Vegas Verdes: Birding, Fishing for Kids in the Gallinas River Park

Published on October 28, 2020 in the Las Vegas Optic.

The Gallinas River Park, thanks once again to the efforts of Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance (HPWA) and the Gallinas River Park Collaborative (GRPC), is to receive another grant for project funding. This time it is for an appealing and indeed stimulating youth program. The Park has been awarded one of the 25 inaugural grants from the brand new Outdoor Equity Fund. The fund was created as part of New Mexico Outdoor Recreation – a division of the Economic Development Department – and signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in April 2019.

The Fund’s goal is to increase state revenue while seeking at the same time, to insure that the state’s diverse populations are encouraged and emboldened to enjoy the many opportunities for outdoor recreation that New Mexico has to offer. In 2019, the state convened an Outdoor Economics Conference in part to promote and explain the fund. Word of the conference reached Las Vegas and HPWA sent a representative who returned greatly excited by the possibilities and proceeded forthwith to submit a grant application.

The grant proposal’s grand vision is generations of Las Vegans adoring their river – enjoying its gifts and looking after its future. The practicalities are more down to earth. The proposal will fund a program, beginning in the spring of 2021, to teach the art and craft of fly-fishing and bird watching to area young people. Two Las Vegas area individuals – each expert in his field – one a devotee of fly fishing, the other an enthusiastic birder, will instruct participants.

Fly fishing is much more than simply throwing a line with a man-made fly on the end of it somewhere in the vicinity of hungry fish. Those who engage in the pastime learn fly selection – which ones mimic the local trout diet – and also about the habitat that nurtures the fish and how to protect it. The birders learn which birds are likely to be spotted along the river and when; and what kinds of vegetation provide haven for the birds. Some, with the necessary ear, will learn to distinguish a bird by its song. Birders and fly-fisherman alike must learn patience, concentration and close observation. Both pursuits are challenging and will inspire appreciation for the river and a desire to protect it. The proposal also provides for the purchase of enough equipment to insure that everyone who wants to participate will be properly kitted out.

This aspect of the grant allows HPWA to create a gear library – a permanent stockpile of fly fishing and birding gear that will be available for use by the Las Vegas community for years to come. The gear will include rods and reels, fly lines and flies, and other fly-fishing needs and for the birders, bird identification apps and books as well as binoculars. The proposal specifies two goals: to entertain and to inspire commitment to maintaining the health of the river. The grant makers loved it – and that means future grant applications for the Gallinas River Park will be certain to receive consideration.

The Gallinas River together with its Bosque is ideal for bird watching. Likewise, now that ponds and riffles that disappeared decades ago have been restored, it has become a fly-fisherman’s destination. These are demanding yet absorbing pastimes and can be indulged right in our backyard. The trick is to excite the curiosity of our young people and to assure them the wonders and entertainments of the river are theirs to enjoy – the next step is to convince them that the future health and prosperity of the river is in their hands.

The COVID-19 pandemic was not anticipated by the Outdoor Equity Fund when it was established. Nevertheless, the opportunities made available by the grant fit perfectly with the needs of our present situation. What better way to maintain distance from each other than doing something that requires us to keep our distance from each other? You wouldn’t want to accidentally snag your friend’s ear on an errant fish hook, so keep enough space to cast that fly safely. And if you’ve spotted a strange bird and are waiting for it to show itself – quiet is essential. It’s much easier for a single individual to be quiet than for a group, gathered close on the river bank.

Not every village, town or city has a river flowing through it. Las Vegas does and we are lucky. We are lucky also, because a growing group of residents recognizes the need to protect the river. They understand that one sure way to do that is by engaging the young people. The search for ways to interest children and young people in their river and to involve them in ongoing care for and stewardship of the river is never ending. The grant money will do much to further this effort. If you or someone you know is interested in participating, information is available from Elizabeth Juarros at ejuarros@hermitspeakwatersheds.org.

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