Before COVID-19 engulfed New Mexico, many of us thought about the act of recreating casually. For some, recreating was something we did in our spare time, when we weren’t engaged in more serious pursuits. To others, of course, recreation is more than a lifestyle; it is how we make our living. Some forms of it, including fishing and hunting, are an integral part of our cultural identity and the cultural identity of New Mexico.
And yet over the past 10 weeks, the ability to step outside our front doors and let New Mexico’s skies and landscapes put our troubles in perspective has changed the way more of us think about recreation.
Record numbers of New Mexicans are getting outside right now in search of solace, healing and a palliative to stir-craziness. Public land managers across the state are reporting visitation numbers that are in some cases double, even triple the norm. When asked what type of travel they were most looking forward to, the majority of leisure travelers put spending time outside with family at the top of their lists, according to a survey from KOA Campgrounds. Bike shops across the country are literally running out of gear as we eschew cars and public transportation in favor of a healthier alternative.
This access to our public lands is a basic human right in New Mexico. We are, after all, co-owners of these beautiful places. We should take pride in them, and that pride should manifest itself, in part, as protection and stewardship. We owe it to our precious natural resources – watersheds, wildlife and flora – as well as to our fellow outdoor recreationists. There have been too many stories lately of unattended smoldering campfires and piles of trash on our trails. We can do better.
With the long weekend promising a rejuvenating escape to our forests and deserts, it’s imperative that all New Mexicans recreate responsibly. That means prioritizing the health of other outdoor lovers, as well as the health of the lands and waters where we turn to for recreation.
Remember that many areas of Northwest New Mexico, and tribal lands elsewhere in the state, remain closed due to health concerns and the spread of the virus. Remember that many parts of the state have implemented fire restrictions as temperatures climb and as COVID-19 complicates firefighting efforts. So don’t light campfires, stay away from crowded trailheads, pack all your trash in and out, keep your ATV/UTV on designated routes, and check for closures before venturing outside. If you do that, and follow the five other guidelines for recreating responsibly published by the Outdoor Recreation Division within the Economic Development Department, then we can all safely and respectfully take advantage of the state’s remarkable natural beauty. We can save lives.
“As we spend more time in New Mexico’s great outdoors, let’s remember that we all share these beautiful spaces and must protect them as well as each other,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. “You will not be alone. Just as you would at the grocery store, please practice social distancing and put on a face mask when passing other hikers, bikers and bird-watchers on the trail. And, as always, be respectful of the landscape. Follow all restrictions including burn bans and leave nothing behind – whether it’s dog waste, your picnic trash or the jacket you needed in the morning but not in the afternoon.”
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