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Getting outdoors boosts people — and the economy

February 6, 2019

Boosting the economy of New Mexico by building on what is here and what works makes sense. That is just one reason we are so pleased to see movement at the New Mexico Legislature to embrace the outdoor economy.

Hiking, hunting, biking, birding, fishing, camping, skiing, snowshoeing and other adventuring — such activities are more than hobbies. They bring jobs and dollars to towns and cities across New Mexico, especially in rural communities.

Now, bipartisan legislation is being introduced — with the support of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — to create a new division within state government that would work to expand outdoor recreation and related economic development. To be located within the Economic Development Department, we expect to see a New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Office up and running soon.

A director, appointed by the governor, will be charged with recruiting outdoor recreational business to the state; helping communities apply for funding to improve trails or campsites; promoting outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship; and working with tribes, pueblos and rural communities. This promises to be a full-throated campaign to take advantage of New Mexico’s vibrant outdoors.

Our favorite part of the bill, however, is an equity grant program to provide opportunities for low-income young people to get outdoors. It’s the first in the nation, something that should make all New Mexicans proud.

Grants would flow through tribes, pueblos, nonprofits and schools so that all of New Mexico’s youth have an opportunity to get outdoors — walking a trail or strolling by the river, after all, might be free, but a decent pair of boots, a fly rod or a pair of snowshoes is not. Such grants could help pay transportation costs, too, so that people can actually reach the outdoors.

Democratic Rep. Angelica Rubio, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said, “I didn’t have access to the outdoors when I was younger. And many low-income communities and people of color feel disconnected from these wonderful opportunities. The proposal we’re introducing today will finally begin closing that gap.” (Other co-sponsors of Senate Bill 462 include Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn, GOP Sen. Steven Neville, as well as Democratic Reps. D. Wonda Johnson and Nathan Small.)

Since becoming an adult, Rubio has seized the opportunity to get outdoors — she even rode her bicycle to the Legislature all the way from her home in Las Cruces. Lujan Grisham, who had fewer miles to cover, used her bicycle to reach the Roundhouse on Tuesday, encouraging all New Mexicans to get outdoors even when the weather is cold.

Back in 2017, we wrote that improving the outdoor economy is a natural fit for New Mexico. Then, we were praising a legislative effort to lure the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show to New Mexico. Its operators had abandoned Utah because elected representatives there did not support public lands, where so much outdoor recreation takes place.

That effort did not succeed — yet — but bringing in not just outdoor enthusiasts but the great minds behind the outdoor industry is worth pursuing. At that time, we noted that Utah and Colorado had offices to promote outdoor recreation but noted that budget constraints might force New Mexico to postpone our own such effort.

The waiting is over. Already, the outdoors industry reports that its annual impact in the state is around $9.9 billion. Those numbers will only improve with this office. Promoting the outdoor recreational economy is good for tourism, the economy, outdoor enthusiasts and, eventually, for all the men and women who are building their lives around helping others explore the great outdoors.

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