County of­fi­cials take stock of trail unit­ing 3 coun­tries

Dem­ing, Colum­bus reps see po­ten­tial tourism boost from bik­ers, hik­ers

Albuquerque Journal - - NEW MEXICO - BY ALGERNON D’AMMASSA

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.

RAN­DAL SEYLER/DEM­ING HEAD­LIGHT

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.

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