Navas steps down as state Outdoor Recreation Division director

Dec. 5—The first director of the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division, a woman lauded for successfully launching and building up the new agency in an effort to bolster a key industry in the state, is stepping down at the year's end.

The New Mexico Economic Development Department on Monday announced Axie Navas' planned departure and said Deputy Director Alyssa Renwick will lead the division until a new director is named.

Navas stepped into the position in September 2019.

"Axie has led this charge with innovative and groundbreaking work, garnering many accomplishments for New Mexico along the way," Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said in a news release.

Navas is a first-time parent and plans to balance the next phase of her career with the responsibilities of motherhood, Keyes added.

Navas did not respond to a call for comment.

She joined the newly established Outdoor Recreation Division after five years at Santa Fe-based Outside magazine, where she finished as digital editorial director after prior stints as Outside's executive editor, senior editor of the Buyers Guides, associate managing online editor and assistant online editor.

In the news release, she noted the division has "launched the first-of-its-kind Outdoor Equity Fund, developed robust outdoor infrastructure funding for communities throughout the state, and grown outdoor industry career opportunities by a magnitude of almost 20. I'm confident that this is just the beginning."

The Outdoor Equity Fund has distributed $2 million in state and private funding to 128 organizations to create outdoor experiences for nearly 40,000 low-income youth and has awarded more than $5 million to 66 outdoor infrastructure projects.

"It's obvious she's just done such a stellar job," state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Las Cruces Democrat, said in an interview.

He sponsored the legislation that created the Outdoor Recreation Division, and his day job is executive director of Outdoor New Mexico, a nonprofit that promotes the protection and appropriate recreation use of outdoor natural areas.

"We hit a home run with Axie," Steinborn said. "She punched way above her weight. For a while, she was a one-woman shop."

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis ranked New Mexico fifth among states in 2021 for outdoor recreation employment growth at 18.2 percent, trailing only Hawaii, Rhode Island, Alaska and Wyoming — states all considerably smaller than New Mexico in population.

Navas also secured a nearly $2 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration to help the state's outdoor recreation industry recover from the pandemic.

"We are investing in and growing our outdoor economy," Steinborn said. "We have put millions of dollars of investment in place, such as creating trails."