We support the Outdoor Equity Fund

Growing up amidst the borderlands, my most cherished moments were escaping the confines of our bustling industrial community to camp with my abuelo and family. Nature wasn't just a source of solace and fun; it became my pathway to a career I truly adored. Like many borderland youth, I found inspiration in the mountains, seeing them not just as scenery, but as a promise of a brighter future.

Being a New Mexican fills me with joy, yet it's bittersweet as I confront the harsh reality that our state consistently ranks at the bottom in economic, educational, and health outcomes for our children.

Sadly, access to these lands is still too limited for too many of our state’s youth due to geographic and logistical challenges. This is not just in the Las Cruces area, but all-over New Mexico in communities like Lordsburg, Mescalero, Lovington, and Zuni. As a state with a vibrant culture, breathtaking landscapes, and a warm-hearted community, we owe it to our children to provide them with opportunities to appreciate the natural wonders surrounding us.

Fortunately, the state’s Outdoor Equity Fund (OEF) is providing grants through public and private support to expand opportunities for tens of thousands of our youth. This support means more communities have the resources and educational programming (led by New Mexicans for New Mexicans) to experience the outdoors.

In Southern New Mexico, the OEF is having a positive impact on numerous communities. Doña Ana County has been fortunate to see a substantial number of organizations successfully securing grants, and they are utilizing these funds in diverse ways across the community.

By establishing the OEF, New Mexico has taken a significant step towards bridging the gap in access to outdoor recreation for our youth. However, we must continue to support and expand such programs. In order for OEF to make a lasting, multi-generation impact, we must do two things:

The first is to make sure we stay true to the program’s original intent – providing outdoor access to those who need it most. The legislation that created OEF mandates at least 40 percent of youth benefiting from grants come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This requirement was put in place for a reason and ensures the Fund truly serves those who face the greatest barriers to outdoor recreation. We look forward to working with Governor Michelle Lujan and the new Outdoor Recreation Division Director Ana Karina Armijo to make sure the program is managed and expanded with that clear mission and does not get swept up in other initiatives to promote the state’s growing outdoor recreation industry.

The second is to ensure OEF has sustainable and consistent funding. We’re grateful that legislators and private entities continue to recognize the value of this program. To date, they’ve invested more than $4 million to 181 organizations throughout the state, which has created opportunities for more than 40,000 kids to get outside. We hope these investments will continue well into the future so many more New Mexican kids can experience the things we love most about our state. After all, our youth are the future stewards of our land, and it's our duty to ensure they have the resources and support they need to protect it.

The Outdoor Equity Fund is a promising and necessary initiative that proves our commitment to improving the well-being of our next generation. Together, let’s recommit ourselves to managing it responsibly at the Outdoor Recreation Division and investing in it as much as we can. Our youth deserve it.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: We support the Outdoor Equity Fund