Imperiled by an abandoned mine, a small town rallied to build a renewable, natural economy

Trout Unlimited's new film "Querenica" tells the story of Questa, New Mexico's trout-fueled reinvention
Questa, New Mexico trout stream
Image credit: Querenica

Trout Unlimited’s new film, “Querencia,” explores the resiliency the small town of Questa, New Mexico, which is situated below spectacular mountains and above the undeniable beauty of the nearby Rio Grande Gorge. When tragedy struck at the fabric of the small village—first through collapse of the town church and later through the closing of a nearby mine, Questa’s main economic driver—its citizens rallied together to rebuild and maintain its existence. With many locals out of work, the church was resurrected, but building up the economy was not as straightforward.

Thanks to the vision of many community members, Questa is building a new economic future based on its renewable natural resources and its culture. Guiding operations for both hunting and fishing have sprung up, coffee shops opened as places to gather and connect and vacation rentals welcome tourists looking to explore this picturesque area.

After the mine closed, Questa created the Questa Economic Development Fund (QEDF), built atop $7 million in funding from mining and energy giant Chevron, which shuttered its nearby mining operation after molybdenum prices fell below economically viable levels, laying off hundreds of workers in the process.

QEDF quickly identified how to invest a portion of those funds to spur economic growth. Hunting and fishing opportunities abound in the natural playground that surrounds Questa, and community members like Chris Michael and George and Lori Rael have capitalized on that economic opportunity. Chris guides spin and fly anglers alike in the Rio Grande Gorge and nearby streams and lakes, while George takes hunting guests high up in the mountains surrounding town to hunt elk and mule deer.

Questa, New Mexico
Image credit: Querenica

Trout Unlimited has helped spur these businesses to succeed and works with the community to educate about the importance of using the natural landscape, and especially, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout to prosper. It works closely with the nearby Taos Pueblo to maintain pristine streams that hold these special fish, and with the town of Questa it helps with a cutthroat stocking event each spring to involve community members in seeing their state-fish thrive. Adults, children and even village elders come out each spring to enjoy this event and see their native fish firsthand.

Questa, New Mexico trout stream
Questa, New Mexico trout stream
Images credit: Querenica

Questenos recollect catching the Rio Grande cutthroat trout as kids. Appreciating cutthroats’ importance to their culture—as well as their possible contribution to a tourist economy—Questa's leaders are exploring ways to build opportunities around restoring their native fish and marketing it as a living artifact of village history. Knowing the importance of this fish, TU stepped in to help.

Much of Trout Unlimited’s work in the area is based around restoration of New Mexico’s state fish, the beautiful Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Restoration has taken many forms in recent years: raising water tables to sustain cooler water temperatures needed for these fish and for climate resiliency; reducing non-native trout populations; habitat restoration work; and reintroducing the small communities like Questa around the Enchanted Circle area to these fish and the cultural significance of the resource they have.

“Querencia” means love of place, and that certainly rings true in Questa. Locals rally around their fish each year and will continue to drum up creative, economically viable ways to infuse the town with tourists searching for them. Hunters come in search of some of New Mexico’s greatest treasures, which exist right out Questa’s back door. Natural resources are sure to drive this small town to rebuild, grow and succeed, and Questa wants nothing more than to show off what Mother Nature gave it.


Another Trout Unlimited success story. Thanks TU! And some people still think it's just about the fish.