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Gila needs Wild and Scenic status

By Chris Schlabach, Co-Owner, Gila Hike and Bike
Silver City Daily Press | March 16, 2019

The Gila River is a powerful economic driver. Our store, Gila Hike and Bike, relies heavily on visitors to the Gila purchasing gear for their adventures or spending time in our community.

The Outdoor Industry Association documents $9.9 billion in outdoor recreation spending and direct employment for over 99,000 New Mexicans. These activities also generate $623 million in state and local tax revenue, a steadying force in our local economies. The Gila River is one of the primary reasons why we are beneficiaries of these statistics. All things considered, the value the Gila River brings to our communities is immeasurable.

The Gila River and surrounding public lands are intertwined with our way of life in Silver City and nearby communities. This is where we go to play with our friends and family — where we hike, camp, hunt, fish or otherwise wander to recharge our mental and emotional batteries.

The obvious way to sustain this way of life for future generations is through a federal Wild and Scenic River designation for the Gila River, San Francisco River, and their main tributaries.

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 to protect America’s free-flowing rivers and preserve their traditional use and values. The system places an emphasis on those rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, scenery and recreational values.

The recent passage of a comprehensive public lands package by both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives — which includes 13 new wilderness areas in New Mexico — shows that Congress can still govern effectively. Now is the perfect time to pursue a Wild and Scenic designation for the Gila River. Over 150 local businesses, governments, conservation organizations, and civil organizations have already signaled their support for a Wild and Scenic designation. Like us, the leaders of these businesses and organizations know the inherent value of our rivers and their importance to our fellow citizens.

We are calling on New Mexico’s leaders in Congress to introduce legislation designating the Gila River, San Francisco River, and their main tributaries as Wild and Scenic. Such an action would be met with overwhelming approval from the people living in southwestern New Mexico — the people for whom the Gila River is a way of life.

As New Mexico’s last free-flowing river — a river that slices through the nation’s first federally designated wilderness — the Gila checks all of the requisite boxes. It brings customers and other visitors to our doorsteps and supports numerous jobs and industries in Silver City. The Gila is truly outstanding and deserving of a Wild and Scenic River designation.

Chris Schlabach is the Co-Owner of Gila Hike and Bike in Silver City.

This guest column first appeared in the Silver City Daily Press.