New Mexico’s groundbreaking Outdoor Equity Fund is designed to make sure the great outdoors becomes more available, recognizing that the need to be in nature is a human right, not a lifestyle choice.
Signed into law in the spring, the fund is moving quickly to fulfill its purpose, with the announcement last week that the Youth Conservation Corps is accepting donations for the country’s first such fund. The corps is administering the Outdoor Equity Fund for the state Economic Development Department’s Outdoor Recreation Division, which came into being in the same legislation that created the fund.
State Rep. Angelica Rubio, who has championed outdoor access for all, wrote earlier this year that “It’s time that all of our families and children experience the outdoors and the potential of our state.”
The Las Cruces-area lawmaker, known for riding her bicycle nearly 300 miles to reach the legislative session, understands the transformative power of the outdoors and its importance to our economy.
Already, state lawmakers have set aside $100,000 to fund programs to help under-served young people get outside. Private businesses are stepping up, too. REI has pledged $12,500; the Turner Foundation is giving $30,000. Members of the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico are donating $1,000 gathered from people who attended the group’s Outdoor Equity Conference.
In addition to private and public dollars already gathered, the Youth Conservation Corps is accepting donations from individuals. (To contribute, send a check to the Youth Conservation Corps, 911 St. Michael’s Drive, #206, Santa Fe, NM 87505. Indicate “Outdoor Equity Fund” in the memo section.)
These dollars will be disbursed in 2020 to help pay for outdoors experiences that transform lives, with grants divided across the state in rural, urban and tribal communities. Some 40 percent of children who participate will be from low-income families.
The idea is that the children who learn to love nature will become adults who nurture nature. They will grow to lead in stewardship of the land and in promoting policies to preserve air, land, water, wild creatures, the environment and other natural resources. Some of them will grow up to work in the outdoor economy, which already amounts to some $10 billion annually in New Mexico, with $623 million in state and local taxes and jobs for 100,000 people.
Such choices are easier for some because the outdoors — even when it’s a free walk in the woods — is not equally accessible to all.
Too often, just the price of gasoline or the cost of equipment can make it difficult for some families to get out in nature despite New Mexico’s wealth of public lands. The equity fund should remove some barriers.
The fund is an investment, too, so that young people who enjoy nature can become active participants in outdoor activities as they age. The child who takes a field trip to the forest to hike and see fall colors could become a wildlife manager as an adult or turn her love of hiking into a passion for flyfishing.
Access to the outdoors feeds the soul, and the young people who discover this joy early on will be sure to pass it on.