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Governor, lawmakers propose new office to promote outdoors

SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are backing legislation to establish an office of outdoor recreation to promote hiking, climbing and fishing throughout New Mexico.

They said Tuesday that they want the Land of Enchantment to challenge Utah, Montana and other states known for attracting outdoor enthusiasts from all over the country.

The proposal would also create an “outdoor equity grant program” aimed at helping low-income families in New Mexico enjoy skiing, camping and the outdoors.

The newly elected governor said she enjoys skiing and fly fishing, and she biked to work Tuesday.

“Montana, you’re done,” Lujan Grisham joked in a news conference. “We have it all right here.”

The proposal, Senate Bill 462, calls for $1.5 million in funding to run the division and $100,000 to start the grant program.

Lujan Grisham said the division would help promote New Mexico’s beauty and play a role in attracting new businesses and growing ones already here.

“The potential for New Mexico is incredible,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Las Cruces Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation.

A fellow co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Doreen Wonda Johnson of Church Rock, said the proposed division would develop partnerships with tribal communities to educate visitors about sacred sites and spiritual qualities of the land.

The proposal is jointly sponsored by Steinborn, Johnson and Democratic Reps. Nathan Small and Angelica Rubio, both of Las Cruces.

Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, also spoke in favor of the proposal Tuesday.

“There are certain thing in this state that are nonpartisan,” Neville said. “We need to do everything we can to promote New Mexico.”

The new division would be part of the Economic Development Department.

It would help communities apply for federal and other funding to develop trails and other infrastructure; help promote and market the outdoors; recruit out-of-state businesses and help local residents expand or create new ones; and support environmental stewardship.

The proposal must pass two Senate committees before reaching the full Senate for consideration.

Conservation Voters New Mexico and the Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project — advocacy groups that support the bill — said the new division could help expand the economic impact of hunting, ecotourism and other outdoor recreation in the state. New Mexico’s outdoor recreation and ecotourism industry is about one-third the size of Colorado’s, they said.

New Mexico is the fifth-largest state by land mass, and it’s home to five national forests, 17 national parks and monuments; 35 state parks, 20 with lakes; and 25 wilderness areas, according to the state’s marketing campaign.

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