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By Robert Nott | Santa Fe New Mexican
April 2, 2019

New Mexico, a state that has long promoted its natural wonders, will soon have a new office of outdoor recreation, though it will open with a much smaller budget than anticipated — just $200,000, a big drop from the $1.5 million lawmakers initially requested.

On Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 462, authorizing the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Division within the state’s Economic Development Department, effective July 1.

The new office will focus on supporting businesses related to outdoor recreation, marketing the state’s camping, hiking, fishing and hunting offerings, among other activities, and improving roads and trails tied to outdoor experiences.

In addition to the $200,000 to employ a director and office manager, the bill also provides $100,000 to the Youth Conservation Corps to pay for infrastructure and trail projects. Another $100,000 was allocated from a separate bill for a grant program so low-income children can participate in outdoor programs.

The initiative was backed by several organizations and advocates for hunting, fishing and camping.

“Fantastic idea,” said Kerrie Cox Romero, executive director of the New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides, which represents about 260 licensed hunting, fishing and camping outfitters in the state. The new agency, she said, will help “put more resources into helping small-business owners who are already established and finding ways to break down barriers to entry currently in existence on some public lands.”

Valerie Weiss, who with her husband Lee runs Fishtail Ranch Outfitters in Chama, agreed. “It recognizes the tremendous contribution that our outdoor recreation industry plays as part of our tourism efforts,” she said. “I think this law will help boost tourism and give those outdoors businesses a voice in how we can better promote these industries.”

“This is all about educating the world about all of the gems we have here in the state of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said during a news conference to commemorate the event at Hyde Memorial State Park near Santa Fe.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, one of the sponsors of the bill, said he wasn’t disappointed in the reduced funding because the division can draw on staff members and resources from the Economic Development Department and the New Mexico Tourism Department.

He and the governor said additional funding could be allocated in the future.

The governor and some state lawmakers see the action as a way to help diversify the state’s economy by attracting tourists, state residents and people who don’t normally take part in outdoor activities to visit New Mexico’s state parks, rivers, forests and deserts.

The Outdoor Industry Association, a trade organization, says that in New Mexico the sector supports 99,000 jobs, creates nearly $10 billion in consumer spending every year and contributes $623 million in state and local tax revenue.

The state Department of Game and Fish reports there are 160,000 anglers who fish in New Mexico, spending $268 million, and 87,600 hunters, who spend $345 million, on their activities annually.

Other states, such as Colorado, Utah and Montana, have already created offices of outdoor recreation. Lujan Grisham said Colorado benefits from some $70 billion in consumer spending tied to the industry.

“Colorado, get out of our way, because we’re coming for you,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.