Stand with any kid who has never experienced the vast open spaces and natural beauty our state has to offer and you will always hear the same expression, “I didn’t know this existed in New Mexico.”
For some families, experiencing the natural beauty of our state is a rite of passage that happens at an early age. But for many of us, especially New Mexico’s communities of color, accessing the outdoors requires removing barriers and investing in creating that connection.
That’s why the Outdoor Equity Fund first created in 2020 is so important and why ensuring it has a permanent funding stream should be an easy decision for our legislators when they’re in Santa Fe this year.
Because of the Outdoor Equity Fund (OEF), groups like the Semilla Project have had the resources to take underserved youth from across New Mexico on their first hike in our state’s open spaces or to experience the alpine forests found within our state’s borders. A true life-changing experience that is helping us shift the conversation when it comes to our role in protecting our air, land and water across New Mexico.
The fund allows us to bridge the gap of who gets access to the outdoors, who is invested in its conservation, and who is part of the conversation of how to build a clean, prosperous future.
The Outdoor Equity Fund ensures we get to inspire a new generation of leaders who want to prevent future climate crises, protect the outdoors, and preserve the way of life of ranchers, hunters, fisherman, and people who enjoy recreation in nature. Because what started as an initiative to get more young people outdoors has quickly become about personal connections to land and nature that creates new generations of stewards of the land.
I can clearly recall during our outdoor summer program last year, when one of our youngest participants, Grayson, asked me if I thought Rep. Melanie Stansbury would “commit to protecting the Albuquerque foothills?” – after we hosted an event with her and our youth. When I asked him to tell me more, he explained to me, “Last time we were out there hiking, I was suffering, tired, and sweaty. But there was one big boulder that gave me shade. I felt so safe in that spot. It’s my favorite place and I want to take care of it.”
What was missing for Grayson and other young people from our communities before the fund existed wasn’t the eagerness to experience New Mexico’s outdoors. What was missing before was the resources to make that experience possible.
When we make it possible for more of us to experience nature, we broaden what it means to conserve it in ways that make efforts to protect our state both more representative and more effective for our present and future generations.
Putting outdoor equity at the center of the permanent funding to experience the outdoors is a guaranteed way to do just that.
Josue De Luna Navarro is the land-based & outdoor director of The Semilla Project and a certified AMGA single pitch instructor, apprentice Alpine guide & wilderness first responder based in Albuquerque.