In 1906, Lillian Whiting wrote a book on New Mexico titled, “Land of Enchantment.” The nickname for the state stuck. Over 40 years later, the Tourist Bureau filed for the exclusive right to use the phrase. Finally, it was adopted as the official moniker in 1999.
“It’s called the Land of Enchantment for a reason,” said James Todd, the director of Recreational Services at the University of New Mexico (UNM), about the state. “It’s really spectacular. You have mountains and deserts and dunes and rivers and lakes. It’s just an outdoor mecca.”
And in the middle of that mecca sits UNM, as diverse as the state in which it resides.
With a total enrollment of nearly 23,000 students, as of April 2023 UNM is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965 Section 502(a)(5). Plus, UNM’s main campus is one of 16 R1 institutions — an institution with very high research activity — that is also an HSI. In addition, Todd shared as an urban campus, UNM leans toward a commuter school — there are less than 5,000 students living on campus — and has a higher median age. “So, that definitely is challenging to program for these populations,” he said.
As such, UNM has to get creative with its programming. Take for example the large commuter population. Todd shared while they can’t address any of the parking woes, what they can do is make Recreational Services, and campus as a whole, a destination.
EXTRA CREDIT: The University of Louisville also had to work to become a destination in a commuter environment.
To do this, they package programs and services together, incentivizing students to come back to their facilities versus getting a local gym membership. Todd said they ensure it’s a welcoming experience for all as well. “We try to make ourselves a destination you want to come back to,” he explained.
Part of that destination mindset has required change, specifically through expansions and renovations. Opening in 1957, the Johnson Center was originally a venue for the university basketball team. From there it’s gone through half a dozen projects, with the latest completed in 2021.
Todd explained over the years the once rectangle building became a maze of additions — a pool, offices, etc. — and hallways. “The latest renovation went through to try to address some of those issues,” he said. “As much as possible, we opened up the building so it wasn’t just a network of hallways to get to places. We also added about 60,000 square feet of new user space.”
Known as Lobo Fit, the new fitness suite consists of namely weight training and cardio equipment from Precor, Matrix, Life Fitness, Octane and Technogym. Plus, a new jogging track was added above the existing practice gym.
In addition to the new space, part of the project that was conducted by Hasting+Chivetta and FBT Architects involved what Todd called right-sizing facilities. He explained they had a dance studio that could hold a class of 100 students. “Never in our history have we had 100 people,” he shared. “So, we were able to right-size those facilities to more manageable spaces — instead of having one space and few people using it, we have two or three spaces.”
EXTRA CREDIT: Cost-effective renovations around the country.
What happens in those spaces has been impactful to becoming a destination. Clement Eiden, the Recreational Services operations specialist, said they offer 24 fitness classes — yoga, Pilates, circuit training, SOULfusion and more — a week along with personal training, swimming lessons, etc.
Having so many offerings is essential in the varied communities UNM serves, which was Eiden’s top advice. “Always be as diverse as possible since we serve a wide-variety of population — students, faculty and staff, and community members — of all ages, personality types and disabilities,” he said.
The renovation also had a focus on increasing accessibility. Todd shared while they’ve always been ADA compliant, they wanted to go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Working with the Accessibility Recourse Center and ADA Compliance Office on campus, both partners viewed the architect’s plans and helped in equipment selections. “We wanted to welcome those populations into the building,” he said.
And welcomed they are. Because of the renovation, Johnson Center has fitness equipment based on adaptability for disabled users. Tactile strips were inset in the indoor track to assist individuals who are visually impaired and use a cane to navigate. Plus, they offer adaptive fitness classes, specializing in aquatics fitness. “We work closely with our Accessible Resource Center and ADA Compliance Office to ensure we are offering programs and services that are inclusive and our facilities go beyond what is minimally necessary by code,” said Todd.
Another big area the 2021 project focused on was the outdoor activities suite. The Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) has several program areas. The top two are the Lobo Bike Shop and Getaway Adventures.
EXTRA CREDIT: Outdoor adventure offerings tailored to beginners.
Starting in 1987, the Lobo Bike Shop is a full-service shop for the entire UNM community. Charles Gwinn, the head of the Outdoor and Bicycle Shop, Getaway Adventures, Challenge Course and Leadership Development, said they see thousands of bikes through the shop every year.
Plus, the bike shop offers educational classes and workshops for all levels, from basic bike maintenance to expert mechanics, and students can also rent bikes for the semester. UNM 5K Commuter Club is for students, faculty or staff who commit to commute to UNM a total of 5,174 miles at 5,174 feet — UNM’s elevation. For a small registration fee, there are a plethora of benefits like a free basic bike tune-up, a T-shirt, etc.
Getaway Adventures is the second top program of OAC. Nearing 40 years old, it provides quality outdoor adventure and culture trips for UNM students, staff, faculty and community members.
“New Mexico is an amazing place where you can do nearly any outdoor activity,” said Gwinn. “Because of our high mountains, great expanses and rich cultural history, we’re able to offer exciting, year-round adventures. New Mexico is an outdoor paradise, and I encourage all to visit.”
Trips have included national parks, monuments, hot air balloon flights and a scuba trip to Roatan Island in Honduras. But, Getaway Adventures has also conducted visits to destinations closer to home. These include the immersive art exhibit Meow Wolf in Santa Fe and the Ojo Santa Fe Resort and Spa, which has a variety of wellness options, trails to hike and even a Puppy Patch — one can play with puppies brought in from the local shelter, Española Humane. The list also includes participation in iconic, local events like the Madrid Holiday Parade and Pueblo Feast Days.
EXTRA CREDIT: How a bike shop can benefit your rec center.
However, Gwinn noted OAC’s thriving has happened with help. “Cross campus/community collaborations and word of mouth drive the success of our programs,” he said. “The OAC jumps on nearly every opportunity to participate in campus and departmental fairs, themed weeks, staff trainings, and employee orientations.”
Specifically, OAC’s connection with New Student Orientation leaders has been huge. “We provide them with team building programs and often tours of our facility that give us a platform to speak to the student leaders about everything we offer at the OAC,” said Gwinn. “We do the same for RAs.”
That participation across campus is a theme for the whole of Recreational Services. “I have learned to take advantage of every opportunity to put our department and programs on display,” said Todd. “Always help other units on campus with their events, while self-promoting our department.”
As a landlocked university, the largest remaining open space is the recreational fields. As such, to not only make UNM’s rec facilities a destination but ensure it stays that way, Todd said they’re doing their part to help the rest of the university understand the importance of the department. “We constantly work to place value on the fields by bringing on student government, Residence Life, College of Education classes, our Student Activities Office and others as our allies and often our advocates,” he said.
With that in mind, Todd and the UNM team are looking toward the future. Whether it be a renovation to their aquatics facility, or innovating their programs and services, they want to welcome in the campus community in all they offer.
It seems Recreational Services has indeed created a destination out of UNM, something that’s quite a feat in the Land of Enchantment.