This spring we were eating pizza in downtown Paonia and in pulls a van carrying the Colorado Rocky Mountain School kayak racing team. In quick time they wolfed down their pre-ordered seven pizzas and quickly headed over the pass to Carbondale.
They were on the way home from the Colorado High School Kayaking Championships held in Durango.
In this case, Paonia was a just a lucky stop on the trip home and the restaurant owner was happy to sell seven extra pizzas on a slow evening. White water rafting accounts for $155 million tourist dollars spent in Colorado in 2011. The biggest hitter is the Arkansas River, which pulls in over 200 thousand user days per year. The Gunnison Basin draws a respectable 20,000. While white water recreation generates just 16% of the tourism dollars that the skiing does, it is still important to our local economies.
In the rural Colorado that we all love, it is often difficult to make a living. Many of us know ranchers and farmers whose spouses work "regular" jobs to keep the family afloat in the agricultural life style. Even when we work "regular" jobs, our pay is well below Front Range rates.
So how do we make a rural economy work? Diversify. The more veins feeding the aorta, the quicker it fills. On the Western Slope, few of us want to make it rich, but we sure would like our children to be able to return after college and make a go of it.
Recreation does not drive the economy, but is another feeder vein. The Taylor River accounts for 2/3 of the boating user days in the Gunnison Basin. This helps fill restaurants and rental houses AND keeps energetic ski area workers employed off season.
Down valley, the Gunnison Gorge, the Lower Gunnison and even the short Lake Fork season all add a little. From Lake City to Grand Junction, businesses get just a bit more. Direct spending on recreational boating adds $1.9 million to the Upper Gunnison economy and generates a total of $4.9 million overall. The Lower Gunnison (Lake Fork and below) benefits from over $.5 million spent directly and $1.4 million in increased economic activity.
These numbers from the Colorado River Outfitters Association 2001 report DO NOT include economic activity generated from fishing, pleasure boating on reservoirs or "private boaters." A private boater is one that likes the sport enough to purchase the gear to raft, kayak or canoe rivers on their own. They are not confined to the commercially-run sections of rivers.
Highly skilled kayakers run the class V Oh-Be-Joyful Creek above Crested Butte or Escalante Creek below Delta. They, too, will purchase food and the occasional adult beverage during their travels. Those liking calmer waters run the North Fork of the Gunnison or the "Gunny Gorge," and locals benefit from renting pack animals or visits to local wineries.
The organization "Protect the Flows" recently released a report finding that recreation on the Colorado River supports 234,000 jobs across seven states and provides $26 billion in economic activity each year. You can always quibble with the numbers in economic impact studies, but there's no doubt that the ability to play on rivers benefits our region.
All of this fun happens on the water that flows down our rivers. Some is en route to a faucet, some to a farm, and some to users outside the state. The Gunnison Basin Roundtable, a group designated to plan for our future water needs (both "consumptive" uses that take water out of the stream and "nonconsumptive" uses that don't), has chosen to look at recreational river use as a part of the whole, not a use contrary to the end user. Whenever possible, the Roundtable encourages projects on our rivers to help both the water right holder and the users on the delivery channel. In the end, as our waters flow to their final use, all can enjoy it. With any luck, that chance restaurant visit will become the norm.
The Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is working with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about how water works in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, go to www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.blog comments powered by Disqus