Although still in the planning stages, the Rio Grande Trail will provide hundreds of miles of new trail to hikers, bikers and joggers. Trail-related recreation is the most popular outdoor activity in the state with 41 percent of New Mexicans participating in some form of trail activity every year. This has translated into significant economic gain for the state—the outdoor recreation retail sales account for 4.6 percent of gross state product according to Blazing a Trail: The Benefits of a Rio Grande Trail in New Mexico, a new report released today by Environment New Mexico. The report highlights the need for trail funding from the New Mexico Legislature which convenes in session next week.
Owing to the popularity of trails, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, State Parks Division has set in motion an ambitious plan to construct a multi-use trail alongside the Rio Grande state-wide.
“In addition to fulfilling the public’s desire for more trails, the Rio Grande Trail will have positive impacts on New Mexico’s economy, environment, health and recreational opportunities,” said Environment New Mexico Associate, Randall Coleman.
State Parks is overseeing development of the trail from Belen to Sunland Park where they are already developing river trail in five state parks along the southern stretch of the Rio Grande. State Parks is undergoing a corridor study to identify and evaluate potential trail locations and constraints. Several stakeholder meetings, public workshops and surveys will be conducted to achieve community input in the planning process.
Environment New Mexico’s new report highlights the benefits a Rio Grande trail will provide for New Mexico in terms of the economy, conservation, health and recreation:
- Trails are becoming increasingly popular nationwide and many are becoming destinations in and of themselves. The Rio Grande Trail has the ability to tap into this fervor, contributing to the state’s tourism sector and the $3.8 billion outdoor recreation industry.
- The trail will provide avenues for historical and environmental educational opportunities—increasing awareness of New Mexican heritage and the problems facing the Rio Grande.
- Improvement in public access to the Rio Grande will increase the connection New Mexicans have to the river and cultivate greater river stewardship.
- Trails provide a number of different outlets for increasing one’s fitness. Creating or enhancing places for physical activity such as trails can lead to a 25.6 percent increase in the percentage of people exercising on three or more days per week.
- It is estimated that New Mexico spends $324 million annually on direct adult medical costs that can be attributed to obesity. By curbing the obesity rate, New Mexico stands to save millions in healthcare costs.
- The 2004 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan identified trails as the top recreation priority for the public in New Mexico.
“The Rio Grande Trail has the ability to preserve the Rio Grande and the Bosque by increasing public awareness and connection to the river while at the same time improving recreational opportunities and the health of New Mexico residents,” said Coleman.
The trail has already generated popular support in the New Mexico Legislature. In 2006 the Legislature appropriated $4 million for State Parks to begin planning and development of the trail, and in 2007 a joint House and Senate Memorial (HJM49/SJM44) was passed in support of completing the Rio Grande Trail.
“Despite all this support, there’s one catch. The major obstacle to trail development has been the lack of funding. Funding is scheduled to run dry this summer, following the completion of the planning study. More funding must be allocated if the Rio Grande Trail is to be realized,” said Coleman.
“During the 2008 legislative session, Governor Richardson and New Mexico’s legislators have a terrific opportunity to support trail funding and give New Mexico the benefits of a visionary river trail,” concluded Coleman.