The outdoor recreation industry in New Mexico is ascendant, starting to punch above its weight in regional and national circles, the state’s Outdoor Recreation Division chief said.
New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division Director Axie Navas was the only state official taking part in a discussion put on last week by the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable coalition of trade associations to dissect the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis 2020 outdoor recreation economy statistics.
Navas believes she was invited because of her role this year as chairwoman of the Confluence of States, a coalition of 13 states established in 2018 to serve as a single voice for the outdoor industry.
Navas acknowledged the 2020 federal outdoor recreation statistics are outdated, considering the country was largely shut down a year ago and open right now.
“That’s a snapshot pretty far in the rearview mirror,” Navas said.
The numbers may be dated, but they are dated for all 50 states. The mountain states dynamic remains unchanged in good times or bad: New Mexico is still catching up.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis determined outdoor recreation made up 1.9 percent of gross domestic product in New Mexico in 2020, a drop from 2.4 percent in 2019. This was a hair above the national gross domestic product of 1.8 percent but lower than all the other mountain states.
Arizona was similar at 2 percent, even with the Grand Canyon; Utah and Colorado, with their dominant ski resorts, were each at 2.5 percent; Idaho at 2.7 percent; Wyoming at 3.4 percent; and Montana at 4.3 percent.
“I think New Mexico has the potential to be No. 1,” Navas said. “This year, we have seen pretty major growth in RV-ing, camping, fishing, hiking and bicycling. RV-ing has surpassed 2018 and 2019, same with bicycling.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Economic Development Department created the Outdoor Recreation Division in 2019 with Navas as its first director. Navas said New Mexico was No. 2 in the country in outdoor recreation job growth in 2019 and weathered the pandemic better than half the states.
“I was looking at the employee data,” Navas said. “In 2020, every state saw decreases from 9.3 percent to 27.2 percent. New Mexico was right in the middle of that at 21.9 percent.”
Outdoor recreation in New Mexico was a $2.3 billion industry in 2019 and $1.9 billion in 2020, Navas said.
“I would suspect we would be above 2019 in 2021,” she said.
Two Outdoor Recreation Division programs are designed to get low-income youth outdoors and improve trails.
The division awarded 57 groups $898,000 in 2021 from the Outdoor Equity Fund for programs that got 22,000 low-income youths outdoors. Navas noted this program would not be reflected in gross domestic product numbers, but results from the Outdoor Recreation Trails+ program would be part of GDP.
The division awarded $506,000 to 25 entities in the Outdoor Recreation Trails+ program for trail systems, trailheads, signage, outdoor classrooms and river access.
“We’re hoping to grow that [fund],” Navas said. “We’re talking about what that number should be. We saw well over $1 million in grant applications. I think there is a strong sense that outdoor recreation is an economic driver.”