La Vida

Everyone deserves access to transformative outdoor experiences. 

This message is the driving force behind the Outdoor Equity Fund award, which was recently granted to two organizations with ties to Valencia County, including TOTAL NM and the Los Lunas Open Space Division. 

The annual grant, which was awarded to 84 organizations across the state in 2023, supports programming that provides youth outdoor experiences that foster stewardship and respect for New Mexico’s land, water and cultural heritage. 

The OEF award is funded by the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division and was created in 2019. The division’s mission is “to ensure all New Mexicans gain from the public health, environmental and economic benefits of sustainable outdoor recreation.” 

To date, the fund has granted nearly $4 million to 181 organizations throughout the state through a combination of state and federal funding.  

TOTAL NM, a non-profit organization, was awarded a $40,000 OEF award to design the Outdoor Educator Leadership Institute Program. TOTAL NM Executive Director Allison Martin said this is a six-month program for Valencia County educators seeking to create, grow and sustain outdoor classroom spaces. 

Martin, a Bosque Farms resident, and Eileen Everett founded TOTAL NM in September 2023 based on the idea that inclusive, accessible and equitable outdoor spaces can benefit the educational experience for learners of all abilities and backgrounds.  

Martin has more than 15 years of experience in environmental education and was previously the education manager at Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District and the program and partnership director of Environmental Education of New Mexico.  

Submitted photos

The Los Lunas Open Space Division was able to treat some local high-schoolers to an exhilarating rafting adventure made possible through their 2022 OEF award. Los Lunas Open Space supervisor Pat Jaramillo said their 2023 award will allow them to take two more groups on rafting trips later this year.

Outdoor classrooms can take many forms but, in essence, they provide a space outside where students participate in hands-on outdoor activities and lessons that can encompass many subjects.  

“Outdoor classrooms are important because kids are looking to connect,” Martin said. “It’s a way to show the connection between home life, school life and everyday life. It gets them to care more about the world around them and spread that care.” 

Martin said the benefits learning outdoors has on social and emotional health is huge and this, coupled with a more real-world and hands-on approach, creates a much more powerful learning experience. 

TOTAL NM will recruit 20 educators from public schools within the county. Each teacher is anticipated to have a classroom of about 15-25 students who will participate in and help shape the program.  

Martin said they will work collaboratively with educators and their students during the six month program to develop outdoor classroom spaces and accompanying framework in schoolyards. The goal is to utilize outdoor classrooms daily or multiple times throughout the week. 

Between 300-500 local students will directly benefit from this program and she is excited because the information they gather from this will be used to develop a statewide framework for outdoor classrooms that many more educators can adapt and implement.  

TOTAL NM will be partnering with a variety of community-based organizations for the project, which so far includes Albuquerque Public Schools Outdoor Learning Team, H2 Academic Solutions and Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.  

Students utilize an outdoor classroom in the form of a shared garden. TOTAL NM Executive Director Allison Martin said hands-on outdoor activities and lessons found in these spaces can encompass many subjects and provide more engaging educational opportunities for students.

Martin said they are not certain yet when the program will begin as they are still in the early stages, but they will be making an announcement in March with more details about the initiative.  

In the meantime, she encourages Valencia County elementary teachers to apply if they are interested in being a part of the program. For more information, visit 

Los Lunas Open Space supervisor Pat Jaramillo said he is thrilled that the division was again awarded an OEF grant that, this year, is double the amount of what they received in 2022. 

Jaramillo said the $31,890 award will go toward taking local youth on a variety of outdoor adventures across the state. The outings will mainly serve youth who may not have otherwise had the opportunity. For some, it will be their first time participating in these kinds of outdoor recreation. 

There will be a couple outings that will be open publicly to youth on a first-come-first-serve basis, but Jaramillo said the majority of the kids who will attend the trips are ones recommended by local teachers, counselors or school resource officers who see the kids on a regular basis.  

Jaramillo said their 2023 award has allowed the division to “double the fun and double the amount of trips we’re able to take.” This year, the division has eight outdoor adventures planned that will serve about 150 kids from ages 8 to 18.  

These trips include all associated costs, including transportation, meals, equipment and lodging when appropriate. Los Lunas Open Space personnel accompany the youth on fun-filled adventures and educate them along the way about outdoor safety, the fauna and flora in the environment and how to become stewards of the outdoors.  

Jaramillo said they have so far put this grant toward a fishing trip at Isleta Lakes in November for about 40 kids ages 8 to 13. Next up, they will be taking 40 high-schoolers on two separate skiing trips in February at Sipapu Ski Resort near Taos.  

Local youth enjoy a fishing trip at Isleta Lakes in November 2023. Los Lunas Open Space supervisor Pat Jaramillo said this is the first outing their most recent OEF award has funded.

They will also be taking 40 high-schoolers on two separate rafting trips in northern New Mexico. Jaramillo said this trip, along with the skiing trip, is back this year by popular demand as they were big hits with the kids they took last year through their 2022 OEF award. 

“They just loved it; all the kids just were fully engaged and weren’t worried about phones and any of that stuff,” said Jaramillo.  

New trips this year for high-schoolers include a fishing trip at Elephant Butte and an overnight ATV trip in Farmington.  

“We’re going to rent a couple of pontoon boats to take them out on the water and do some fishing so that’s going to be great,” said Jaramillo. “We do off highway vehicle training for youth and adults that’s required if someone is going to ride an ATV on public lands, so this year we’re going to take a trip to Farmington because they have riding areas there where you can legally ride ATVs.”  

In the summer, they will also have a camping trip for 8-13 year olds at Manzano Mountain Retreat. 

“Outdoor recreation is good for everybody — mentally, physically and emotionally,” said Jaramillo. “It’s something that I know helps me, whether it’s to decompress or get away from the everyday stressors of life, and hopefully that’s what it’ll do for these kids as well. I hope it gives them an interest to continue and if they have kids, they can pass it on to them and keep it going.”   

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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.