The University of New Mexico is helping the National Park Service celebrate 100 years in 2016. UNM is a part of their history through faculty and student projects including a current initiative with the NPS’ National Trails Intermountain Region (NTIR).

That endeavor opens opportunities for UNM students to undertake projects related to the protection, development and promotion of national historic trails.

The UNM School of Architecture & Planning currently has two students working for the NTIR, but other programs, including Communication & Journalism, History and Geography & Environmental Studies are other disciplines that have contributed to the documentation and preservation of the nation’s cultural resources.  

UNM and NPS share a history

NPS vertical crop

UNM has a long history with the National Park Services, dating back to the Spanish Colonial Research Center, which was established by the NPS in 1986 with UNM. Under the direction of Joseph P. Sánchez, the center facilitated research requirements of NPS Spanish Colonial Heritage Sites as well as other local, state and regional entities.

The center cooperated with research organizations across Latin America and collected thousands of microfilmed colonial documents, maps, architectural plans and sketches from Spanish and Mexican archives. The collections are housed in the UNM Libraries’ Center for Southwest Research.

Angélica Sánchez-Clark, a historian for the NPS’ National Trails Intermountain Region, worked for and was mentored by Sánchez (no relation). When he retired, the NPS NTIR and UNM established a new memorandum of understanding that resulted in Sánchez’s current position and the national trails offices at UNM.


“The new MOU that was signed between The University of New Mexico and the National Park Service, National Trails Intermountain Region was designed to identify and provide opportunities for UNM faculty and students to work collaboratively with NTIR on projects in the National Trails system,” Sánchez-Clark said.

“The National Trails administer nine national historic trails and the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program,” she said, adding that UNM’s Center for Southwest Research in the UNM Libraries is the lead institution in a collaboration involving archival institutions along Route 66 to stimulate the collection and preservation of historical records and increase their accessibility to the public.  

“The current MOU allows the National Trails to work with multiple UNM departments to research, develop and plan for the trails,” she said. New Mexico has a wealth of national historic trails including El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Santa Fe Trail and the Old Spanish Trail.

Old Spanish Trail

The Old Spanish Trail was established in 1829, eight years after Mexico gained its independence from Spain. It was an overland trade route to open new commercial relations with frontier settlements in California. Some of the materials the New Mexicans carried were serapes, blankets, ponchos and hides, as well as quilts, hats and shawls. They exchanged the merchandise for mules and horses.

Old Spanish Trail project in Abiquiu, NM
Old Spanish Trail project in Abiquiu, NM

“The history of the trail is significant in its built form. It provides context for how these areas developed,” Griffith said.  From it, they gained perspective on site planning, trailheads and alignments. “It also gave us graphic ideas for signage,” he said.

Some of the research included identifying points of interest. “The goal is to make them visible and valued,” Taccetta said.

Santa Fe Trail

Griffith and Taccetta hit the road this summer to assess a 50-mile segment of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail between Council Grove and Burlingame in Kansas. “One of the challenges is that the trail moves through and around private property. We will work with different entities to find solutions for all concerned,” Griffith said.

The pair will develop design concept plans for Abiquiu Lake, Burlingame and Council Grove. “In September, we will make a presentation for the NPS office in Santa Fe to reflect on and share what we learned,” Griffith said.

Taccetta said that the internship, which will finish in the fall, has provided them with project management and technical support training. “It exposes us to one of the many paths we could follow upon graduation.”

They are looking forward to the fulltime summer work. “It will allow us to be fully engaged and it will represent the bulk of the work,” Taccetta said.

Both agreed that the assistantship was beneficial because they had the opportunity to learn outside the school setting. “And it’s nice to get paid for the work,” Taccetta said.