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As a member of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, I was thrilled to hear about President Barack Obama’s decision to designate Rio Grande del Norte as a National Monument.
Rio Grande del Norte is a northern New Mexico hotspot for recreation and tourism, offering a wide range of outdoor opportunities including hiking, hunting, fishing, rafting, and wildlife spotting and photography. Its 240,000 acres of public lands — including the Rio Grande Gorge, Ute Mountain, and the Taos Plateau — provide a combination of majestic scenery and a rare diversity of wildlife.
It is truly one of the natural wonders of the Land of Enchantment. And now that it is a national monument, it is protected from harm for all time.
Too often we forget that recreational pursuits related to tourism attractions like a national monument often mean a direct increase in revenue and jobs for New Mexicans.
From hotels to outfitters to outdoor guides to the restaurants that show off New Mexico cuisine, this designation will be a major boon for the local economies of Taos and Rio Arriba counties.
A recent study performed by BBC Research and Consulting found that approximately 325,000 people visit the Rio Grande del Norte annually.
About half of these people are from states other than New Mexico, meaning that outside tourism money is being spent in local stores, gas stations, hotels, and many other businesses.
The same BBC study estimates that the national monument designation of Rio Grande del Norte should result in a $15 million increase in revenue, further strengthening businesses in the area.
Why? Because when a national monument is designated, it achieves a higher status in guidebooks and travel blogs, luring people who might otherwise be just passing through to stay a while longer.
Those longer stays mean revenue for our northern New Mexico economy.
In fact, the BBC study noted that some similar regions which received a national monument designation in 2001 experienced approximately 500 percent growth in visitation from 2003 to 2007.
If Rio Grande del Norte experiences a visitation growth anywhere close to that number it will do wonders for our local economy.
Obviously, an increase in visitors to the region will create a greater demand for goods and services.
This demand will inevitably create a need for new jobs. Rio Grande del Norte and associated recreation and visitation already support 312 jobs in the region.
Monument Designation will mean the addition of 279 more jobs, according to the economic study.
I would like to close by thanking our public servants and other citizens who worked so hard for so many years to make this great achievement for New Mexico possible.
From President Obama and Interior Secretary Salazar, who weighed public input and acted boldly to use the Antiquities Act to create the monument; to champions in Congress, retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Udall and Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Heinrich, who all pushed bills to create the monument – this has been an incredible effort on behalf of New Mexico’s sacred public lands.
But it truly could not have happened without the people of northern New Mexico coming together and rallying their local leaders behind the cause. Their input and support for this monument probably is most important of all.
New Mexico now has a new crown jewel to show off to the rest of the world and all New Mexicans should share in the sense of pride for the establishment of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.