A piece of the puzzle

The Palisade Community Center was buzzing with anticipation Thursday evening as the Bureau of Land Management hosted a forum for public comment on the Palisade Plunge — a proposed 30-mile singletrack mountain bike trail that descends 6,000 feet from the top of Grand Mesa to Palisade.

At this point, most of the excitement stems from the trail itself. Local mountain bikers are giddy about the prospect of a having a trail with a vertical drop on par with Moab’s The Whole Enchilada right here in the Grand Valley. But even non-riders should view the trail as an exciting development for its economic development potential.

As the Sentinel’s Amy Hamilton reported Friday, a completed trail is expected to infuse nearly $2 million annually into Palisade’s economy and $5 million a year into the Grand Valley.

Communities that can successfully tap into the business of outdoor recreation have a good reason for doing so. Towns and cities that invest in their outdoor assets attract employers and employees who value the work-life balance that outdoor access provides.

But Grand Junction’s recent pivot to fully embrace outdoor recreation as an economic driver is still met with skepticism in some quarters of the community. Consider that more American are directly employed by hunting and fishing (483,000) than oil and gas extraction (180,000) according to figures compiled by the Outdoor Industry Association. Or that more American jobs depend on recreational motorcycling and off-roading (867,000) than there are lawyers in the country (779,000)

Even if we bought into the notion that these aren’t “real jobs” — which we don’t — there’s still one immutable aspect of outdoor recreation with respect to economic development. It attracts the right work force — the under-30 college graduates who will create their own employment opportunities to live in a community with the right lifestyle.

That’s what makes Grand Junction so unique. So many recreation-based economies are strictly resort towns, populated by trust funders. Mountain towns may be bursting with outdoor activities, but you have to be independently wealthy to live there. Grand Junction has all the outdoor stuff packaged with a more affordable cost of living and employment opportunities across a diverse economy.

The Palisade Plunge serves as a marquee destination for rabid mountain bikers. Once here to take the plunge, these visitors, many of them young professionals, will have their eyes opened to countless other amenities: brew pubs, distilleries, good restaurants, river access for kayaking and paddle boarding, a nearby ski resort, a national monument, abundant public lands and on and on. The kinds of things that make people considering moving.

Even if the Palisade Plunge didn’t create a single new job, it will become a part of the outdoor recreation infrastructure that will become an invaluable asset to our economic development partners in seeking to attract new employers — some of which may be in the recreation sector itself.

The Palisade Plunge is just a small piece of the puzzle. The point is to have as many pieces as possible to authentically brand ourselves as an outdoors destination.


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