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NRCS, partners transform eyesore into lively green space


Nearly 1,000 students, teachers and volunteers participated in the 2014 Earth Day event at the outdoor classroom in Tucumcari, N.M.
Donny Price, with the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum in Tucumcari, holds a model of a dinosaur at the 2014 Earth Day event in Tucumcari, N.M. 

By Rey Adame

Once considered a liability in Quay County, N.M., a group of partners has transformed an eyesore into a vibrant outdoor classroom.

“The Tucumcari Outdoor Classroom site was a wasteland 15 years ago,” said Bob Bruce, retired area conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services and former El Llano Estacado Resource Conservation and Development Council coordinator.

Originally, the goal in 1998 was to transform an 8.5-acre space near a new elementary school in Tucumcari, N.M. The site was in desperate need of vegetation. But in the process, the site was changed into a great educational and recreational space.

The El Llano Resource Conservation and Development Council, a local conservation group, met with their local office of NRCS for ideas and help in getting the project off the ground.

The NRCS met with planning members and conducted a natural resource inventory at the site. The council applied and was approved for financial assistance from a NRCS conservation program. 

The assistance helped build a pond and plant trees. Other partners funded a bridge, 3,200-foot path and two amphitheater-like learning centers. Future improvements are planned as funding, sponsorship and resources are available.

The pond is the central focus of the outdoor classroom as students can see first-hand the various aquatic flora and fauna. 

As the landscape project progressed, new partners joined in the effort to make this a multi-purpose, long-term asset to Quay County. A few years into the project someone came up with the idea of using the site to observe the national Earth Day celebration.

Hundreds of students, teachers and volunteers from Quay and surrounding counties take part in this annual event that gives students a first-hand look in the world of natural science. This is the 12th year the Earth Day event was held at the Tucumcari Outdoor Classroom. 

“The annual Earth Day event is such a huge outreach event and our goal is to reach as many children as possible with conservation education,” said NRCS Soil Conservation Relissa Nials, who also worked on the project.

Other partners include the Canadian River Soil and Water Conservation District, Altrusa International of Tucumcari, Mesalands Community College, Arch Hurley Conservancy District, Tucumcari city government, Tucumcari Tree Board, Quay County government, Tucumcari Agricultural Science Center, NRCS Los Lunas Plant Materials Center and the teacher steering committee at Tucumcari Elementary School. Plus, many businesses and organizations contributed funds and support for the project.

Both Bruce and Nials are proud of the work NRCS and other partners accomplished.

“The Tucumcari Outdoor Classroom has been a collaborative effort of volunteers and multiple agencies in the Tucumcari area,” Nials said. “The USDA service center in Tucumcari is proud to have been involved from the development stages of the outdoor classroom.”