Blazing a Trail: The Benefits of the Rio Grande Trail in New Mexico

Released by: Environment America

Executive Summary

New Mexico is a land of monumental beauty and contrast. From the majestic peaks in northern New Mexico to the white sand dunes of southern New Mexico, the state is full of natural splendor. These remarkable landscapes have made New Mexico a magnet for lovers of the outdoors who are attracted not only to the scenery but the myriad activities to enjoy--none more popular than trail recreation. It is estimated that over 40 percent of New Mexicans take to New Mexico’s trails every year. The popularity of trails is not surprising; untold miles of trails lead people to all corners of the state on foot, bike, rollerblades or horseback to experience the Land of Enchantment up close.

Owing to the popularity of trails, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, State Parks Division has set in motion an ambitious plan to construct a multi-use trail alongside the length of the Rio Grande. The trail will be similar to and eventually connect with the existing river trails in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. Currently, a corridor study is being undertaken to identify and evaluate potential trail alignments and constraints. Upon completion of the study, trail construction will begin if the necessary funding is provided. At this time there is enough funding to complete the corridor study but little with which to begin construction.

Concrete steps need to be taken in order to ensure the Rio Grande Trail project receives adequate funding. The New Mexico Legislature should start making annual investments in the trail, starting with at least $5 million in 2008. Over the next 5 to 10 years the Legislature should continue making these investments in a sustained manner so that the main infrastructure of the Rio Grande Trail can be completed. Further appropriations by the Legislature and regional government agencies will need to be made to help cover maintenance and administrative costs once the majority of trail construction is completed. Additionally, New Mexico should seek funding from federal agencies to help trail construction/maintenance in federal lands.

This report will look at the benefits the Rio Grande Trail will have on preservation of the Rio Grande, the state economy, recreation and public health in New Mexico.