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FARMINGTON — State Sen. Steven Neville, R-Farmington, said San Juan County has more outdoor recreation resources than many counties in the state. He thinks a new state Outdoor Recreation Division could boost the number of businesses supporting tourism in this region.

Neville co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, to create the Outdoor Recreation Division. That bill was signed into law Tuesday by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.

"I'll take New Mexico's great outdoors against any in the country," Lujan Grisham said in a press release. "No longer will we sit back and allow other Western states to take the lead in promoting and galvanizing these exciting growth industries. Launching the Outdoor Recreation Division is a first and essential step in prioritizing this segment of our economy and putting more New Mexicans to work."

Neville said building an outdoor recreation economy could help balance the local energy-based economy. He highlighted local areas that are popular for outdoor recreation, including the Dunes Off Highway Vehicle Area and Glade Run Recreation Area. In addition, Neville said San Juan County has fishing in the Quality Waters of the San Juan River as well as recreation on Navajo Lake. He also highlighted the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area.

In addition to Neville and Steinborn, state Reps. D. Wonda Johnson, D-Church Rock, Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces and Nathan Small, D-Hatch, sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives.

Neville said the Farmington area is interested in promoting outdoor recreation and encouraging new businesses focused on outdoor recreation. This summer the city will send representatives to the Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver, according to Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative Director Cory Styron.

The newly signed legislation provides the Youth Conservation Corps with $100,000 to fund infrastructure and trails projects. It also includes $100,000 as a grant program to help low-income children participate in outdoor programs.

"I want to thank the governor for taking measures to protect indigenous lands and ensure that tribes have a seat at the table," Johnson said in a press release. "We've worked so hard to protect what we leave behind for our children, and this legislation will make sure that we have adventures all over the state while taking care of our sacred sites."

Farmington officials say they are excited about the new state office

Farmington Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative Director Cory Styron said the city is hopeful it can collaborate with the state office to promote outdoor recreation in Farmington and throughout the state. He said the city is excited New Mexico is becoming one of 11 states that have offices of outdoor recreation. The first state to create an office of outdoor recreation was Utah, which did so in 2013.

The governor signed the bill as the city is preparing to open its first official ORII project — a trail at Lake Farmington. Styron said that trail is anticipated to open in the upcoming weeks.

Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett said people nationwide are increasingly interested in getting “back to our roots” by exploring nature.

“We’re slotted in the right position right now to take advantage of the wave,” he said.

Duckett said New Mexico’s proximity to Utah and Colorado — which have developed strong outdoor economies — gives an advantage and allows New Mexico to market itself as someplace new and fresh.

“We certainly are excited about the state stepping forward,” he said.

Bloomfield City Councilor Ken Hare also praised the creation of the new office, which he said will help with funding, networking and marketing ideas.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com

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