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Create Office of Outdoor Recreation

A big horn sheep grazes near the edge of the Rio Grande Canyon in the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, near Pilar. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

What do Colorado, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, North Carolina, Oregon and Montana have in common? They all enjoy beautiful public lands and have created a state “Office of Outdoor Recreation.”

Unfortunately, New Mexico is one of the few Western states without a state Office of Outdoor Recreation despite the fact that our outdoor recreation industry generates $9.9 billion in consumer spending annually and supports 99,000 jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

It’s time to remedy this situation and help put our full weight behind promoting our incredible public lands. From the three rivers and sandstone canyons of San Juan County and America’s first wilderness near Silver City, to the awe inspiring Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments, our communities boast an outdoor experience second to none.

While specific roles and goals of Offices of Outdoor Recreation vary state to state, they all share a few things in common, especially the goal of promoting our outdoor recreation industries and attracting new companies to set up shop in their states. As mayors, we know that economic development efforts by our communities and others across New Mexico could benefit from the right state-level support to capitalize on this rapidly growing opportunity.

Utah and Colorado opened their Offices of Outdoor Recreation in 2013 and 2015. The directors of these two offices, Tom Adams and Luis Benitez, will be amongst the speakers at the upcoming New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference, to be held on May 3-4 in Las Cruces. (See www.OutdoorEconomicsNM.com for conference information.)

The goal of the New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference is to advance economic development strategies and opportunities connected to protected public lands by highlighting successful community and statewide economic development efforts within and outside New Mexico. Over a dozen New Mexico communities and counties are sending representatives to the conference, and speakers will represent eight western states. The conference is open to the public.

Our neighbor Colorado has seen a surge in economic development from its focus on the outdoor economy, including luring the lucrative winter and summer Outdoor Retailer Shows, and its $110 million annual in-state economic impact. They have also invested in workforce training, with 28 institutions of higher education now offering outdoor recreation-related and tourism programs.

It’s time New Mexico shares in the same economic opportunities being enjoyed by Colorado and Utah. When you have the rich and diverse beautiful landscapes and access to public lands enjoyed in New Mexico, this is a natural opportunity for us to make the most of.

By creating a convergence for the outdoor industry in New Mexico – a single point of contact for resource development and promotion for the sector, as well as support for businesses that thrive on the industry – we know we can help grow our local outdoor recreation jobs and lure more outdoor companies to open shop in New Mexico.

In these challenging economic times, New Mexico must do all we can to diversify and strengthen our economy. Our beautiful landscapes across the state provide a wonderful opportunity to create jobs and build upon brands like New Mexico True and the Land of Enchantment. We are excited for the first annual New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference to bring this vision into focus and urge policy makers at the state level to create a state Office of Outdoor Recreation to help New Mexico take the next step in growing this vibrant industry.

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