Drought a factor in tourism; director hopes monsoon season delivers
Perhaps nothing would boost tourism in New Mexico like a series of rainy days.
Visitors at state parks over Memorial weekend declined 40.6 percent from last year, to just under 315,000. Tommy Mutz, director of New Mexico’s 35 state parks, said unrelenting drought played a part in the drop-off.
With fewer visitors, revenue at state parks fell by 41.3 percent, to a weekend total of about $157,000, Mutz said.
Signs of the drought are easy to spot, even without examining the bottom line.
Conchas Lake is at its lowest level since 1940, when readings began. Conchas, in San Miguel County, is one of four state lakes that are closed to motorized boating. Clayton, Morphy and Storrie are the others.
Paddle crafts are still allowed, one sign that the hot, dry weather has not dampened every opportunity for outdoor recreation.
“It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s still a lot to do,” Mutz said one recent day as he assessed the drought’s effects.
Twelve state lakes are open for motorized boating. That is an improvement of one since 2012.
“The monsoons didn’t kick in last year,” Mutz said.
Strange as it may sound to tourists, he is rooting for rainy days.
“I hope the monsoons deliver a little something this year. But after three or four years of good drought, we’re not going to see things change in a hurry,” Mutz said.
One of his pitches is that water is not the centerpiece of every state park.
At Rockhound State Park near Deming, an unusual policy allows visitors and collectors to take rocks home with them.
After a spirited debate over whether it was wise to allow a park’s assets to depart with the tourists, the state kept tradition in place. It established rules to prohibit quarry operators or gravel companies from cleaning out the assets.
Another southern New Mexico park has never been tamed by political correctness.
Pancho Villa State Park is named for the Mexican revolutionary whose soldiers invaded the New Mexico town of Columbus in 1916. A detailed lesson in Southwestern American history is the main attraction at this park on the border.
Volcanic rock formations that cause spines to tingle are at City of Rocks State Park between Deming and Silver City. Another of its features is an astronomical observatory.
Clayton Lake State Park also can lean on history during a stretch when water levels are in decline. Dinosaur tracks mark its prehistoric site.
Mutz said he will make sales pitches for all his parks until the weather cools and the rains help restore lakes to more normal levels.
State parks are structured to be partially self-supporting. They are supposed to make 69 percent of their own operating revenues through visitor spending.
With the drought and poor economy, Mutz said, 70 of 287 state park jobs are vacant. But he added temporary staff for the tourist season, figuring visitors will find their way to outdoor attractions even on sweltering, cloudless days.
“We’ve gone through this before, and we’ll make it this time too. It too shall pass,” he said.