Need a place to cool down during the dog days of summer?

Try the Rio Grande bosque, a great place to relax and stay cool, learn something about nature, or even a place to work.

If the latter appeals to you, Friends of the Rio Rancho Open Space could use your help, not to mention sweat equity. FORROS meets the second Saturday of each month at Rio West Community Church, aiming at improving the open space, AKA the bosque, located just east of the River's Edge neighborhoods.

According to the FORROS mission statement, the non-profit group is a tax-exempt corporation "dedicated to restore, preserve and enhance the recreational and cultural value of Rio Rancho Open Space, to benefit or encourage public use."

On any given morning, a short hike through the bosque reveals joggers - some with dogs, some without, people walking with their dogs, bicyclists, and the sounds of nature - birds and bees, plus an occasional airplane flying overhead or the horn of the Rail Runner Express zipping on the tracks on the east side of the Rio Grande. You might be lucky enough to see an owl, a beaver or coyote if you're quiet enough and observant.

Every few hundred feet are descriptive signs, telling visitors of what's in the area, such as birds, flora and fauna.

"Our bosque is a treasure of our community," understates the FORROS website. "It remains in a natural state, though now choked with invasive trees, primarily Russian olive and salt cedar. Our mission is to remove these trees and restore the areas by adding native trees and shrubs. This will provide an enjoyable place for our residents and wildlife."

"The bosque needs assistance," said Jay Hart, director for the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. He said the city manages the bosque and is working with the Interstate Stream Commission for a grant or two for improvements; last Friday, he was optimistic about the chances of seeing some financial help from the grants.

A grant last year helped pay for teenagers to do some work in the bosque, which included installing 10 benches in one area not far from the Willow Creek parking lot. A state forestry grant earlier this year paid for prison inmates to do some manual labor there.

Through the years, the bosque has become a wonderful respite for picnics, thanks to the installation of benches throughout, and a great place for a hike or a jog, thanks to the smooth trails winding up and down the cottonwood forest. One can even hike to nearby stores and, hopefully someday, there'll be a trail that leads into Bernalillo. One can walk south now to Corrales Road.

At least two FORROS members, president Margaret Vedeler and volunteer Seretha Crider, wouldn't be surprised if less than half of the city's residents even know about the natural treasure on the city's east side.

Many drivers probably speed up and down NM 528 on a daily basis without giving thought to what they can experience merely by driving down Willow Creek Road and turning left on the gravel trail that leads to the parking lot.

"We have a jewel," Hart said. "I managed the Albuquerque bosque for 15 years. Our bosque is heads and toes above what other cities have."

Of course, Hart added, smoking, fireworks and campfires are prohibited in the bosque at all times. A burned jewel isn't worth much.