The Outdoor Recreation Atlas: Where Recreation and Economic Development Converge in McKinley County

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

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With its hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, ATV, and climbing outdoor trails, Gallup has earned its title, “The Adventure Capital of New Mexico.” Good times amid the grand panoramic vistas await on the rolling mesa trails of the High Desert Trail System, on the tree-lined trails of the Zuni Mountains, in the majestic Cibola National Forest, and in the crown jewel that is Red Rock Park. Beyond the pure enjoyment of the great outdoors, Greater Gallup has understood how outdoor recreation tourism functions as an economic driver. Now there is an innovative pilot study to find the best ways to connect its downtown with its natural resources. 

New Mexico MainStreet (NMMS) and the Outdoor Recreation Division (ORD) teamed up to create the “Outdoor Recreation Asset Atlas” to study five counties (McKinley, Sierra, San Juan, Colfax, and Lincoln) to ultimately identify up to five trails and/or other outdoor recreation development projects with the most beneficial impact for MainStreet communities. The endeavor has great potential to support local, asset-based economic development.

“This collaboration between New Mexico MainStreet and the Outdoor Recreation Division is the first of its kind,” said Amy Bell, Principal Landscape Architect, Groundwork Studio and NMMS Revitalization Specialist in Urban Design. “NMMS and ORD are both housed within the NM Economic Development Department, providing a unique opportunity to connect plans for outdoor recreation infrastructure development with local economic development in our MainStreet downtowns.”

With record visits to New Mexico’s outdoor recreational resources in 2020, local communities found themselves not only with new opportunities, but with challenges as well. 

“Many communities are experiencing the ‘amenity migration’ phenomenon, in which rural communities face an influx of new residents seeking outdoor recreation amenities, new remote work options, and more affordable housing options compared to living in larger cities,” said Bell. “Strategic planning can provide a path to manage growth of communities in a way that retains community character and facilitates the health and wellness of those who live, work, and play in those communities.”

This is where the “Outdoor Recreation Asset Atlas” will play an important role. It will help MainStreet districts prepare for their communities' changing needs to reap the full benefits from the fast-growing outdoor recreation economy.

“This pilot project lays the groundwork for creating a database of both existing outdoor recreation assets, as well as potential projects, creating a tool to allow both the State and local communities to make informed decisions to support outdoor recreation-related projects that will also bring ‘right-sized’ economic activity to MainStreet, and also provide improved access to outdoor recreation from MainStreet communities,” said Bell.

The report from the pilot study is currently being finalized for review by NMMS and ORD. The report will contain recommendations for the creation of up to five trails and/or improvement projects with the most beneficial impact in MainStreet communities, gaps in outdoor recreation infrastructure and data, and recommendations for how to expand and improve the atlas in future funding cycles.

 

“In my role as the NMMS Revitalization Specialist in Urban Design,” said Bell, “the Groundwork Studio team led this effort with the assistance of Dr. Joni Palmer, a planner, landscape architect and guest lecturer at the University of New Mexico. Our work included close collaboration with NMMS and ORD, as well as representatives of the five participating counties.”

Bell explained why McKinley County was well-suited for the pilot study. “McKinley County has two active MainStreet Organizations, in Gallup and Zuni Pueblo. The county has a wealth of multi-use trail systems and spectacular outdoor scenery. Based on our conversations with county outdoor recreation representatives, communities within McKinley County care greatly about improving not just access to outdoor recreation opportunities, but also ‘approachability’ for locals – meaning that outdoor recreation development should support activities that the local community will participate in on a regular basis, contributing to quality of life.” 

“This pilot project has revealed the wide range of outdoor recreation assets and amenities, projects and programs, approaches to economic and community development, and the unique challenges communities face in these five counties,” said Bell. “The fact that each county has distinctive outdoor recreation assets is a powerful testament to what this state has to offer outdoor enthusiasts.” 

“Additionally, our New Mexico MainStreet programs are, without a doubt, unique place-based communities.” Bell pointed out that for the past several years they have all had different focuses such as arts and culture, business incubators, or outdoor recreation. This suggests some interesting paths forward for making stronger and more sustainable connections between community economic development in MainStreet programs and the outdoor recreation assets that are in or near their communities. 

“Making those connections requires thinking about more than just constructed projects,” said Bell. “Programs, events, business support, and staffing all need to be inventoried and evaluated to maximize positive effects and understand outcomes.”

What is the next step for this important work? “As part of the pilot project process, several recommendations were provided for expansion of the atlas, as well as for future areas of study,” said Bell. “We are in the process of coordinating with NMMS and ORD to determine focus areas for future work on the atlas. While creating a publicly accessible GIS map was not part of the scope of the pilot project, it is an important goal for the next steps of this effort.” 

Learn more about NM Mainstreet projects here. Explore Gallup MainStreet events on their website and on Facebook. Follow Zuni Pueblo Mainstreet on Facebook.

Greater Gallup Economic Development Corporation is Ready to Assist

GGEDC works tirelessly to support entrepreneurs, small businesses, and industry. GGEDC is dedicated to helping you explore outdoor recreational assets in our area that could provide an integral backbone for research, development, testing, manufacturing, and the ultimate recreational use of your products and initiatives. GGEDC is happy to discuss opportunities to pair these assets with our considerable business and industrial development acumen to accommodate your business needs. Reach out to GGEDC at (505) 722-2980 or via email to see how we can help today.

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