NM counties, businesses eye outdoor recreation potential

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More than 200 people, including representatives from Taos, Questa and Peñasco, as well as participants and speakers from almost a dozen other states, attended the New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference last week in Las Cruces. Among the goals they set is to create a state Office of Outdoor Recreation, similar to ones that exist in several other states.

"The over-arching message of this event was clear - it's time for New Mexico to create an Office of Outdoor Recreation," said Mark Gallegos, Mayor of Questa, and a District 2 Taos County commission candidate. "Our protected public lands are a tremendous economic driver and resource for our state, and the office would be a huge step towards growing jobs in New Mexico's outdoor industry."

A show of hands at the conference indicated that attendees were strongly in support of creating a New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation, according to a statement issued later by New Mexico Wild and the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce.

Ronald Mascareños, a Taos County commission candidate for District 5 who attended the conference, said outdoor recreation has a lot of untapped potential for driving new jobs and boosting the economy in rural areas.

Offices of Outdoor Recreation are a growing trend in western states, including Utah, Colorado, and Washington. Duties of the office vary from state to state, ranging from attracting businesses to helping existing businesses capitalize on increased tourism to protected public lands.

"After hearing from other states' Offices of Outdoor Recreation at the Conference, I have no doubt that this is an important next step for New Mexico," said Nora Barraza, Mayor of Mesilla, New Mexico. "The outdoor recreation economic pie is only going to get bigger, and New Mexico needs to be focused on how to grow our outdoor recreation economy and not be left behind."

A report from the Outdoor Industry Association, a trade organization, says outdoor recreation accounts for 95,000 jobs in the state and generates $9.9 billion in consumer spending in the state.

"Local economies across New Mexico are tied to our public lands, and our heritage of caring for and protecting our land and water," said Jeff Steinborn, State Senator and one of the organizers of the Conference. "We have an opportunity to grow jobs and attract more businesses and tourists. It all starts with a New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation, and I expect to see a big push for this from legislators who understand the potential benefits for their communities."

In other states, Offices of Outdoor Recreation have been created either through legislation, such as in Utah, Washington, North Carolina, and Oregon or by Governor order as in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. There are currently task forces or pending legislation in at least seven other states.

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