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Proposal to move State Parks Division to Tourism Department tabled in first committee

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — A proposal to move the State Parks Division from the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resource Department to the New Mexico Tourism Department failed to pass its first committee.

House Bill 258, titled Move State Parks to Tourism Department, was sponsored by Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences. The sponsors argued that moving the division to the Tourism Department could provide better funding and promotion of the state parks as New Mexico moves to diversify its economy and promote outdoor recreation.

However, members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee were hesitant to make that move at this time. The committee voted 6-4 to table the bill. Prior to the vote, State Parks Division Director Christy Tafoya expressed opposition to the measure.

Navajo Lake State Park is one of 35 state parks in New Mexico. House Bill 258 proposed moving the State Parks Division to the Tourism Department.

Tafoya said the State Parks Division works closely with the Tourism Department on efforts like partnering with Google to showcase the parks and on educating visitors about responsible recreation through the New Mexico True campaign.

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However, Tafoya said the missions are different. While the Tourism Department is focused on bringing visitors to the state, Tafoya said the primary mission of the State Parks Division is protecting the natural resources, which aligns more with EMNRD's mission.

A view leading to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park is pictured in this undated file photo from the Alamogordo Daily News. A bill sponsored by Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, would move the State Parks Division out of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and into the Tourism Department.

There are 35 state parks in New Mexico that are overseen by the State Parks Division, a branch of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. These parks include Navajo Lake State Park in eastern San Juan County as well as Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park in Carlsbad, Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park near Las Cruces and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park near Alamogordo.

More:NM seeks public input while developing Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan

Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said he does not know if the Tourism Department is the right place and said it may fit better with the Economic Development Department, which also houses the Outdoor Recreation Division.

"I think it's pretty clear that where it's at right now is not the right place," Montoya said.

Anglers fish from a boat, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, at Texas Hole on the San Juan River in Navajo Lake State Park.

Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, who is the chairman of the committee, highlighted the missions of the Tourism Department and the State Parks Division.

"I agree with Rep. Montoya that maybe tourism is not the right department," McQueen said.

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