Luis in Costilla County, the newly unveiled hiking and mountain biking trail system in Rito Seco Park has been in the works for the past 12 years. 

The system is a boon to the area, where established hiking trails are hard to come by. They're closer than anything the town of San Luis has had before, according to Shirley Romero-Otero, the executive director of the Move Mountains Project, a non-profit in the county that conducts outdoor programming for youth.

“[Rito Seco] is more easily accessible than anywhere else that we would go to do hiking,” she said.  “Having these trails in our own backyard, we are just going to have more accessibility for our kids and the community as a whole.”

Over 99 percent of land in Costilla County is privately owned, said Mick Daniel, director of San Luis Valley Great Outdoors. The organization works to create accessible and inclusive outdoor recreation opportunities.

That means, he said, there are few places for outdoor recreation for those living in the county. 

"We try to focus on communities that don’t have easy access, and that is one of the reasons why San Luis and Costilla County and Rito Seco are so important," Daniel said. 

“We make our communities more livable by providing outdoor opportunities.” 

According to Daniel, Costilla County is also one of the poorer counties in Colorado. 2021 census data shows the poverty rate in the county is more than double that of the statewide rate. 

“Trails tend to develop in more wealthy communities,” he said. “When you really start  looking at where trails are being developed, they are not typically being developed in communities that are doing less well.”

He added that the trails took 12 years to complete because funding was hard to come by. Some money came from Great Outdoors Colorado, which helps support outdoor opportunities for underserved communities across the state. 

“We are a community without resources,” said Romero-Otero. “We need all of those allies that care about our community and are willing to step up.”

She added that the new trails will be important for the community because they are closer than anything the town of San Luis has had before.

Daniel agrees.

“This really is the sole recreational trail of this type available to them in Costilla County,” he said. “It's just this really accessible piece of land for a county that has very very few places to recreate and access open space.”

Daniel said they continue to plan to increase outdoor access in the county. This could include the possibility of new trails on a few ranches just outside San Luis, or adding more trails to the existing system in Rito Seco Park in the future.