HECHO Board Member Al Martinez is supervisor for the Whitney Recreation & Senior Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a native of Texas (a “Tejano”), has been married to his wife, Lisa, for 21 years, and has 13 grandchildren. He has a rich background in working with youth and healthcare, and currently spends lots of time opening people’s eyes to the wonders of local hiking and mountain biking.
HECHO: When did you first become an outdoor enthusiast?
Al Martinez: I grew up in a family that would camp, fish, hunt, and hike, and I thought they were the coolest things we did. We’d camp around San Antonio, Texas and my dad also took us camping in Colorado – we spent a lot of time skiing and fishing there. I remember my dad teaching us how to BBQ fish and how he’d buy watermelons and stick them in sacks in the cold lakes to keep them cool.
I went hunting with my grandfather and my uncles, too. The best part was when I’d shoot something and actually hit it. The noise of the gun scared me when I was little, but I got used to it. We hunted deer and even rattlesnakes for food. Sweetwater, Texas is the capital for rattlesnakes, so I learned a lot about them hunting out there.
When I was a little kid I also used to work in the fields in Texas and Colorado and we pulled cotton and picked weeds. Even though I hated that kind of work, I liked being outdoors and being able to make a living by working outdoors.
Now, as an adult here in Las Vegas, Nevada, I love the outdoors more than ever. It’s really nice to get away from the strip and all of the hotels. I mostly hike and mountain bike. I was recently on a new trail off Mt. Charleston at 6,000 feet elevation – you can look down and see miles and miles of trees cutting into the desert landscape. Out there, I see things you only see in magazines – I’ve seen up to 300 horses at a time. For me, being outdoors does a lot for the mind and the soul and the spirit. It rejuvenates me and there’s nothing like it.
HECHO: Why did you get involved with HECHO?
Al Martinez: First and foremost, the organization is a perfect fit for me because I love outdoor recreation. Secondly, I saw that conservation wasn’t an issue that often came up when you talk about Hispanics and Latinos. When I go out hiking or camping, I see a lot of Latinos. They’re active users of public lands, but not active stakeholders in the process of protecting and managing them. It became really important for me to be a voice for it. Eighty-five percent of land in Nevada is public land. Still, many private interests like ranchers and oil and gas companies want to lease parts of it. If the government starts giving it away, then the public doesn’t have as much access and the lands and waters can be irreversibly damaged. That’s a big concern of mine.
Also, while some Hispanics and Latinos are public land “power users,” others are unaware it even exists. I’ve taken friends out there for the first time and they were shocked at what we had in terms of public lands and places to explore for very little money. But if I didn’t reach out to them, these adults might have never known. And if they don’t know, their children won’t either. We need to reconnect people to the land so they understand the importance of protecting it and getting involved in the process. The good thing is that the passion is naturally there in Latinos. Once they get out there, they get it.
HECHO: Why is it important for Latino youth to experience the outdoors?
Al Martinez: Getting outdoors is a way of connecting with our culture and history – life before concrete jungles. Our kids deserve and need these experiences. I took a dozen Latino kids mountain biking a couple of years ago and they were so fascinated by the trails. They’d never seen anything like it and were only used to riding on paved streets. They didn’t even realize how close we were to the mountains or that there’s more to life than video games. A lot of those kids had never been outside the city and they appreciated being away from it.
This is about preserving our culture and inspiring a sense of responsibility to care for the land. It’s also so much more. It’s important to disconnect from everything and get outside. The outdoors saves my sanity. I want young kids to understand that when you go through crazy stuff or you’re stressed from everyday life, all you have to do is go outside and reconnect with nature.
HECHO: What are your goals in working with HECHO?
Al Martinez: I’m looking at different policies and legislative leaders and my goal is to bring other leaders into the movement -- especially young ones. I’m always looking for young leaders. I’m going to retire in about five more years, so I need them to take the lead. It’s really important to foster the next generation of leaders.
Right now I’m trying to get some of the Latino recreation professionals to come together to learn what the issues are and the challenges and opportunities. A big goal with HECHO is informing the public and Latino leaders about conservation efforts to get them more involved.
Beyond preserving our culture and protecting our public lands, it’s also about building our community. I’m in the recreation business and I often tell people that recreation is a vehicle to both get people outside and also connect with other people in the community. I have people from Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba in my rec center – they come and they connect. They didn’t know there were people here from other countries. It provides an opportunity to connect with people from around the world – building our community and hopefully, eventually, the conservation movement as a whole.