BOCC looking at new group for backcountry management

County to build a collaborative framework to underpin committee 

By Crystal Kotowski

A recent joint work session between the Board of County Commissioners and Crested Butte Town Council focused in part on the latest in regional trails and backcountry management in the valley, including the creation of a Gunnison County Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee.

Introducing the committee to the council, the commissioners focused on the need for collaborative management in the tourism and recreation industries—as well as the significance of the unified voice the committee would foster.

“Listening to the town government and constituents, there are times when we felt completely overwhelmed as a community—and it’s valley-wide,” said county commissioner Jonathan Houck of the committee’s creation. “We heard it in Crested Butte, we heard it in Gunnison and we heard it in Gothic. Then there are these areas that we really want to build some capacity in. How do we a take a good thing and stretch it out? How do we take this good thing that’s driving our economy and lifestyles and make it a bit of a better fit for our community, so it’s not so boom and bust?”

Sustainable tourism and recreation was one of the four focus areas for regional action as outlined by the One Valley Prosperity Project, which highlighted the need for collaborative management. The One Valley Prosperity Strategy documents the intention of the committee to support integration and coordination between federal land agencies and local stakeholders to support proactive management that also protects natural resources.

“I’ve talked to many people at the state level, and they’re really interested to see how this approach will work. It’s something that needs to happen in many communities around Colorado because there is so much demand on the use of public lands and so little developed infrastructure,” added commissioner John Messner.

Town Council member Jim Schmidt asked if local federal land management agencies supported the committee, particularly considering impending federal budget cuts.

“The initial reaction from the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management was really positive… The other piece that is really important is that the GMUG [Gunnison Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests] is starting its forest plan revision—it’s the last major forest plan revision in the country. Having the ability to speak to that forest plan as a unified community is very important. The forest plan is a multi-year piece; it’s very high level. But it takes into account the priorities of the forest for the next 20 to 25 years,” added Houck.

Houck noted the significance of community input that in effect gives land management agencies a clear direction, often easing the strain of limited budgets.

The committee will not replace existing entities. The county is currently developing cross-departmental teams to spearhead the efforts. Community and economic development director Cathie Pagano will be the team leader.

“It is really nascent, but we have a nice model that we can begin with… the Sage Grouse Strategic Committee has been identified as one example of collaborative, adaptive management. We see that as a nice starting place,” said county manager Matthew Birnie.

Houck noted the structure of the Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee was in part modeled on the Gunnison Sage Grouse Strategic Committee’s success. “The idea of the Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee is not to have the county run it, but for the county to build a collaborative framework,” noted Houck, discussing how the aim of the entity would be to harness the resources and energy of existing tourism and recreation organizations.

Mayor Glenn Michel asked about the governance and structure of the committee, and county manager Birnie confirmed that the vision for the committee is for it to be self-creating.

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