Population, 2015: 7,152
Area: 17.77 square miles
Location: 32 miles south of Albuquerque
The City of Belen is set in the Rio Grande Valley nestled beside the Manzano Mountains. The picturesque town center has been a draw for movie production, including recent films of note - "Sun Belt Express" (2015) and "Transcendence" (2014).
Belen is a major transportation hub for crew changes and equipment maintenance for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, which refers to Belen as "our biggest gas station on our biggest superhighway." The town is a pass-through for more than 120-trains a day. Just southeast of Belen in the Rio Grande Industrial Park is Public Service Company of New Mexico's 140-megawatt, $100 million electric power plant.
Belen is also a trade center for the area; about one-third of jobs are in retail. Government accounts for about 20-percent of all jobs, mostly with Belen Public Schools. Agriculture remains key to the area, but acreage is declining in the face of urban development. Greater Belen also includes the unincorporated Rio Communities, which has a population of just over 5,000 and was developed in the early 1960's by Horizon Corporation.
Major Private Employers: Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, Clariant, Cemco, and Aristech (a maker of countertops).
In 1741, the Spanish governor in New Mexico granted land to 34 settlers. The tract, called Nuestra Señora de Belen, or Our Lady of Belen, extended from the Manzano Mountains in the east to the Rio Puerco in the west. ("Belen" is Spanish for "Bethlehem.") In time, the settlement became known simply as Belen. After New Mexico became a territory of the United States in 1846, other immigrants arrived. In 1880 the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad built track through Valencia County from Albuquerque. In 1907 the Belen cut-off was completed, from Belen across the eastern New Mexico plains to Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas as an alternative to the route over 7,600-foot Raton Pass in northern New Mexico. The cut-off pared 10-hours off the time from Chicago and made Belen a railroad center, which is how Belen gained its nickname, "The Hub City."
Mayor, elected every three years
Four city councilors, elected for four-year staggered terms
Water: City of Belen and New Mexico Water Service Co. in Rio Communities
Source: Ground water
Sewer: City of Belen
Solid Waste: City of Belen
Electric: Public Service Company of New Mexico
Natural Gas: New Mexico Gas Company
Interstate highways: I-25 (north-south)
Air: Belen Alexander Municipal Airport, general aviation
Rail, Commuter: New Mexico Rail Runner Express, Belen to Santa Fe
Freight: Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad
Transit: Rio Metro fixed route and dial-a-ride service on week days
K-12: Belen School District
Higher education: University of New Mexico, Valencia campus
Recreation: The Manzano Mountains, with elevations from 6,000 to 10,098 feet, and the Manzano Mountain Wilderness stretches across 36,970 acres near Belen. Both offer picnic grounds and trails.
Golf: Tierra del Sol Country Club has an 18-hole, semi-private golf course in Rio Communities.
Museums: The Harvey House, once a railroad dining room, is a history museum. In Jarales, south of Belen, the P & M Farm Museum preserves hundreds of old farm implements. Tomé Parish Museum, seven-miles north of Belen, is a religious history exhibit.
National monuments: (See Salinas National Monument, Estancia Valley section.)
Wildlife refuges: The Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex, and the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, south of Belen, are favorites for bird and wildlife watching.