LOS LUNAS — Youth from across Los Lunas are learning what it means to be stewards of the land thanks to a first-of-its-kind Outdoor Equity Fund.
The Outdoor Equity Fund was created to enable all New Mexican youth equitable access to the outdoors. It is sponsored by the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division, a division of the New Mexico Economic Development Department.
The grant supports programming that provides outdoor experiences that foster stewardship and respect for New Mexico’s land, water and cultural heritage, according to a press release. For many, all 18 and younger, these transformational outdoor experiences are the first time they’ve participated in these kinds of outdoor recreation.
The village of Los Lunas Open Space division was among 47 organizations in 2022 to receive the award of which they were granted $15,995 to spend on four separate outdoor recreational adventures.
These trips include all associated costs, including transportation, meals, equipment and lodging when appropriate. Los Lunas Open Space personnel accompany the youth and help with the educational aspects needed for each activity while encouraging the kids to become stewards of the outdoors.
Los Lunas Open Space supervisor Pat Jaramillo said they have so far put this grant toward a fishing trip in November 2022, and most recently a ski trip in February, which was a first for the division. Both of these outings included about 20 kids.
“Getting these youth to first learn and see that there are other things to do and places to go within the state will help them appreciate not just the state, but the experience of being outdoors,”Jaramillo said. “For some of these kids, it’s been their first time doing anything like this and I think that’s the importance of this grant and what it’s trying to do.”
Jaramillo and his team work with teachers and counselors at schools to help choose who should go.
“We will do it that way for the other two as well because, unfortunately, one of the things we’re finding out is some of the kids would probably not see these come out on our Facebook page or anything cause some don’t have access to the internet,” he said. “So, for us, the best way is through teachers or counselors who see these kids on a regular basis.”
Jaramillo emphasized these trips are more than just a good time, as with most of their programs they teach youth along the way to help them develop new skills and confidence.
“When we were out fishing, for example, we taught them how to tie knots, cast and reel and everything, but also how to help, teach and work with each other,” Jaramillo said. “That’s a big part of it; also trying to teach them the positive ways of being outdoors, like don’t litter and if you see trash that someone else dropped, pick it up. Or if there’s cultural sites, the importance of them and being respectful of them.”
Jaramillo says these kinds of trips and activities also help children enhance their social behavior.
“A lot of these kids didn’t know each other. So you’d see these kids that are a little shy and by themselves, but by the end of it they made a friend or two.”
Beyond the many lessons outdoor experiences provide, Jaramillo says it’s important to get youth outdoors because it also improves their physical and mental well-being and can lead to continued interest in the outdoors.
“We help them get introduced and maybe it sparks something for them and gives them that incentive to want to continue,” Jaramillo said.
The next trip the Los Lunas Open Space has planned through the grant is a rafting day trip for 14-18 year-olds scheduled toward the end of May, which will also be a first-time experience for the division thanks to the award.
The final trip will be a three-day, two-night camping trip for 8-12 year-olds in June at the Manzano Mountain Retreat.
Jaramillo said he will definitely be applying for the grant again and encourages others to apply as well.
“Any entity should try and take advantage of it. It’s a great program that, I think, will benefit this whole state, especially the kids who may not have originally had opportunity,” Jaramillo said.
According to the Outdoor Recreation Division’s website, the application is open to tribes, pueblos and nations, municipalities, counties, nonprofits, K-12 schools/districts and colleges/universities. The fund cycle for 2023 will open in the spring.
Visit nmoutside.com for more information and how to apply.
Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.