The front page of the Jan. 17 edition of The Norwood Post features a picture of the Six Dollar String Band, a Durango-based Bluegrass band, playing at the Livery stage after the running of the Lone Cone Fat Bike Challenge.
Right next to the photo was an article titled, “More pot, more problems,” an issue the community is grappling with as it works to regulate marijuana grows in town.
Norwood, population 572, sits in the west end of San Miguel County, 30 miles west of Telluride. Culturally, it is a world away. What is striking about the photo and headline is the transformation small communities like Norwood, with deep roots in agriculture, are undergoing as they look to new industries and crops, like outdoor recreation and marijuana, to help them thrive.
It is this backdrop against which the Outdoor Retailer Show kicked off its first Colorado-based convention in Denver on Thursday. It runs through Sunday. Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D-Durango) and Rep. Faith Winter (D-Westminster) sponsored a resolution in the State House welcoming the event to Denver.
O.R., as it is known in the industry, touts itself as being “the world’s leading business-to-business outdoor sports show.” It’s a big deal that the show moved to Denver from Salt Lake City, where it was held for 20 years, because organizers felt that Utah politicians no longer valued the public lands upon which the industry depends. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the show attracts approximately 40,000 visitors and $45 million in business to its host city, now Denver.
Many of Colorado’s mountain communities, like ours, have been involved in the outdoor recreation business for decades. Others like Norwood – host of winter mountain bike events – are more recently getting into it as a way to diversify economically, enhance their own quality of life and attract others to it. Del Norte, for example, is building trails, and Silverton has hired an economic development coordinator to focus on winter recreation.
The Outdoor Recreation Industry of America reports that nationally, the outdoor recreation economy annually generates $887 billion in consumer spending ($28 billion in Colorado) and 7.6 million jobs (229,000 in Colorado).
None of this matters if we don’t care for what we love most in our public lands. A healthy outdoor recreation economy depends on healthy and well-managed public lands. There are real, irreversible impacts from all types of development on public lands, and “loving our land to death” is not a new phenomenon. Damaging, too, can be tourism itself, upon which so much of Colorado’s and other Western states’ economies depend.
As Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison, in his final term, recently cautioned, “You gotta be careful what you wish for.” Service industry jobs typically provide low wages. The more attractive a community is to visitors, the harder it is to find affordable housing for residents.
And, in the absence of adequate zoning like in Moab, the character of the community can change when commercialization creeps into neighborhoods and out of downtown. His advice? Economic diversification and good planning are key.
We are pleased O.R. chose Colorado as its new venue, that Colorado enacted the first state-based “Public Lands Day” and that Sen. Cory Gardner sponsored the bipartisan Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act in 2016 to measure the industry’s impact on the nation’s economy for the first time.
Yet, as the outdoor recreation industry matures and O.R. takes root in our state, we must double down on our commitment to protect our communities and the places we love first, and generating revenue second.
It is, after all, the Colorado way of life.