Why I call San Miguel County home

Truchas Peak from Jicarita Peak

Op-Ed by Harold Garcia
Las Vegas Optic (May 14, 2015)

I was born and raised in northern New Mexico, but it wasn’t until about 30 years ago that I felt like I was really home. That was when my parents moved my brothers and me to San Miguel County to be closer to the wilderness. My mother grew up in southern Colorado and wanted her children to have the same incredible outdoor experiences that she had.

As fate would have it, the Pecos Wilderness and surrounding areas have always given us the big backyard that she wanted for us. On weekends, my parents would bring all of us into the Pecos to camp and hunt. Some of my favorite memories are from there, and that is why I chose to raise my kids here in San Miguel County as well. It’s also why I opened my business here over 16 years ago. And it’s because of the wilderness that we are still here, and my business is still thriving.

The Pecos Wilderness and surrounding areas in the Santa Fe National Forest have something for everyone. With over 150 miles of streams, incredible waterfalls, steep canyons, and abundant wildlife, people come from near and far to hike, camp, swim, hunt, and fish on its lands and in its waters. The area safeguards the headwaters of the Mora, Pecos, and Gallinas rivers, which communities depend upon for clean water. These waters, particularly the Pecos River, provide a key source of irrigation for acequias and farmers who depend on clean, flowing water for their livelihoods. The area is home to rainbow, brown, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout, in addition to deer, elk, bear, turkey, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

While people enjoy the Pecos Wilderness, some may not know that its clean water and wildlife habitat could potentially be in danger.

Currently, there are surrounding forest lands without roads (known as roadless areas) that are still in need of protection.

Incorporating the Roadless Areas into the Pecos Wilderness would protect 120,000 acres of lands and waters that five counties, including San Miguel, depend upon for clean air, fresh water, and outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities.

As a small business owner, I know first-hand what having the Pecos Wilderness and surrounding areas means for our economy. People choose to work and live here because of our beautiful, scenic backdrop. It is what brought my parents to San Miguel County 35 years ago, and it is what continues to bring people here today to live, work, and play.

A study at St. Thomas University in Minnesota found that employment in counties with wilderness grew 65 percent faster than places that are in non-wilderness counties.

With those businesses — which range from hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores to small shops, home stores, and outfitters — come the tourists and locals alike who spend time in the Pecos and elsewhere in the Santa Fe National Forest.

In New Mexico, outdoor recreation generates $6.1 billion in consumer spending and is responsible for 68,000 jobs across the state every year.

Additionally, in 2013 the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish found that sportsmen spend more than $613 million a year, contributing more than $51 million in state and local taxes annually. Additionally, a study by Southwick Associates found that New Mexico has more than 160,000 anglers who spend $268 million a year on fishing-related activities. And there are roughly 87,600 hunters who spend $345.5 million a year on hunting-related activities. All of these personal experiences and economic studies of public land conservation add up to a good investment.

Today, I am able to take my kids where I played and hunted in my youth. Back in 1980, we had a family reunion right where the Mora comes into the Pecos River. Today, I own a cabin in that area, and I that is where I take my kids to hike, hunt, and camp. My business is surrounded by the wild right near the village of Pecos. Customers can wait to have their car serviced, and people love to come to my place of business because of my good reputation and to see the beautiful surroundings.

As someone who has lived in San Miguel County for most of my life, I want to see the Pecos and surrounding areas protected for future generations. I hope to be able to play there with my children’s children.

Harold Garcia is the owner of Garcia Autoworks in San Miguel County. 

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