June 14, 2019

Keep equity and youth access front and center in new Outdoor Recreation Division

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New Mexico desert landscape, Photo Credit: Wikicommons

Too many times have I heard New Mexico scorned as “The Land of Entrapment.” Too many times, as a New Mexico college student, I’ve seen my peers feel as if they must escape New Mexico for better opportunities elsewhere. This is true even when they come from families committed to growing our economy and their parents are local businesspeople, university professors, or even our state officials. To that I say, “No more!”  To that I say, “Let our soon-to-be-established New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division have as its first director someone qualified to implement the Outdoor Equity Fund.” To that I say, “Let this director not lose sight of the true potential of the Division, which is to connect the youth of New Mexico to their natural heritage.”

The Outdoor Recreation Division was established in the last legislative session and its first director is about to be appointed by the Secretary of Economic Development. To fully realize the potential of this new Division, it will take a New Mexican at the helm, baptized in the enchantment of our natural heritage. The director must have the economic savvy for sustainable development of New Mexico’s natural beauty and the capacity to cultivate our young people to be leaders in this $9 billion industry.  Central to the director’s responsibility is building the Outdoor Equity Fund that will be part of this new Division, creating a pathway for youth engagement and stewardship on New Mexico’s lands. The Outdoor Equity Fund will provide the soil for generations of New Mexicans to plant themselves within its watersheds, developing the connections and outdoor skills necessary to grow our economy.

I speak as one of these burgeoning Rio Grande cottonwood saplings, fortunately connected with New Mexico’s land from a young age. My journey started with school trips to the riverside bosque in Albuquerque’s South Valley with the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP) at nine years old. These trips ignited a passion which grew with subsequent visits to White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, and Jemez Falls. New Mexico’s enchantment is woven through the fabric of my history.

My connections with New Mexico’s natural resources represent what our state’s potential – and with it, my own potential – could truly be. Ten years later, now as an employee of BEMP, I help foster the same spirit in a new generation, who continue to humble me with their wonder and awe in the bosque and Rio Grande – discovering the same truths as I did when in their shoes.

New Mexico’s students are hungry for opportunities to take learning outside their classrooms and into natural spaces. I have seen this first-hand while leading Albuquerque Public School students outside and along the Rio Grande in BEMP. These students’ experiences inspire something deeper within them – a pride for their natural heritage. I want there to be more opportunities for these kids to put their New Mexican pride to work.  The Outdoor Equity Fund will help provide these opportunities.

Through embracing individuals intertwined with a history of New Mexico’s natural lands, New Mexico can present a living example of the land and its people as one – a heritage often forgotten, but not lost. New Mexico is a land of mestizaje, a mixing of cultures, ideologies, and ethnicities. The truth of many heritages in one body and one state ought not to be undervalued, underrepresented, or, worst of all, underutilized. Through embracing mestizaje and the unique perspectives which come with it, New Mexico can become a vision of the future.

The director of the Outdoor Recreation Division must follow in the tradition of the mayordomos, the people who manage precious water for their communities. That first director must care for both our precious youth and the lands that sustain them as we reap benefit. Under this mayordomo, I foresee future generations embracing New Mexico, standing up for the heritage of its land and people, and fighting for its future, a future embattled by climate change and apathy.

I urge Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham and Secretary of Economic Development Alicia Keyes to choose savvy, choose inspired, and choose New Mexican. The future of “The Land of Enchantment” is at stake.

Jonathan Tyrrell is a multigenerational native New Mexican entering his junior year as a biology and psychology major at the University of New Mexico, while working for the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program and Utton Transboundary Resource Center, though the opinions represented here do not necessarily reflect the positions of those entities.