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New director aims to take state parks to ‘next level’

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Toby Velasquez grew up fishing at Morphy Lake State Park in northern New Mexico.

He has hunted, hiked and fished his way around the state with his family.

Now, the outdoors enthusiast will lead the State Parks Division.

“I think sometimes in New Mexico we take for granted all of the public land access that we have,” Velasquez said. “We have so many opportunities for outdoor recreation.”

New Mexico’s 35 state parks are housed under the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Toby Velasquez

Velasquez, a Mora High School graduate and New Mexico Highlands University alum, started his State Parks career 30 years ago as a seasonal employee, then a park ranger.

He served as manager of Coyote Creek and Morphy Lake state parks.

Velasquez managed the division’s northeast region, was chief of the boating safety and law enforcement bureau, and was named deputy division director in 2015.

EMNRD Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst said Velasquez’s “experience and knowledge is a tremendous asset” to the agency.

Velasquez succeeds Director Christy Tafoya, who retired at the end of June.

“Our State Parks already provide wonderful recreational opportunities to every New Mexican and visitor to our great state, and I’m looking forward to working with Mr. Velasquez to kick it up to the next level,” Cottrell Propst said in a statement.

The current president of the Pojoaque Valley School District board said he wants to help make outdoor experiences such as camping, hiking and boating less intimidating for newcomers.

“You don’t need a $1,500 pair of binoculars to go and have fun wildlife viewing,” he said.

Velasquez also wants to modernize the parks system and “reignite a public interest” in outdoor careers. The COVID-19 pandemic forced temporary facility closures last year, but also pushed the division to move toward online reservations at many sites.

“We need to continue to protect and enhance our natural and cultural resources, in order for future generations to be able to have the same access that we do,” Velasquez said.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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