WORTH THE READ: JOYCE WOODS GUEST EDITORIAL

Our many RAF supporters have such vast and varied experience, and we’re capturing some of their words of wisdom to share with you. This month’s guest editorial is by Joyce Woods, an RAF friend and volunteer who also facilitates the NM Airstrip Network.

“Value is Created with Partners” was my new manufacturing boss’s mantra in the 90’s.  Inspired to reform our leadership culture, he demanded teamwork from his department heads vs. the typical management style of the time, driven by egos. Previously, I was coached that the way to get things done was to pound your fist on the table. It never seemed right to me.

When I first heard rumblings of forming a backcountry group in New Mexico, there was great interest in a closed state-owned airstrip adjacent to a state park. Meetings were arranged to pursue reopening the field that had been X’d out on the charts for many years. Meeting resistance, the bulldog approach was invoked by eager but well-meaning pilots, triggering a Mayor Daley style response by the agency. The field was slashed and removed from the charts. We still dream about access to this and another airfield on land this agency since purchased. If we only knew then, the lessons RAF has taught us.

Enthusiastic members of the New Mexico Pilots Association (NMPA) formed a Backcountry Committee in 2009 which immediately benefitted from RAF resources and leadership counsel. The NM Recreational Use Statute was amended.  We used the Land Managers Guide and gained support for volunteer efforts at public and private airfields.

New Mexico success with USFS airstrips is the result of partnerships established at multiple levels. Relationships developed by John McKenna and Mark Spencer (AZ Liaison) with top Region 3 leadership enabled initial green lights. At the forest level, the friendship developed by Larry Filener and Ron Keller (past and current NM Liaisons) with now retired John Pierson, previously Reserve District Ranger in the Gila National Forest.  John, who joined Negrito Airstrip work parties sleeping under the stars with only a bedroll, immediately recognized the value of our team. He bragged on hardworking, resourceful pilots with easy access to remote areas, establishing a sustained partnership.

In 2016, the New Mexico Airstrip Network was formalized with an MOU signing and roundtable sharing of each leader’s perspective of mutual benefits. Our 13-member partnership endures despite numerous leadership personnel changes. Besides RAF and NMPA, network partners are BLM, USFS, state agencies (Aviation, Economic Development, Tourism, and State Land Office), AOPA, EAA, USPA, NM Airport Managers, and the NM Council of Outfitters and Guides.

Volunteers at annual NMPA/RAF work parties rehabilitated and reopened two USFS abandoned airfields, rebuilt fences and nearby campgrounds, and helped fund and install camping amenities near airstrips including two vault toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, and a shade structure. These and Ron Keller’s leadership for continued NMPA/RAF airfield maintenance support have not gone unnoticed. A recent USFS news release highlighted the value of this partnership.

Working together with the BLM resulted in getting Cuba Landing Strip (NM2) back on the charts. Three new private airfields were charted and another rehabilitated. Working with NM Aviation and Tourism is bringing visibility to the economic value of recreational aviation through fly-ins to rural airports, often paired with a nearby backcountry weekend event.  A refueling stop with free lunch for pilots; what’s not to like?

Cultivating personal relationships and partnering for mutual benefit is key. We value each airstrip access permission and work party support obtained, and never take a partner relationship for granted. Per John McKenna’s sage advice, we strive to “be polite but persistent”.  Demonstrating patience and our commitment to preserve public lands and wildlife, perhaps someday we’ll add new partners and earn access to those currently off-limits airfields.  Meanwhile, we enjoy flying the Gila region, a Southwestern New Mexico gem, especially this June as we celebrate 100 years of the Gila Wilderness, the first in the nation.     

Joyce Woods was introduced to flying by her husband Art. Flying since 1993, she is multi-engine and instrument rated and owns a Cessna Hawk XP.  A retired engineer, she actively volunteers with NMPA, RAF, EAA, and facilitates the NM Airstrip Network.

Submitted May 16, 2024.

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