When something has been around for 25 years or more, it's hard not to take it for granted. By that time, whether it's an event or an amenity, it's become a fixture in the community and it's hard to remember that it was once a fledgling entity with an uncertain future.
The Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade has provided a transformative experience to this community. It didn't exist in 1990, but was just voted the best wine festival in America according to USA Today's 10 Best Website.
The inaugural festival was a single-day event featuring four wineries posted strategically around Palisade's Town Park and drew a couple hundred people.
Today the festival events span four days and features around 60 Colorado wineries. The signature Festival in the Park attracts nearly 6,000 attendees.
The Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau estimates the festival — which is the busiest tourist weekend of the year for the Grand Valley — creates between $750,000 and $1 million in economic impact.
Even without the recent national recognition, Winefest has left an indelible imprint on the Grand Valley by facilitating agritourism and a field-to-fork movement that has enhanced Grand Junction's cultural profile.
Of course none of these beneficial impacts come to fruition as quickly as they have without some pioneering local minds organizing the first Winefest. They couldn't have known they were laying the groundwork for something so successful that it would alter how people outside the valley perceive us. This is Wine Country now — a brand so ironclad that marketing consultants have advised local economic developers to branch out and leverage lesser-known assets, like outdoor recreation opportunities, as selling points.
Winefest provides a good template for cultivating tomorrow's economic drivers. We have to identify where we want to be — perhaps even who we want to be — in 25 years. Whether it's a community of great schools, a high-tech hub or an outdoor manufacturing mecca, Winfest offers a lesson:
You can start small, but you have to start.
The City Council's commitment to develop a business park in a corner of the Las Colonias riverfront that caters to manufacturers of outdoor recreation equipment is a good example.
Partnering with Bonsai Design to anchor the park is the spark that may fire the engine on the city's goal of growing the outdoor industry and attracting new businesses.
Similarly, if we want the kind of schools that churn out high achievers ready for college or to contribute to the local economy, we can start by supporting local measures to properly fund them.
Maybe in 25 years we'll have new things to take for granted.