County officials take stock of trail uniting 3 countries
Deming, Columbus reps see potential tourism boost from bikers, hikers
DEMING — Out in the Bootheel near the border fence east of the Big Hatchet Mountains of Hidalgo County, a simple headstone marks the official southern terminus of a trail reaching from the Mexican border to Canada with the statement: “The trail unites us.”
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail extends across 3,100 miles and five states: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Parts of the trail are incomplete, requiring through-hikers to bushwhack or hike alongside roads, but the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, founded in 2013, organizes efforts nationwide to complete the trail, promoting it as a conservation project and “a unifying force bringing people of all walks of life together,” as stated on its official website.
It is also an economic development project, drawing hikers from around the world to local communities. With its southern terminus near Columbus, the village and Luna County are weighing strategies to promote the trail and improve the services and hospitality available to visiting hikers and bicyclists.
“The real terminus is by Antelope Wells, but (Columbus) is an alternate, so we get hikers and bikers through our community,” said Columbus Mayor Philip Skinner, who is also the proprietor of the Los Milagros Hotel located in the center of the village. “As a hotel operator, I get them as guests.”
A preliminary meeting in August at the Luna County Courthouse brought together representatives of Luna County, Columbus and Deming; local businesses; one experienced hiker and backpacker; the Deming Luna County Chamber of Commerce; and a Department of Health representative from Grant County. The meeting was convened by Matt Robinson, who led the meeting on behalf of the Luna County’s “Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities” project.
Robinson said he hoped to assess local interest in being certified by the Coalition as a “Gateway Community,” following the example of Silver City, establishing a working relationship that includes conservation planning and promotion of tourism and outdoor recreation for communities. Benefits of the certification would include access to grants and technical assistance.
“The way I see it, either way, if we are certified or not, we have a wonderful asset that we could promote,” Robinson said. “I see it as an opportunity for more physical activity for local people to promote it, make it easier to find where it is, get out there and use it — but also maybe an economic opportunity for us to get more visitors out here, to get more travelers, tourists, whatever it may be.”
Luna County Manager Ira Pearson noted that, in April, Silver City will host its third annual Trail Days kickoff celebration, an event that has drawn a growing number of visitors to Grant County each year. Silver City was the first to be certified as a Gateway Community.
“I could see us doing something in Columbus,” Pearson said. “Here is an event every year that we gear up towards.”
The southern end of the Continental Divide Trail is remote, with two of its three recognized termini out in the Bootheel. The third, Columbus, offers hospitality, services and supplies. Columbus is also the northern terminus for the Cabalgata Binacional Villista, a 250-mile trail ride from the town of Bachíniva in Mexico, tracing the historic route of Pancho Villa’s 1916 invasion of the United States at Columbus.
A sign at the Silver City Visitors Center declares the town a Continental Divide Trail Community. Silver City was the first “Gateway Community” certified by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.