Outdoor recreation is a way of life and economic powerhouse for New Mexico. New Mexico residents enjoy outdoor recreation on more than 35 million acres of public lands and the outdoor recreation economy directly supports $1.2 billion in income and 33,500 jobs.

Creating 33,500 jobs that provide $1.2 billion in income across many sectors, outdoor recreation helps diversify New Mexico’s economy, improves quality of life, and strengthens community wellbeing. Access to year-round outdoor recreation on shared public lands and waters is an essential component of long-term economic development and community identity for many New Mexico communities. As more residents and visitors are active in New Mexico’s great outdoors, stewardship of recreation assets requires investment of time, energy, and money for healthier communities, economies, and people.

Aaron Miller fighting to stay on a tough 5.12c at the Cave at Diablo Canyon just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse for New Mexico.

More people are working in outdoor recreation in New  Mexico than in farming and manufacturing, and slightly fewer than in mining, including oil and gas development.

Outdoor recreation contributes to $2.3 billion, or 2.5%, of state GDP.

Rock crawlers at Brown Springs near Farmington, New Mexico.

The outdoor recreation economy is growing faster than the overall state economy: between 2012 and 2017, GDP from outdoor recreation grew by 11% while overall New Mexico GDP grew by 4%.

The majority of outdoor recreation’s contribution to New Mexico’s GDP occurs in nature-based environments (such as hiking, skiing, fishing, and hunting), contributing $678 million to state GDP. By comparison, other forms of recreation that take place in urban and developed settings  (such as golf, tennis, or soccer) contribute $261 million to state GDP.

Nature-based recreation’s contribution to GDP grew by 14% between 2012 and 2017. Other recreation grew by 8%.

New Mexico’s outdoor recreation contributes to many parts of the economy.

Bar chart showing sectors related to outdoor recreation with the fastest growth in income in New Mexico, 2012-2017.

Outdoor recreation jobs in New Mexico consist of a variety of professions. For example, in 2017:

  • 443 were employed in professional and business services;
  • 702 in construction;
  • 385 in manufacturing; and
  • 563 in transportation and warehousing.

Retail trade, accommodations, and food services provide the most jobs related to outdoor recreation—about 26,000 total.

Outdoor recreation-related employment in the educational services (e.g., schools and universities) and arts, entertainment, and recreation sectors grew 28% and 21%, respectively, between 2012 and 2017.

New Mexico values outdoor recreation.

Many New Mexico communities are investing in recreation:

  • Trail networks in Gallup, NM, and associated events, have brought $17 million in new spending to the area. Running and biking events bring an estimated $45,000 per event to the community.
  • In 2019, New Mexico demonstrated its leadership in improving access to outdoor recreation to all its residents with the establishment of the Outdoor Equity Fund, a grant program designed to help underserved youth get outside.
  • New Mexico is a national leader in using outdoor recreation to improve public health through its Prescription Trails program, which targets physically inactive people in nine regions in New Mexico.
  • New Mexico legislators officially recognized the state’s bikepacking trail network for its contribution to rural economic development.
  • Since 2014, the city of Farmington, NM, has invested $12 million in outdoor recreation infrastructure, including a motorized trail system and a public beach at the municipal lake.

Outdoor recreation benefits New Mexico’s quality of life.

Anglers in New Mexico.
Anglers in New Mexico.

Quality of life: The outdoors is an essential part of the New Mexico way of life—attracting, sustaining and retaining families, communities, and businesses. Its heritage, culture, and tradition are closely tied to the outdoors and access to public lands.

Jack's Plastic Welding is a New Mexico business.
Jack’s Plastic Welding is a New Mexico business.

Creating and retaining jobs: New Mexico employers have a strong competitive advantage over other states. Businesses use access to outdoor recreation to attract talent and retain valuable employees.

Bow and Arrow Brewing Co. is a New Mexico business.
Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. is a New Mexico business.

Business/Economy: Many New Mexico businesses manufacture products for outdoor recreation and provide services for tourists and locals alike, creating jobs, income, and state and local taxes.

A group hike in New Mexico.
A group hikes through a New Mexico forest.

Community wellbeing: Outdoor recreation supports healthy communities. Studies show that access to the outdoors supports reduced crime rates, improves educational outcomes, and improves physical and mental health.

This report was produced for the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division.

Megan Lawson, Ph.D.

  megan@headwaterseconomics.org       406.570.7475

Megan leads Headwaters Economics’ research in outdoor recreation, economic development, and demographics. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a quantitative economist analyzing policies and trends for communities, governments, and nonprofit organizations.