New Mexico can lead the nation in getting all youth outdoors, if legislature acts

3 People sit atop a rocky landscape at the Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness

Bob Wick, BLM

In 2019, New Mexico became a national leader by establishing the Outdoor Equity Fund (OEF), a unique grant opportunity that increases access to the outdoors for low-income youth and youth of color.  Grantees are using funds to buy fly-fishing gear, take kids to national wildlife refuges, train teachers in experiential outdoor learning, and support after-school agricultural programs—to name a few things. These programs are fostering the next generation of land stewards. This initiative has laid the foundation for similar investments in other states and has inspired action towards a nation-wide fund.  

New Mexico has an opportunity to continue to lead the nation in outdoor equity funding, but the state’s representatives must act now in support of two one-time special appropriation requests.  The State is rich in culture, traditional knowledge, and awe-inspiring nature. However, it is also a state that needs critical investments to address long-standing disparities that keep families from thriving. 

New Mexico ranked 50th in the nation for child well-being based on indicators in economy, education, health, family and community, according to a 2020 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  The New Mexico state legislature has an opportunity to address these disparities by supporting the Outdoor Equity Fund and the Great NM Trails Package to further equity across the state. 

  1. The Outdoor Equity Fund supports programs that offer transformative outdoor experiences to New Mexico’s youth with an emphasis on those from low-income communities.  In its first application cycle in 2020, almost 100 Tribes, Pueblos, organizations, and municipal and county governments applied.   A total of 25 organizations were awarded, in total receiving $261,000 and supporting 3,000 youth in getting outside.   A one-time special appropriation request of $1 million dollars, which is supported in the Governor’s budget to the NM Legislature, would support outdoor opportunities for more than 38,000 young people.
  2. A one-time special appropriation of $3.22 million to the Great NM Trails Package would support investment in outdoor recreation infrastructure, with a focus on trail development, economic diversification, and resiliency.  It will help communities meet the match requirement of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program which was permanently and fully funded in 2020. Funding for this package will increase the number of jobs, direct visitor spending, and public health benefits to rural, urban, land grant / acequia, and tribal communities.

Full funding of both the Outdoor Equity Fund and the Great NM Trails Package will have long-lasting positive impacts for New Mexico’s youth and their families. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to magnify the historic inequities experienced within the United States and highlights the importance of access to the outdoors for people’s well-being—investing in equitable access to the outdoors and proper infrastructure will directly support the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of all communities.