FARMINGTON – If you ask Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett, it’s a group effort.
In recent years, this city of 40,000 that most New Mexicans think of the oil and gas industry has started to successfully market itself as an outdoor recreation destination, bringing in growing numbers of visitors to San Juan County in search of fly fishing, rafting, off-roading, mountain biking – and even to explore the alleged stomping grounds of cryptids like Bigfoot.
Speaking at an outdoor recreation endeavOR New Mexico business alliance event after the New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference last Friday, Duckett thanked various business leaders in attendance who he said were part of a community team that extends beyond the city limits.
“There are 300,000 people who come to this community, and each of us plays a role in welcoming all those who use our services, shop in our stores and restaurants and buy our products,” he said. he said, adding that these businesses “all contribute to the greater good” of Farmingtonians.
The fact that Farmington hosted the NM’s fourth outdoor economy conference “was very symbolic” of the city’s growing success in selling itself as a mecca for recreation enthusiasts, Duckett said.
The adoption of its Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative, or “ORII,” in 2019, put this facet of economic development high on Farmington’s to-do list. And being a short drive from Durango, Colo., And Moab, Utah only helped the area’s early success in attracting visitors, as did municipal infrastructure in base that was built in what was once the state’s most successful oil and gas industry. room.
Among other things, the Farmington ORII provides a framework to support and incentivize companies like Desert River Guides, a rafting company now headquartered in a city-owned building next to the Animas River.
“The Town of Farmington has passed a resolution that they are going to make outdoor recreation a priority, and that’s what you need to do first,” said James Glover, founder of the Farmington-based alliance endeavOR. “Then the county followed suit. ”
San Juan County Director Mike Stark said the decision to join Farmington was a no-brainer.
“When I moved here in 1999 my eyes were wide open to all the amazing activities within a half hour drive,” Stark said. “It doesn’t get any better than that, and I couldn’t understand why we weren’t marketing this. ”
Years later, after becoming County Director, this is exactly what Stark is committed to doing.
If Farmington’s path to outdoor recreation notoriety is any indication, Silver City and Grant County are on the right track. An effort to improve trails, open spaces and other infrastructure – before inviting the rest of the world to town for a vacation – is underway.
The drive to find new income in outdoor recreation is something that many communities in the Southwest who are or were economically dependent on the extractive industries have in common with Farmington.
With 10,000 residents and less infrastructure than Farmington, Silver City arguably offers more access to outdoor recreation, with the Gila River, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Gila National Forest all close by, for no reason. to name a few of the hiking, camping, biking, bird watching, kayaking, fishing, sightseeing and, increasingly, the offroad possibilities.
It is not impossible to figure out how to cope with an increase in the number of recreational visitors without diminishing the quality of life for Silver Citians, but it is a challenge that officials here are aware of, especially when it comes to recreation. motorized.
Tony Boone of Timberline TrailCraft in Salida, Colo., Said it’s critical to strike a balance between motorized and non-motorized recreation.
“We have succeeded in creating [motorized recreation] magnetic zones in Salida, ”Boone said during a trail building, planning and maintenance panel hosted by Aztec Mayor Victor Snover on the third day of the conference last week.
“Basically we took the existing land use and encouraged the users to go to the areas that are developed for them – not that they don’t mix, but they mainly go to the most suitable areas” for the outdoor leisure activity that people engage in. , said Boone.
In the Gila National Forest, for example, motorized trails in the Burro Mountains off the NM 90 are popular among off-road enthusiasts.
Other issues include what Assistant General Manager James Marshall, who now heads Silver City’s community development department, simply called “bandwidth.”
“We have so many balls in the air right now, with the new recreation center [set to break ground next spring], expanding Gough Park, working with the Five Points Initiative and Waterworks, the Silva Creek and San Vicente Creek trails, and improving safety on Boston Hill, ”he said. “At one point we run out of bandwidth.
“And that’s a primary goal in improving the quality of life for the citizens of Grant County,” Marshall continued. “As we develop recreational opportunities, we don’t necessarily respond to someone who can visit for a few days. It is important for the residents of here to have good recreational opportunities every day that they are here.
Marshall commented on a housing crisis in Silver City that has been amplified by the proliferation of short-term rentals and a more tight real estate market than it has been for at least three decades.
Putting a moratorium on new short-term rental business licenses “is a discussion that has been put on the table, and it’s something we’re paying attention to,” Marshall said. “We are seeing other communities that no longer have housing because of short-term people.
“It had an impact on their ability to have housing for the workforce, so it’s like chicken and egg,” he continued. “You need local businesses to thrive to support tourists, but if all the homes are short-term rentals, those businesses have nowhere to live. “
Grant County is working with SE Group planning consultants to develop a comprehensive outdoor recreation and trail master plan.
Priscilla Shoup, who left the Silver City Community Development Department to take on the role of Director of Planning and Community Development for Grant County, said the planning process had just started with the SE group holding meetings. focus group to solicit ideas and opinions from recreationists, the business community and other stakeholders.
These stakeholders include, according to Shoup, “users of non-motorized trails and users of motorized trails; hunters, fishermen and traditional users; and water recreation users or alternative recreation users.
“SE Group and Grant County have put together a list of people from the community who belong to these groups and invited them, so we are in the first phase of this process,” she said, adding that interested parties can contact her by email at [email protected], or call his office at 575-574-0007 to request an invitation to one of the meetings.
Shoup encouraged all Grant Countians to visit get outsidegrantcounty.org to complete a 15-minute survey to ensure the county’s final master plan, which will guide future outdoor recreation development projects, reflects the needs. and community values.
Geoffrey Plant can be contacted at [email protected] press.com.