LAS CRUCES ― Low-income youth and their families could soon have expanded opportunities to access state parks, federal public lands, and a variety of outdoor recreation and education opportunities as part of a statewide and national coalition effort to establish an Outdoor Equity Fund in the 2019 New Mexico Legislative Session.
New Mexico State Rep. Angelica Rubio (D-35) will introduce the bill, which is tied to the creation of a New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation, a priority economic development initiative that New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham has committed to creating in her first 100 days in office.
The Outdoor Equity Fund seeks a $100,000 state appropriation in addition to committed funding from private donors such as outdoor industry retailers, to provide micro-grants to local governments, Indian communities, and nonprofit organizations to help fund outdoor recreation and education programs that serve at least a 40-percent low-income youth population. Eligible grant recipients, for example, could include a Boys & Girls’ Club outdoor recreation program, a summer hiking program for the City of Española, or an aquatics and fishing program for Santo Domingo Pueblo. The micro-grants could be used for staff time, equipment, transportation, and other operational needs.
“In New Mexico, our culture and traditions are tied to the land and our natural resources, resources that we will be aggressively marketing to visitors and tourists as part of the creation of an Office of Outdoor Recreation,” Rubio said. “The Outdoor Equity Fund helps to level the playing field for our own communities and youth, so that they too, are able to enjoy these same experiences and resources.”
In June 2018, a group of Hispanic state leaders penned an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, “Hispanics Stand up for the Environment,” asking the state’s incoming leaders to balance the push for increased ecotourism with re-investment in local communities and fair representation of the state’s population within the proposed Office of Outdoor Recreation.
“The Outdoor Equity Fund sends a message to our youth and low-income communities that they are not forgotten, that they are worth investing in, and that they deserve to benefit from New Mexico’s vast system of public lands and waters,” said Gabe Vasquez, a Las Cruces City Councilor and founder of the Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project. “This is about more than getting kids outside, it’s about their physical health, mental wellbeing, their culture, and their future. The Outdoor Equity Fund is a small, but powerful way to help local nonprofits and governments fund these programs for the benefit of our underserved youth.”
A coalition of more than 40 state and national organizations behind the effort sent a letter to Gov. Lujan-Grisham this week, urging her support for the establishment of the Outdoor Equity Fund in conjunction with the creation of the New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation. State supporters include New Mexico Voices for Children, Conservation Voters New Mexico, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, Indigenous Women Rising, and NM Dream Team, among dozens of others.
Several national organizations, including the Outdoor Industry Organization, Latino Outdoors, and Hispanic Access Foundation, are backing the effort.
For more information on the Outdoor Equity Fund, visit here.