When Ernie Atencio stepped down as executive director of the Taos Land Trust this spring, rumors began to circulate that he had retired, but this is decidedly not the case.

Even when he does retire one day, he doesn’t expect to stop working. “There’s always lots to do and things to write about, projects to be involved in,” he says.

Atencio says he left the Land Trust because he was interested in working with a wider variety of organizations and issues. Before his nine years at the Land Trust, Atencio had a business called Land & Culture Consulting.

“I kept it alive for most of the years I was at the Land Trust,” says Atencio, adding that he’s been focusing on building this business since July.

Atencio now offers services drawing from his vast background and expertise in the areas of environmental and ethnographic research and writing, land conservation planning, and development.

“I’ve got such an eclectic background and bunch of skills that it’s just a variety of stuff that I can do,” he says, “everything from policies to board development to strategic planning to communications and outreach. I’m available for small or large projects with consulting work for local nonprofits, doing all kinds of organizational development and communications work.”

Atencio’s “electic background” includes elements as diverse as an M.A. in applied anthropology and extensive experience leading outdoor trips, including as a national park ranger. He loves taking people to cultural sites like Chaco Canyon, remote rock art sites on the Colorado Plateau, and the Grand Canyon.

“I am not currently set up as a bonded or insured guide,” he says, “but that’s something else that might be part of my work as this new business unfolds.”

So far, Atencio has had no problem finding enough to occupy him. He’s currently working on a major project called Levers for Innovation, through Center for Whole Communities, an innovative land-based leadership development organization.

In collaboration with the Land Trust Alliance, the national umbrella organization for the country’s 1700 land trusts, Atencio is working with research partner Peter Forbes. “They want us to conduct a series of listening sessions to help chart the course for them to practice more what we call community conservation,” Atencio explains, “which has to do with just being more responsive and relevant to local communities, embracing diversity, just kind of being resilient to dealing with demographic changes that are going on.”

The six-month project includes conference trips to Salt Lake City, North Carolina, and Los Angeles this fall. “So it’s a very exciting, very time-consuming project,” says Atencio.

Atencio has smaller projects in the works as well, including doing preliminary outreach on some Center of Southwest Culture programs. He also has a contract with the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, for which he will produce a short report on community and economic benefits of trails to encourage public investment in local trails.

“So I’m looking at little studies that have been done elsewhere, a lot of little case studies,” he says, “because nobody’s really done that research here in New Mexico.”

In addition, Atencio is working with the Aldo Leopold Foundation to help organize a presentation in Taos. “[Leopold] lived here in Tres Piedras early in his career,” Atencio explains. “His wife, Estella Luna, was a local from Northern New Mexico.”

Nope. Definitely not retired.

Atencio is also an accomplished writer, and hopes eventually to find time for personal writing projects, including a memoir about his brother, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 19; and a book about Aldo Leopold’s life in New Mexico.

“I’ve been imagining writing some great book for 15, 20 years,” says Atencio with a smile.

So when does Atencio sleep? “It’s kind of a crazy thing stepping off that cliff into the freelance world,” Atencio laughs. “It’s always more time-consuming than I expect. But in reality, I’m probably not working any more hours than when I was working at the Land Trust. It’s just more of a variety and I get to do it on my own terms.”

Susan Carpenter Sims writes exclusively to create awareness of the critical role entrepreneurship plays in our community.

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