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Wild & Scenic Designations for NM Rivers Benefit Local Economy


Monday, June 28, 2021   

SILVER CITY, N.M - Rivers, wetlands and riparian areas make up only 1% of the New Mexico landscape, and they're getting attention this month for their critical roles in renewing the state's water supply and providing recreational opportunities.

There are five major rivers in New Mexico, including the Gila, one of the longest rivers in the West. Backpacker Jeff Goin, who lives in Silver City - the gateway to the Gila Wilderness - said he wishes everyone would plan a trip to a river before National Rivers Month ends on June 30.

"The most memorable trip I've taken, without exception, was down the Middle Fork of the Gila River," said Goin. "Wilderness in general, and rivers in particular, are tremendously therapeutic."

Goin said he would like to see the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic Rivers Act reintroduced in Congress. It would designate more than 440 miles of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers as "Wild and Scenic."

A recent study found prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost one million people visited the two rivers in Southwest New Mexico each year, and those visits supported at least 5,300 jobs.

A Southwick and Associates study estimates a potential increase of at least $144 million in recreation spending by visitors with the Wild and Scenic designation. It also could ensure local, rural economies that depend upon such traditions as grazing, ranching, hunting and fishing can continue.

Goin, the manager of the Lotus Center of Silver City - a meditation and yoga studio - said he believes rivers can be seen as a metaphor for how people can live more enriching lives.

"Rivers can be such teachers for us, in terms of flowing around obstacles and over obstacles," said Goin. "And everyone is welcome at a river."

In order to qualify for protection under the original Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a river must both be "free-flowing" and have "outstandingly remarkable values" in one or more categories.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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