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NM lawmakers are weighing a $ 10 million proposal to boost the outdoor economy

Greg Olson, who is from Minnesota, rides his mountain bike on one of the trails in the Galisteo Basin on Tuesday. Lawmakers are expected to consider a $ 10 million proposal next year to help boost New Mexico’s outdoor economy. (Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – The New Mexico outdoor recreation bureau plans to ask lawmakers for $ 10 million in one-time funding next month – the majority of which would greatly expand a grant program that helps build and improve trails across the state .

Proponents of the idea presented it to a legislature on Tuesday as part of a wider effort to expand the state’s outdoor leisure economy and invest in rural communities.

According to the federal government, outdoor recreation accounted for about 1.9% of the state’s economy and 3.1% of total employment last year.

“It’s a powerhouse,” said Axie Navas, director of the state’s department of outdoor recreation, on Tuesday before lawmakers. “Many thousands of New Mexicans work in this economy and they come to this state for that reason.”

The $ 10 million special grant is a one-time  -plication, she said, because New Mexico lacks state-wide funding for outdoor recreation and conservation.

Consideration would be given in January for the legislature to hold a 30-day session devoted mainly to spending and financial matters. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has described the state as flooded thanks to rising government revenues and  -proval of federal laws for stimulus programs and infrastructure.

About $ 7 million of the $ 10 million requested would go towards the state’s Trails + program, which awards grants to local governments and private groups investing in outdoor infrastructure. The money can be used for paths, signs, bank renovation and similar projects.

The remaining $ 3 million would go to the state’s outdoor equity fund, which aims to give low-income children the chance to experience the great outdoors.

The programs are designed to build on New Mexico’s strength as a location for hiking, camping, fishing, skiing, and other outdoor activities.

New Mexico is still one point behind most of its neighbors – outdoor recreation as a percentage of gross domestic product. At 1.9%, New Mexico is ahead of Texas but behind Arizona, Colorado, and Utah – all of which are in the 2.0% to 2.5% range, according to figures from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis reported to lawmakers .

In 2019, before the pandemic, New Mexico’s outdoor figure was 2.5% of the economy.

Navas said the $ 10 million state funding would promote recovery and help meet demand for trail project planning and construction.

“We think it is essential,” she said in an interview.

Legislators reacted enthusiastically to the presentation during a meeting of the Transport Infrastructure Revenue Subcommittee. Nobody spoke against the idea.

Senator Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, said New Mexico has so much outdoor potential that it should consider ongoing funding, perh -s a tax on hiking trails.

Possible options in the discussion on Tuesday were a gasoline tax, a percentage of lottery revenue or a share of general bonds.

“You can’t have anything without recurring funding,” said Gonzales, a member of the Senate finance committee. “We have to find out.”

Rep. Debbie Sariñana, an Albuquerque Democrat and retired math and science teacher, said students need more outdoor opportunities, especially after spending so much time teaching online during the pandemic.

“We have this beautiful state,” she said, “and our children must know about it and be exposed to it.”

The  -proval of $ 7 million for the Trails + program would mean a significant increase in funding.

New Mexico funded 25 projects under the Trails + program this year with around $ 500,000, Navas said, covering just a fraction of the demand.

According to their presentation, about 64% of the funds went to rural counties.

The Albuquerque funding includes a project to make dirt roads more accessible to wheelchair users. In Santa Fe, the funds were used for improved hiking trails, animal-friendly fences and the planting of new poplar trees.

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