Buena Vista: The Arkansas River as economic driver

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org
Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

From The Mountain Mail (Elise LeSage):

Two Colorado nonprofit organizations are developing projects that will bolster Buena Vista’s local economy thanks to grants from the Colorado Tourism Office.

The Arkansas River Outfitters Association and the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative were awarded donations of $25,000 and $85,000 respectively late last year, which will be used to attract more visitors to both the Arkansas and Colorado peaks.

The Arkansas River is one of Buena Vista’s most lucrative recreational attractions.

The tourism the river produces creates an influx of revenue for local businesses, stimulating the economy of the town.
In 2014 alone, the area saw an economic impact of $60,734,207 from the Arkansas River (2014 Commercial Rafting Use Report). With the acquisition of the grant, AROA hopes to further the number of clientele visiting the river, thereby increasing the income of the town.

This goal will be executed through the production of promotional media. Mike Kissack, executive director of AROA, revealed plans to increase advertising in broader regions.

“Our (public relations) department is working to endorse the Arkansas as a tourism destination across states,” Kissack said. “Part of the budget is going to be spent on producing a new video and a social media campaign.”

Although Buena Vista currently enjoys a fair amount of tourists from areas in Kansas and Texas, Kissack, who runs American Adventure Expeditions, said a main goal of the project is to attract customers from neighboring states like Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

AROA will use the grant awarded by the Colorado Tourism Office to publicly promote the Arkansas River as the destination for rafting, fly fishing, kayaking and other activities its members offer.

The matching funds grant was received in part as a collaborative effort of the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau and Colorado Parks and Wildlife and is the second issue of $25,000 the Colorado Tourism Office has provided AROA.
The revenue produced by American Adventure Expeditions and other AROA members alone “directly affects all the businesses in the area in a very positive manner,” Kissack said. A recreationist enjoying the Arkansas also contributes income to local hotels, restaurants and gear supply stores.

Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, meanwhile, is using its grants to install sustainable foot trails on Mount Columbia, Colorado’s 35th tallest peak.

It is one of a dozen fourteeners in Chaffee County. Whether they be for recreation or inspiration, the fourteeners are integral to the lives of Chaffee County residents.

Mount Columbia is already a popular location for climbers. The current most popular unsanctioned trail, however, is a steep 9 miles and cuts through existing wildlife habitats. CFI’s new path is intended to preserve fragile alpine trails and minimize erosion.

CFI Executive Director Lloyd Ackner said the organization will work with the U.S. Forest Service to “design paths that are beneficial to plant life and animal ecosystems while giving people better and more enjoyable trails to climb on.”
The CTO grant was matched by outdoor equipment giant REI through a project called Every Trail Connects.

“REI has been a long-term corporate partner with us,” Ackner said. “We usually receive $10-15,000, but their contribution this year was exceptionally big.”

He said CFI hopes this project will attract hikers and campers from all over to the otherwise undeveloped mountain.

Though it is difficult to calculate the precise economic impact, CFI is working to install “trail counters” on Colorado fourteeners, which track the foot traffic along each mountain. Each individual climbing the trail – assuming they are arriving within a 25-mile radius of the location – will signify an estimated dollar value that CFI can use to calculate resident profit.

CFI began accepting volunteers for the Mount Columbia project Tuesday.

Si Se Puede: How One Town in Colorado Organized to Fight for the Environment — Conservation Colorado

Conejos River
Conejos River

From Conservation Colorado (Sophia Guerrero-Murphy):

I grew up in rural Southern Colorado, which is very different than the Front Range. I lived in Alamosa, which is a good-sized town of 10,000 people, but the most populous city for 120 miles in any direction. The area is high desert, and among its giant peaks and vast stretches of chico bushes, there are fields of potatoes, ranch lands filled with grazing cattle, and almost no water.

Little towns in the San Luis Valley are at risk of being forgotten. For example, for many years, nuclear waste was transferred from truck to train within throwing distance of Conejos River, which flows through the town of Antonito. If the waste had ever spilled, it would have polluted a river that irrigated acres of ranch and farm land, and would have ruined the livelihood of many generational farmers.

I guess the proverbial “they” thought no one would notice or mind the risk of a toxic spill. Fortunately, the mayor of Antonito, Aaron Abeyta, whose family has lived in the area for many generations, noticed the large containers of waste sitting on the tracks and decided to investigate.

After Mayor Abeyta took his concerns of this suspicion to representatives in the Colorado General Assembly and to a national level, no action was taken. So, he re-approached the issue with the support of people in his community. He knew what communities can do and the power they have when they come together, so he decided to approach local grassroots. Eight-five percent of the population in the San Luis Valley is Latino, which shows that the majority taking action for this were Hispanic. Mayor Abeyta informed community members about the nuclear waste that could contaminate their water, so they decided stand up and do something about it. Community members began writing letters, making phone calls, and petitioning the government.

These grassroots efforts led to a victory! The waste no longer gets moved and jostled near the river anymore — the waste doesn’t even get transferred in Antonito.

As a community organizer at Protégete: Nuestro Aire, Nuestra Salud with Conservation Colorado, I interact with and hear the concerns of the Latino community and know that movements like the one in Antonito can happen anywhere. We can come together and fight for clean air, affordable clean energy, better jobs for better causes, and combat climate change to improve the lives of all Coloradans.

It’s important for community members to be aware of the power that Latinos have when we come together and stand up for the protection of our families.

To make your voice heard, join us at the Capitol on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at 8:30 AM for Women and Family Wednesdays, as the Protégete team presents to community leaders regarding environmental justice and to lobby on environmental issues that are important to Coloradans. Si se suede!