By Associated Press - Monday, December 28, 2020

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico officials are hoping an appetite for outdoor recreation during the coronavirus pandemic will help the state’s economy recover.

The New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division requested more funding for outdoor programs and support initiatives to be considered during the next legislative session scheduled to begin in January, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

The division, under the state’s Economic Development Department, requested more than $3 million to fund its Great New Mexico Trails Package, which would provide funding to local communities and agencies who have plans to develop and maintain hiking trails statewide.

The division also requested about $1 million for the Outdoor Equity Fund to support programs intended to give funding to youth programs that center on outdoor recreation.

Division Director Axie Navas said outdoor recreation was one of the state’s fastest-growing industries and would “be key to our recovery. We’re looking at this one-time appropriation as a way to jump-start communities.”

Navas called outdoor recreation a “powerhouse” that represents more than $2 billion in state gross domestic product and employs up to 35,000 residents. By bolstering the industry, the state could preserve its natural resources while diversifying the economy that currently relies on the fossil fuel industry, she said.

“I think we have a lot of support from people across the state who see the need. That translates to lawmakers,” Navas said. “We’re waiting to see what the Legislative Finance Committee does. Now is the time to do it. We have shown how important it is to get outside during this pandemic.”

Several environmental and conservation groups in the state have voiced support for the requests, pointing to a “lack” of funding in the outdoor recreation industry. Groups such as WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance argued the additional funding could stimulate rural communities and help educate children across the poverty-stricken state.

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