By Meredith Hughes
Especially in these pandemic-restricted times, many are grateful that Albuquerque has more park space per person than any city in the United States. A guy who grew up in Los Angeles was a major open space advocate for Albuquerque from the 1970s through the mid-90s. Since 2016 he has lived in Corrales.
Rex Funk arrived in Albuquerque in 1969 to teach science courses as well as photography at West Mesa High School, after studying at Cal State Long Beach. He had carefully observed how urban sprawl had overrun much of LA’s natural setting, and early in his teaching career decided he wanted to create a nature center.
A 10 chapter online book by Funk and archaeologist- anthropologist Matt Schmader recently posted on the new City of Albuquerque website relates in detail how environmentalists labored long to achieve open space for the state’s largest city. Early proponent of wilderness conservation, Aldo Leopold, who lived in northern New Mexico in the early 20th century, is quoted in the book several times. Here’s one example from 1917. “The average Albuquerquean man, woman or child, is in need of a place within walking distance of the city where each can enjoy a breath of fresh air and a sight of a few trees, a few birds, and a little water.”
Funk agreed. “He learned of a cattail marsh two miles north of the school in an old oxbow of the Rio Grande. It was fed by the outfall of the Corrales Drain, so it had a permanent water supply even when the tiver was dry. Funk visited it and found a high-quality 37-acre marsh teeming with wildlife. He heard of some people who were organizing to promote a nature preserve on the Rio Grande, and went to the first meeting at Saint Michaels and All Angels Church on Montano Road.”
A slew of local nature lovers gathered that day, named their group Bosque del Rio Grande Nature Preserve Society, soon shortened to the Bosque Society, and undertook years of public education projects.
Funk with others indeed did establish a nature center and preserve along the Rio Grande, and then served on several boards and task forces. He chaired the Open Space Task Force, and worked to save the Elena Gallegos lands and create the Open Space Trust Fund in 1982. That year he was hired as the City’s first Open Space planner and was instrumental in the establishment of Rio Grande Valley State Park in 1983. In 1984 he became the first superintendent of the Open Space Division of the City Parks and Recreation Department, and also was elected to the AMAFCA board on which he served for six years. He retired from the City in 1994.
Not that he retired in any real sense of the word. Moving to Oregon for awhile, he taught, worked with non profits, and then settled for a time in Arizona where he met his wife LuJet, a Methodist minister, and handled a range of projects until her retirement, when they moved to New Mexico.
And all along the way, Funk, the son of a machinist —“we appreciate precision”— tooled up, making both wood and metal salt and pepper shakers on a lathe as a 10-year-old, and learning how to repair old cars.
He bought a 1963 Sunbeam, a British car, while still in college, then ”returned to cars” about 1990. He has been involved with his current Brit car in the Rio Grande Valley Regional Rendezvous, an event sponsored by the British Automobile Owners Association.The latest one involved 20 cars, and four days of driving in New Mexico.
And most recently, after building a workshop on the property he and his wife bought in Corrales in 2016, Funk has immersed himself in fine woodworking. His small pieces recently were part of the online Fine Arts show mounted by Corrales Historical Society and Corrales Society of Artists. And he does custom commissioned work, too —shelves, fold down tables, made from his favorite “figured wood.” Burls, spalted wood, that decayed by fungus, and all varieties of maples and myrtle. Contact Funk at firstname.lastname@example.org. Explore the History of Albuquerque’s Major Public Open Space here: https://www.cabq.gov/parksandrecreation/documents/history-of-albq-major-public-open-space-final.pdf
The book begins like this:
“Albuquerque is blessed with an extraordinary physical setting. Viewed from above, the major landforms that make the city recognizable can be seen in their vastness and beauty: it is how you know you can only be in Albuquerque. It is these features that Open Space advocates realized early on-- from the 1950s at least—and which have been the subject of many conservation efforts. Success in the preservation movements laid the foundation for one of the country’s true open space gems; a proud legacy that is still growing and whose story we hope to unfold in the following chapters.”