Op-Ed: Access to the Outdoors Is a Basic Human Right
New Mexico wants to create a first-of-its-kind Outdoor Equity Fund for underserved youth. Other states that care about preserving the natural world and raising a new generation of activists should take note.
The Land of Enchantment: our state motto perfectly captures New Mexico and its sacred Zia, a harmonious symbol of friendship that originated in the Zia Pueblo.
The four words evoke a stunning landscape of mountains, rivers, deserts, forests, and Native American communities. The Land of Enchantment has sunsets that take your breath away, with skylines sketched on a canvas of reds, oranges, purples, and pinks.
The Land of Enchantment promises summers spent hiking, biking, and fishing along the Rio Grande, in the Sandias, or within the Organ Mountains. Winters are spent on the snowy slopes of Angel Fire, Ruidoso, Santa Fe, and Taos. October brings valley skies dotted with 1,000 hot-air balloons gliding across the horizon, while November sunrises attract early birds—thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese rising above the marshes of Bosque del Apache.
The Land of Enchantment is the written and lived culture of New Mexico, forged among the distinct and unique cultures of our pre-Hispanic, Spanish, and Native American ancestors.
But for many of our state’s youth, the Land of Enchantment is none of these things. It is not rafting, skiing, fishing, hiking, or wildlife watching. The barriers to access these opportunities are too numerous and too ingrained within their communities to overcome.
Our state’s kids have to contend with a whole host of issues that prevent them from getting outside, from a lack of transportation to a lack of resources to a lack of access to outdoor-education programs. Maybe they don’t have anyone in their lives who cares enough to introduce them to this enchanting natural world. The problems are endemic to the whole state: New Mexico ranks last in child well-being and education, first in childhood hunger, and second to last in childhood economic well-being.
The two of us feel fortunate to have grown up in southern New Mexico, in communities where the outdoors was an integral part of our culture, from the Gila Wilderness to Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. And our respective upbringings, challenging in their own rights, still provided us with opportunities to see, value, understand, respect, and love the outdoors.
We are now also privileged to have been elected to positions to represent the people of New Mexico and trusted to make the right decisions for current and future generations. That commitment to our constituents drives our action in the state capital of Santa Fe. It drives our will to create and implement public policy that will impact the lives of all New Mexicans.
That’s why we’re championing efforts to create a state Office of Outdoor Recreation and—more importantly—a first-of-its-kind Outdoor Equity Fund.
The Outdoor Equity Fund, supported by more than 50 state and national organizations representing social, environmental, immigration, and health justice, will make the Land of Enchantment more accessible to everyone. All of our state’s youth deserve an opportunity to take advantage of the outdoor recreation and education opportunities our state so bountifully offers. We believe that access to the outdoors is a human right.