There's a goose in the Grand Valley laying golden eggs and the Outdoor Recreation Coalition is determined to keep it healthy and productive for a long time.
Five years ago, outdoor recreation was barely on anybody's radar — anybody in Grand Junction, that is — as a significant economic driver.
The coalition — an informal association of business owners, manufacturers, conservation-minded nonprofits and economic development officials — helped change that.
First empaneled as a focus group to help a marketing consultant define the valley's strengths as part of a rebranding effort, members quickly realized they were the vanguard for the valley's future.
Why? It's not that outdoor recreation generates a ton of primary jobs — yet — though that's the enduring hope. It's that the valley is surrounded by public land, providing a smorgasbord of recreational activities.
Some of these activities lead to direct employment for sure. The Hot Tomato pizzeria, Boneshaker Adventures and local bike shops are all examples of local businesses profiting from interest in riding our trails, by both locals and visitors. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
A thriving outdoor recreation industry also attracts professionals, entrepreneurs, and families to our area who come to take advantage of the attractive outdoor lifestyle our community offers, making it one of the valley's most important economic development tools.
The coalition's evangelism has helped the community understand outdoor rec's economic potential, which is significant. In an Oct. 10 op-ed, Sen. Cory Gardner touted the findings of the federal government's first-ever state-level measurements of the industry's impact. Outdoor recreation is an $11 billion share of the economy in Colorado. "The industry makes up 3.3% of our gross domestic product and is responsible for 5.3% of all jobs in the Centennial State. Nationally, outdoor recreation is growing faster than the United States economy and contributes $427 billion to our country's gross domestic product," Gardner wrote.
Locally, CMU calculated that the trails systems in the Grand Valley contribute $34 million to the local economy. Yet, they're primarily used by out-of-towners. Mesa County Public Health hired a full-time trails coordinator to help implement a strategic trails plan commissioned by the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Powderhorn Mountain Resort and formulated by the International Mountain Bicycling Association's Trails Solutions Program. One public health goal is to improve the community's wellness by encouraging more locals to take advantage of our trails network.
This kind of community buy-in — to say nothing of the Riverfront at Las Colonias with its water features and business park aimed at manufacturers of outdoor recreation equipment — is a testament to the Outdoor Recreation Coalition's advocacy.
Having created an awareness about how outdoor recreation fits into a well-diversified economy, the coalition is now tasked with a new challenge: sustainability. "Don't Moab Fruita" is a bumper-sticker slogan that speaks to the concern that outdoor rec can morph into a voracious snake capable of swallowing its own tail.
The coalition recently assured the Sentinel's editorial board that it's on the case and assessing strategies for stable economic growth and to provide the protections needed to maintain quality recreation opportunities. Local government officials would be wise to listen to what the coalition has to say. After all, they've helped get us this far.