Carlito Springs to open to public on Aug. 9

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Nestled in the rocky southern face of the Sandia Mountains is the sound of running water, century-old travertine cabins and an orchard bearing a variety of fruit.

Carlito Springs has traveled a twisting path through the past century to the Aug. 9 grand opening when the East Mountains' Open Space will officially welcome visitors to the site. During renovations included in phase one of the project, the Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation Department took great care to preserve the property's history and interactions with the landscape.

The springs were first claimed by Horace Greenwood Whitcomb in 1882 who formed Camp Whitcomb — with six cabins, a stable and a graded road — and it operated under various owners until Carlton Cole Magee bought the property in 1930. Magee, who founded the Albuquerque Tribune and invented the parking meter, renamed the springs "Carlito" after his son who died in a plane crash.

The most recent iteration of the 177-acre property began in 2000 when Bernalillo County purchased it for $1.5 million to be used for the Open Space Program, funded through a quarter-mill property tax levy. A cultural landscape assessment was conducted before any renovations were made to ensure the vibrant history of the site would remain untouched.

"Because of the sensitive and unique natural historical resources we needed to have a more intensive study done," said Colleen Langan-McRoberts, the open space coordinator. "There is a lot of history there in the landscapes, the structures, and the beautiful orchard area. We took our time and make sure to prepare it properly."

Carlito Springs, while available to everyone, is expected to be especially dear to East Mountains residents as the latest Open Space designation.

"It's really like the East Mountains' Hubbell House," said Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson. "It is similar in historic value for the community and really unusual for the East Mountains because of the ties to natural and man-made history."

The completion of phase one, 14 years after the initial purchase, will allow the public to park in a lower parking lot and hike up to the springs and historic cabins. A 1.7 mile loop hike takes visitors past soaring trees and impressive views of the town, interstate and surrounding foothills.

"It's a really special place; most people don't understand it until they get here," Johnson said. "We wanted people to be able to come and enjoy the spot. They were sneaking in anyway so now they can come in legitimately."

The next steps for the site include finishing the water and sewage system so the main house will be operational. Currently the structures are all boarded up but visitors can peer through the windows.

The New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office has enlisted the help of East Mountain residents to participate in the Carlito Springs SiteWatch steward program. SiteWatch stewards protect historical resources from vandalism and theft through monitoring the site and educating the public.

The grand opening of Carlito Springs will take place on Aug. 9 at 8:30 a.m. and will feature guided hikes, speakers, music and a ribbon cutting by Commissioner Johnson. More information about the site can be found at www.bernco.gov/properties—carlito-springs-5843/.