Albuquerque’s outdoor access puts it on a good list

A cyclist rides the Bear Canyon Trail in Albuquerque in April. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal)

We New Mexicans spend a lot of time bemoaning the “bad lists” that New Mexico and Albuquerque find themselves on, so why not take the time to highlight a positive one?

Outside Magazine, an industry publication focused on the outdoors, named Albuquerque one of its 20 best towns and cities to live on its annual list. Our beautiful city has emerged alongside metropolitan areas like Chicago and Philadelphia and outdoor hotspots like Austin, thanks in large part to investments made at the city and state level.

“Getting this recognition is really powerful, and I think it’s proof of the benefits that residents are seeing,” said Axie Navas, director of the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation division and former editor of the publication, which has offices in Santa Fe and earlier this year was acquired by a Colorado company.

Outside has been publishing a version of this list for over two decades, but the publication has made some changes to its criteria this year.

Rather than focusing on craft beer and beautiful scenery, this year’s list prioritized affordability and fair access to the outdoors. The article’s introduction said he was combining demographics with field research on green infrastructure to create his list. Each section was written by a local expert, with Santa Fe-based writer Murat Oztaskin authoring the Albuquerque capsule.

“From new parks to increased investment at the state level, our experts have shared highlights of their favorite places and improvements they see or not see,” the story reads.

New Mexicans may be used to seeing Santa Fe and Taos appear on lists like this, but the state’s largest city hasn’t always been credited for its access to the outdoors.

And not without reason, as Outside notes. The land surrounding Albuquerque may be beautiful, but it has long been relatively inaccessible to much of the city’s population. The article ranks Albuquerque 40th in outdoor access among America’s 100 largest cities, despite abundant public land.

Navas told the Journal that increasing access to the outdoors for underserved populations, including low-income youth, was one of the reasons the division was created in 2019. Navas pointed out the lack of public transport to and from public lands as well as lack of affordable housing near public spaces as barriers to access.

“I think this is something that communities, state and federal government need to work out together,” Navas said.

The state’s Outdoor Equity Fund, included in the law that created the Outdoor Division, is designed to alleviate these barriers by funding organizations that provide equitable access to the outdoors to children in New Mexico. In its second round of funding, the fund awarded $ 898,337 to 57 programs across the state, compared to $ 261,863 to 25 programs the year before. Navas added that states with established outdoor recreation industries, including Colorado and California, have created their own equity programs modeled on those in New Mexico.

“I think New Mexico is really setting the stage for this work,” Navas said.

At this point you might be wondering: so what does this have to do with economic development? Beyond having personal benefits, Navas said providing access to the outdoors for children can help create an ongoing interest in the industry, potentially creating a larger network of workers and entrepreneurs who can fuel industry for years to come.

And having New Mexico’s largest city in the middle of it can help turn it into a hub for outdoor offerings in other parts of the state, Navas said. If that happens, Outside won’t be the last nationwide outlet to pay attention to Albuquerque’s outdoor economy.

Stephen Hamway covers economic development, health care and tourism for the Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]


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