In a corner of New Mexico that has relied for decades on the vagaries of mining and oil and gas exploration, a move is underway to make outdoor recreation a new source of economic growth.
“While we have focused all this time on taking things out of the ground, we should have been looking at the things above the ground that we enjoy,” says Cory Styron in explaining the Farmington effort of offering the wonders of the outdoor world to both locals and tourists.
“Mother Nature has blessed us with some of the most spectacular geology around,” says Styron, who is the director of the City of Farmington’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative, “and our ancient history here is second to none.”
The effort to fully take advantage of the city’s natural resources really got its legs nearly two years ago when the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau conducted a study looking at what people liked the most about the Four Corners city and how Farmington branded itself.
“And through that research we found out that this is a place where outdoor lovers and active families thrive and wanted more positive and memorable outdoor experiences,” says Styron.
That study led to the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative itself, a move greatly buttressed last August by passage of a quarter percent gross receipts tax, the revenues of which can be applied to community transformation and economic development projects.
An emphasis on Farmington’s outdoor industry would also, remarked outdoor recreation consultant James Glover in a public meeting earlier this year, bring to the city businesses manufacturing products supporting that industry.
“We are in a position even more than some communities because we have the capacity,” said Glover, according to the Farmington Daily Times. “We have a lot of empty buildings left over from the oil and gas industry. Those buildings are perfect for somebody who wants to come in and manufacture a kayak or somebody that wants to manufacture a mountain bike.”
Now comes the next step: the hoped-for creation and building of an aerial adventure park to go up in one of several sites still under discussion.
“This is a part of the additional components of outdoor recreation that we see that would be a benefit and a draw to this community,” Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett noted of the aerial park proposal during a recent city council meeting, adding that such a park would “add to the quality of life for the citizens who live here.”
The subject of several public input meetings, as well as a survey conducted during Farmington’s annual Boopalooza event in October, the unique park could include a number of attractions, all of which provide evidence of how perceptions of enjoying the outdoors have in recent years undergone a transformation.
“It is not so much about stopping by and taking a picture anymore,” says Stryon in explaining that today’s nature enthusiasts are increasingly interactive. “Now people want to feel an adrenaline rush, that ‘wind in our faces’ kind of experience.”
Aerial parks, increasingly popular across the country, offer those experiences in abundance, with such physically challenging features as spider nets, rickety bridges, swinging platforms, rope ladders, and rock climbing.
Such parks also increasingly feature ziplines, a cable made of stainless steel and traversed by a pulley attached to a suspended cable allowing users to float in the air many or a few feet above the ground.
The parks are a part of a giant outdoor recreation industry, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, generating more than $887 billion in consumer spending annually.
That same report revealed that annual consumer spending on outdoor recreational pursuits in New Mexico is near the $10 billion mark. In Arizona the numbers were just a little over $21 billion, while in Colorado $28 billion was spent on such activities.
To better get a feel for how an aerial park would work in Farmington, the city has contracted out with Groundworks Studio of Albuquerque to put together a feasibility study and market analysis looking at how such a facility could economically sustain itself, as well as where would be the best place to build it.
Two areas under consideration: the Animas Park near the Willet Ditch, and the Berg Park, a popular public space known for its already-existing play areas, trails, and access to the Animas River.
During a community meeting on the proposal in November, Amy Bell, principal landscape architect with Groundworks Studio, said that her firm is also studying how much admission to the park would cost, as well as how long it will take for Farmington to get back whatever it invests in building the park in the first place.
City officials have previously suggested that the park, depending upon its parameters and features, could be built for anywhere between $750,000 to $1.5 million.
But Styron cautions: “We don’t know yet what the actual proposal will look like, so we don’t know the cost.”
“But in our initial research we thought we could have something pretty nice in the community within that range,” he adds.
Also still to be determined in coming months is whether or not building the park will ultimately be a public/private partnership or something that Farmington will take on by itself.
Either way, says Styron, “I think we’re on the verge of something new and healthy and exciting that is really going to prove popular in our city.”
By Garry Boulard
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