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NM’s outdoor recreation is thriving

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

David Ryan, co-author of “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Albuquerque – 3rd Edition” hikes with his dogs at Canada del Ojo, near To’Hajiilee.(Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Outdoor recreation, ranging from skiing to golfing, contributes $2.3 billion annually to New Mexico’s economy, according to a recent study commissioned by the state’s new Outdoor Recreation Division.

Conducted by the Montana-based research firm Headwaters Economics, the study notes that outdoor recreation grew more quickly than the rest of New Mexico’s economy as the state was recovering from the effects of the Great Recession. The industry now directly supports 33,500 jobs in the state and $1.2 billion in income, per the report.

“Outdoor recreation is big and it’s growing fast in the state,” said Megan Lawson, the author of the research.

While New Mexico still trails western peers like Colorado and Utah in outdoor recreation jobs and total spending, Axie Navas, director of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Division, said increased investment at the state level can help reduce that gap.

“I’d love to just see the state invest in its outdoor recreation infrastructure,” Navas said.

The new push

Last April, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 462, establishing an outdoor division within the Economic Development Department, and Navas was appointed as director later that year. Navas said the new division represents both a recognition that outdoor recreation is a large and growing part of New Mexico’s economy, and an acknowledgement that it still has room to evolve.

Alec Barbour, center, teaches his girlfriend Katlyn Owens, left, and her daughter Holly Anchondo-Owens, 5, all from Albuquerque, how to snowboard at Ski Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Navas added that the research was funded by a $10,000 grant to the state outdoor recreation division as an effort to provide a baseline for the impact the industry has in New Mexico.

“This report was intended to be that foundational cornerstone, just to get everyone in the state on the same page,” she said.

The report says the outdoor recreation sector’s contribution to the state’s gross domestic product grew by 11% between 2012 and 2017, compared to just 4% growth for the state’s GDP overall. Lawson said nature-based outdoor recreation – activities like hiking, biking and skiing rather than gardening and golf – contributed to much of that.

Many areas improved

Navas added that New Mexico has seen significant growth in ski area visits, all-terrain vehicle trips and hunting and fishing permits, from residents as well as tourists.

“There’s definitely a huge contribution coming from people who already live here,” she said.

Korey Mead, who is from the Questa area, prepares to pack up his group’s catch after a day of ice fishing on Eagle Nest Lake. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Both Lawson and Navas acknowledged New Mexico has a ways to go to catch up with several other Western states.

In Utah, outdoor recreation contributes $5.5 billion to the state’s economy and employs more than 75,000 people – more than twice New Mexico’s totals, according to numbers from Headwaters Economics. Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy employs 146,200 people and contributes $11.3 billion.

Lawson said both Utah and Colorado have outdoor recreation offices at the state level, created in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

“I think they’ve been very effective in building relationships and building a voice for this industry,” Lawson said.

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