As we all witness the seasonal shift to fall, seeing our valley alight with autumnal reds and oranges, my attention turns to celebrating the ties that bind our communities together.

Andrew Hautzinger

As diverse as Valencia County is, we are all part of a stitched-together tapestry, beautiful in its diversity of colors and for all those doing the hard work needed to form community cords not easily broken.  At our core, the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District (VSWCD) strives to be an effective provider of community services, working to further our community members’ conservation, education and environmental priorities.

We work to advance community goals, whether it be helping on a project that improves the water efficiency on a piece of irrigated farmland or adding technical insight to a homeowner’s desire to establish a native-plant dominated pollinator garden.

Just as our Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area offers outdoor classrooms to students of all ages, we exist to help advance the conservation aspirations of the members of our district’s many communities.

Recently, both the city of Belen and the city of Rio Communities approved powerful proclamations that captured this sentiment: VSWCD is an effective community partner well aligned with the goals of both cities and their citizens.

On July 6, the Belen City Council and mayor proclaimed supporting the district, decreeing: “Whereas the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District’s mission is to provide natural resource conservation for a quality environment through active leadership, cooperation, and partnership; and Whereas the District shares the importance of conservation with Belen students through its environmental education programs in support of New Mexico’s Next Generation Science Standards; and Whereas annually over 2,000 Belen students participate in hands-on environmental education at the outdoor classroom of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District’s Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.”

In the same vein, on Oct. 12, 2021, the Rio Communities City Council and mayor pro tem voiced their support of the district and the good alignment of our work with the city’s interests.

Their proclamation of support included a nod to the community asset that the Whitfield Conservation Area Complex has become, including appreciation of the Whitfield Complex’s “280 acres that preserves wildlife and provides demonstrations and workshops for residents of Rio Communities; and has become a premier wildlife viewing destination, attracting 75+ visitors and their ecotourism dollars to Rio Communities during the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District’s recent Get Outdoors Day! public event.”

The Rio Communities’ proclamation went on to declare: “Whereas annually over 400 students from Rio Communities are provided hands-on environmental education at either their school or at the outdoor classroom of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District’s Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area; and Whereas the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District helps the farmers, gardeners, and ranchers of Rio Communities improve their own management of soil and water resources through financial assistance, technical workshops, and free soil testing.”

Perhaps what was most timely in the Rio Communities proclamation was this clause: “Whereas the City of Rio Communities and the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District have an opportunity to partner in the restoration of 140 acres at the Whitfield Complex’s Rio Abajo Conservation Area (RACA).”

This is especially timely as we, in the district, are gearing up for a RACA public town hall meeting early next spring, where we hope to hear from all the communities in our district in helping us to forge a conservation vision and action plan to take this very special piece of public lands (50 plus acres of mature cottonwood forest with trails and unique wetlands adjacent to the river), helping to integrate these lands into the fabric of our community, allowing desired public uses and conservation management to work hand-in-hand. Look for more news on the RACA town hall meeting soon.

On behalf of the VSWCD, please join me in celebrating those times when our governmental bodies, both large and small, work together in alignment to further what’s important to our community members.

The Belen and Rio Communities proclamations can be found at our website valenciaswcd.org, as can upcoming news on activities and events like a Farm-to-Table Camp (April 2022) we are developing with local farmers.

We look forward to working with all the threads that make up the special tapestry, formed from our local area’s many communities, helping to make them the best that they can be.

(Andrew Hautzinger is the district director of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.)

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Andrew Hautzinger, guest columnist