Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico is home to winding rivers, towering mesas and mountains, and wide open spaces.
But many young people have yet to experience the state’s great outdoors.
The New Mexico Outdoor Equity Fund aims to change that.
This week, the state Outdoor Recreation Division announced nearly 50 grants from the fund totaling about $800,000.
The money will fund outdoor access programs for low-income and underserved youth.
Diné Introspective Inc. in Shiprock received $20,000 from the fund.
Kyle Jim, executive director and co-founder, said the grant will pay for Indigenous youth rafting trips along the San Juan River.
“It’s a chance to build relationships with their peers and just step outside their comfort zone, knowing that there is a world beyond us,” Jim said. “I hope they get to understand themselves a little better as they experience the landscape in its entirety.”
The group works with local tour guides and Navajo elders to teach about the river and visit cultural sites.
Jim said the lessons will carry on important oral traditions of Diné history and language.
“That’s part of our cultural identity, to be land stewards,” Jim said.
The Outdoor Equity Fund has distributed $2 million to 130 groups since it became law in 2019.
ORD Director Axie Navas said the grants will benefit “truly incredible programs.”
“Other states, and the country as a whole, are paying attention to the grassroots outdoor equity work happening in New Mexico,” Navas said. “We are leading the way.”
The Semilla Project received a $20,000 grant for a program of free outdoor experiences for children and young adults of color.
The program pairs activities with a focus on climate change and racial justice activism, said Josue De Luna Navarro, the project’s outdoor director.
“It makes a huge difference when the leaders who introduce these youth to the outdoors are people who look like them and talk like them,” he said.
Rock-climbing, snowshoeing and backpacking can be expensive barriers for low-income youth.
The Semilla Project’s free equipment and training remove that hurdle.
“When we go to the bosque or the Sandia Mountains, we always hear from them that they’re amazed that this exists in such close proximity to where they live,” De Luna Navarro said. “It really empowers them to have a connection with the land and step up in leadership positions.”
Other outdoor equity projects funded include trips and equipment for children with disabilities, land and water education, and summer camps.
Cycling group Velo Cruces received a $16,000 grant to purchase cycles for children with disabilities.
Board member Andrea Holguin said the average cost for an adaptive cycle is about $1,500.
Holguin, whose daughter Grace has Down Syndrome, started the group’s Every Body Rides with Grace project to buy cycles for local children.
“When you have a special needs child, there are so many extra costs that a bicycle — which is a standard kid toy — is a luxury that many can’t afford,” she said.
Holguin said she already has local parents applying for the grant money. The cycles help the children get exercise and join their families in outdoor activities.
“It gives them a chance to live life outside, instead of just watching life,” Holguin said.