New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry could be seen as a major driver of the state’s economic recovery from fiscal desperation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the virus spread from this spring onwards, New Mexicans saw cinemas close, restaurants close, and concerts canceled.
But the state’s hiking trails and mountain peaks could fill the void left by entertainment restrictions designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
To that end, New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division – a branch of the state’s economic development division – submitted two special motions to lawmakers for the next year for consideration during the 2021 legislative session convened in January.
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The division sought approximately $ 3.22 million to fund its Great New Mexico Trails Package, an allocation that supports local communities and agencies with the intent to develop and maintain trails across the state.
A second allocation of approximately $ 1 million was made to the Division’s Outdoor Equity Fund to support programs that provide grants to youth outdoor recreation programs.
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Division director Axie Navas said outdoor recreation is one of the fastest growing industries in the state and would be instrumental in boosting government revenues as it recovers from the economic stresses of the pandemic.
She said the latest numbers show that outdoor recreation accounts for about $ 2.4 billion of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs up to 35,000 New Mexicoers, and that New Mexico’s industry is growing faster than the national average.
“We understand that outdoor recreation is a powerhouse in New Mexico,” said Navas. “That will be the key to our recovery. We see this one-time appropriation as a way to fuel communities. “
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And with the passage of the state’s Great American Outdoors Act, which fully funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Navas said the state could be eligible for one-on-one federal dollar funding from the state.
“That means New Mexico as a state will get a lot more money from this fund in the years to come,” she said. “We have to meet this game to avoid leaving federal dollars on the table, especially for rural communities that have amazing outdoor recreational opportunities but may not have the same game.”
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Much of New Mexico’s public land is used for its largest industry, mining, but Navas said that by strengthening outdoor recreation, the state could preserve its natural resources while diversifying the economy, which is currently highly volatile fossil fuel industry is dependent.
“It’s an attempt to diversify the economy across New Mexico,” she said. “It’s growing faster. Let’s work to make it one of our economic hubs. While we’re at it, let’s improve access to outdoor resources that also improve our mental health and our environment. “
She said she was optimistic that lawmakers would agree and see outdoor recreation as an important sector in the state that needs more funding.
“I think we have a lot of support from people across the state who see the need. That carries over to the legislature, ”said Navas. “We’ll see what the Legislative Finance Committee does. Now is the time to do it. We showed the importance of getting outside during this pandemic. “
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In a letter to the Finance Committee of New Mexico House and the Senate, a collective of environmental and conservation groups, including WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, spoke out in favor of the requested grant and pointed to a “shortage” of funds in New Mexico out in favor of outdoor recreation and the need to use government funds for a federal game.
“Unlike many western states, New Mexico lacks dedicated funding for statewide conservation and restoration programs, which hinders the state’s ability to use federal funds,” the letter said. “This one-off request from the Outdoor Recreation Division will enable the state to use newly available funds from the federal state and water protection fund.”
The groups argued that the economic benefits of outdoor recreation could stimulate rural communities and help raise children in communities across the state.
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“We are asking lawmakers and appropriators to comply with the Outdoor Recreation Division’s special requests for 2021 to invest in the health and well-being of our communities and the next generation of outdoor stewards,” the letter reads.
“These Department of Economic Development programs benefit everyday New Mexicans and represent an essential opportunity to rebuild our economy. The provision of stimulus funding will shorten the economic recovery period and mitigate the financial impact on the lives of New Mexicans. “
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected], or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.