The new economic development coordinator for San Juan County plans to focus on bringing more winter visitors to Silverton.
Melanie Russek, a resident of the mountain town north of Durango, plans to build on some of the existing momentum around winter recreation around Silverton because more backcountry snowboarders and skiers and other adventurers are coming than ever before, she said.
“I think it’s pretty low-hanging fruit,” she said.
Russek, a former professional snowboarder, brings experience working with the Silverton Avalanche School, ski patrol and event management to the job.
In addition to outdoor recreation, she also wants to encourage year-round residency in town and grow outdoor education opportunities that are already blossoming.
Russek is an assistant director for the Silverton Avalanche School, and it is planning to run 60 courses this year, she said. The University of New Mexico also offers classes in the area.
A native of New Zealand, Russek lived in Silverton from 2000 to 2005 and recently moved back full time this spring. In the interim, while living in Durango, she was seasonal resident, spending the winter in the area.
“I think that gave me a good background and understanding of what goes on,” she said.
One of the major challenges for economic development is the housing shortage. Quite a few people find jobs in Silverton, and then have trouble finding homes, she said.
She expects San Juan County to break ground on affordable, long-term rental apartments in spring, and those units will help ease the shortage.
The recent approval of a sales tax increase to support emergency services in San Juan County is also a positive step forward because as more people visit the area to recreate additional services will be required, she said.
In addition to economic development, Russek is also responsible for developing an economic-resiliency plans that could be put into action in the wake of a disaster, such as the Gold King Mine Spill
The Economic Development Administration, Region 9 Economic Development District, the town of Silverton, San Juan County, and Silverton Schools funded Russek’s position, which is part-time and will last 18 months.
She will report to the San Juan Development Association.