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State raises outdoor recreation to next level

Mike Marcacci of San Diego, Calif., climbs a house-sized boulder in Mills Canyon area in the Kiowa National Grassland north of Roy. The area along the Canadian River is becoming very popular for bouldering. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — With an approaching deadline for acting on most bills passed during this year’s 60-day legislative session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday signed off on a bill that will create a new outdoor recreation division within an existing New Mexico state agency.

The Democratic governor attended a ceremonial bill signing at Hyde Memorial State Park outside Santa Fe and described the legislation as a first step toward bolstering the state’s outdoor recreation economy.

“Colorado, get out of our way because we’re coming for you,” Lujan Grisham said, drawing cheers from a crowd that included state lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries and representatives from several environmental groups.

A number of other Western states — including Utah, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming — have in recent years created similar state government offices that vary in size and scope.

But Lujan Grisham has argued New Mexico has just as much — if not more — to offer outdoor enthusiasts than some of its neighbors, while also saying that creating a similar office here could convince more young adults to move to the state.

The governor, who took office in January, even rode her bike to the Roundhouse from the Governor’s Mansion earlier this year to highlight the issue.

The outdoor recreation legislation that passed both chambers of the Legislature with bipartisan support during the just-completed session, Senate Bill 462, calls for the new division to be established within the state Economic Development Department. The bill does not include an appropriation, but backers said Monday some funding for it is included in a $7 billion budget plan that Lujan Grisham has yet to sign.

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

The idea of establishing an outdoor recreation division was opposed by the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who claimed creating a new state office would be redundant given the efforts of several existing state departments.

But backers said Monday the bill will place a newfound emphasis on outdoor recreation — for New Mexicans and out-of-state tourists alike.

“This is one of those issues that connects all of New Mexico,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, who was one of the bill’s sponsors.

New Mexico’s outdoor recreation sector already generates an estimated $9.9 billion in annual consumer spending and an estimated 99,000 jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Overall, New Mexico contains 9 million acres of national forest land and roughly 13 million acres of land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. The state is home to multiple ski areas and bike races and numerous hiking trails.


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