The amount was not even $6,500, but you would have thought Allison Martin of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District hit the million-dollar jackpot when she heard the news.

Hers was one of 25 organizations that received grants last week from the state Outdoor Equity Fund, which distributed more than $260,000 to projects that will reach about 2,700 kids, according to the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

Martin and her colleagues will use the grant to teach children about conservation, wildlife refuge sites and restorative planting.

“A little bit of funding can create big-time youth experiences down here,” Martin said shortly after hearing the news.

Other recipients include Friends of the Pecos National Historical Park, Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance near Las Vegas, N.M., and Santa Fe-based Mountain Kids!

The fund was created “to allow all youth equitable access to the outdoors,” state officials said in a statement.

Most of the grants, which range from $1,500 to $15,000, were targeted for outdoor educational programs that teach young people how to take care of the environment.

Martin said the money will allow children to visit the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro to learn about “the restoration of native plants and what types of plants grow there, learn about the health of soil and the relationship plants and animals have to it.”

The kids will plant trees and restore trails in the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area as part of that project, Martin said.

“Having them take ownership by planting or restoring the land gives them a voice in protecting the environment,” she said. “And if we don’t have future stewards, the environment is going to go downhill.”

She said her agency receives about $360,000 a year in mill-levy funds, but the grant allows the organization to extend programming to more young people.

“We can build mountains with it,” she said.

David Lemke of the Friends of the Pecos National Historical Park said the $6,000 his group received will allow him to teach 15 children how to fly-fish and take care of the environment.

“If I can teach kids how to fly-fish and be conservationists at the same time, it will go a long way towards improving things in the Pecos Canyon,” he said.

He said the fly-fishing program will give him a chance to introduce middle and high school students to the ecology of the river and show them how anything that goes into it, such as an errant fishing line, impacts wildlife on the waterways.

And he will have the kids pick up trash on their way to the river.

“They’ll be able to see the impact of that action on something we all cherish,” he said.

Mountain Kids! will use the $8,800 it received to provide professional development for 18 Santa Fe Public Schools teachers to help them begin experiential outdoor learning programs.

“This is huge for us,” said Katie Macaulay, founder and director of the outdoor adventure education program. “This will enable us to reach all kids with nature, which is our mission. Everyone deserves to enjoy nature, and many of the kids here don’t know about the mountains around them.”

Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance received just over $14,500 to buy fly-fishing and birding gear for young people to use.

“The Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance seized this opportunity to connect with the Outdoor Recreation Division and engage our youth with meaningful outdoor experiences in their own backyard,” Elizabeth Juarros, the organization’s education director, said in an email.

Axie Navas, head of the state Outdoor Recreation Division, said 84 organizations applied for a grant.

She said the fund’s evaluation committee looked for applicants “to whom a $1,500 to $15,000 grant would be the difference between having a youth program or not. The recipients of the Outdoor Equity Fund are, for the most part, small, homegrown New Mexican organizations whose capacity to get kids outside is made possible largely by the new state grant.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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