- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation Thursday to create a commission to define the best routes and reach necessary agreements to build a 500-mile, statewide recreation trail stretching from Colorado to Texas.

“Establishing a trail the length of the Rio Grande would be a historic achievement for New Mexico,” Martinez said at a Rio Grande Nature Center State Park bill signing.

Called the Rio Grande Trail, the pathway is envisioned as being similar to the Appalachian Trail or the Continental Divide Trail.

The commission will act as the conduit to designate a path that would weave through majestic vistas, monuments and cultural areas of the state.

Commission members would include cities, counties, tribes, federal agencies, conservancy districts and private citizens.

The trail would only cross land accessed through voluntary agreements with owners and would link pathways that already exist along the Rio Grande, including the Bosque in Albuquerque, Taos, Elephant Butte and Las Cruces.

The existing pathways comprise just 10 percent of the proposed trial.

As envisioned, the trail could be built in pieces - even non-contiguous ones.

Las Cruces Democrat Rep. Jeff Steinborn’s bill to establish a commission garnered bipartisan support and squeaked through the Senate a day before the legislative session ended.

Steinborn said the idea for the trail isn’t new, but it now can be realized with the formation of a panel.

“We just took this idea to the next level in a big-time way,” Steinborn said. “This is a big vision project that involves a lot of stakeholders across a wide geographic area, and we really needed a mechanism that would be there for the long haul.”

A fund with $75,000 in seed money was approved as part of the budget by the Legislature for initial staff to begin work at the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. The fund will accept private foundation money and other donations.

Flanked by firefighters and other fire officials on a blustery afternoon with the winds kicking up dust all around the nature center, Martinez also signed into law a bill to ensure that the firefighters’ survivors trust is fully funded to provide up to $250,000 in benefits to relatives of those who die on duty.

“Our firefighters stand ready throughout the state to protect our communities, and we should always stand ready to support them and their families in time of need and grief,” Martinez said.

She also spoke of dangers of wildfires and urged New Mexicans to prepare for the upcoming season.

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