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Lawmakers propose 500-mile trail across state

SANTA FE – Could New Mexico have a 500-mile long trail stretching from the state’s northern border with Colorado to its southern frontier?

Several lawmakers said Thursday they’re serious about making the Rio Grande Trail idea a reality, though they acknowledged the ambitious project could take years to materialize.

“This trail would be in the style of the Appalachian Trail or the Continental Divide Trail and some of the great, historic trails of our country,” said Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, who’s spearheading the bipartisan effort at the Roundhouse.

The legislation unveiled Thursday, House Bill 563, would create a commission to oversee the creation of the trail and come up with its final route.

Backers say such a trail would bring more tourists to New Mexico, while also creating recreational opportunities for residents.

“I’m always big on opportunities that give us a little more notoriety as a destination,” said House Majority Whip Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, who was one of eight lawmakers who gathered at a news conference to outline the proposal.

The commission called for in the bill would be headed by the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and would include representatives from tribal groups, irrigation districts, cities, counties and various other state agencies.

Creation of a Rio Grande Trail could tap into the state’s existing trail network, including Albuquerque’s bosque trails, and paths in the Taos and Las Cruces areas, supporters said.

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail also runs through part of New Mexico, though that multistate trail is not fully completed.

Lawmakers supporting the Rio Grande Trail plan said Thursday that they intend to seek startup funding for the project in next year’s budget, though limited state dollars could make that a challenge.

It is unclear how much money would ultimately be required to pay for the project, an effort that would include erecting trail markers, signs and more. The trail idea could eventually be bolstered by private charitable contributions, Steinborn said.

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