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What if…

What if… the new efforts to manage backcountry use in the summers really works? The Mountain Manners program and the proposed Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association Conservation Corps are two grassroots efforts to stay on top of backcountry maintenance and education for visitors. I honestly appreciate the effort and action and trust that all of the local government entities see the value in the programs and support them both conceptually and financially. I like action more than another planning session and these two programs are a great example of positive action.

What if… instead of the Tourism Association spending half of its increasing marketing dollars on summer and half on winter (more than a million dollars each) it spent more on January and less on overall summer? July sure seems maxed out and January is a tad thin. Even better, what if it spent the same number of dollars maintaining amenities it promotes and on guiding and educating tourists who come here? I truly value the TA’s recent tendency to spend money on tourism mitigation ideas such as the new Mountain Manners and CBMBA Conservation Corps efforts mentioned above. TA support for those programs is a good use of public marketing dollars. A good experience makes everyone, locals and visitors included, happy and more open to appreciate the place. And that can lead to more repeat visits (always a challenge in this valley) by people who learn to understand the uniqueness of the valley and don’t have to be told every time they arrive to not pick the wildflowers. Repeat business is efficient, lucrative and the best type since repeat visitors obviously like the area already and begin to feel enough ownership and buy-in to help protect its best qualities.

What if… in that same vein, the Crested Butte and Gunnison chambers of commerce reconfigure some responsibilities and moved to combine some visitor center duties? Consider the idea of using the two visitor centers to send a uniform and professional message to tourists through the TA. Bringing the visitor centers under the umbrella of the TA to professionally guide and enlighten visitors could help with that positive experience. It could help get the unified point across about how to respectfully treat the backcountry and the communities and could take some public money out of advertising and put it in a place that would help draw repeat visitors. Again, it’s repeat visitors who understand the communities better with each visit. Since both chambers have brand-new executive directors and in theory have multiple purposes, from running events to lobbying on behalf of local businesses, now might be the time to consider such an idea. Relinquishing one slice of their chamber mission to the TA could save them money and time and refocus the new chamber administrations. Coordinating the visitor center experience under a well-funded, strong organization that is focused on responsible tourism could be a win-win for everyone involved.

What if… people who cry that Crested Butte doesn’t have a big-time rec center understood that building such a facility is somewhat easily funded but running the place is a sinkhole for a small-town budget? Those rec center advocates might look out the back door and see a wilderness recreation facility of millions of acres available for free. Or they could hop on the free bus to a really nice, affordable rec center on the north side of Gunnison. A 30-minute drive to such a facility is what people in the city expect.

What if… there was a miracle cure to address the traffic cluster at the entrance to town? There isn’t. And it isn’t a cluster 24/7. I spent time in a lot of roundabouts in Sedona last week, and I can tell you they are no miracle donuts. They worked as well as the poorest driver in or near the circular roadways. Traffic was significantly backed up during busy periods. Pedestrian crossings suck.  Roundabouts at Red Lady Avenue and the Four-way can certainly help keep traffic flowing but they won’t miraculously cure traffic issues caused by a lot more traffic. The low-budget Band-Aid would be to build a turn lane into the school parking lot off the highway and get traffic control professionals such as the local marshals to actually direct traffic during the overwhelming 20 minutes at the start and end of the school day and during heavy traffic days like the morning of the Fourth of July. Sometimes all you need is a Band-Aid to stop the bleeding while a more thorough, long-term traffic plan is developed.

What if…those guiding the future of this place decided to really stay different from our sister mountain towns? What if a more comprehensive look at the publicly owned 17 acres south of Crested Butte at Brush Creek included not just affordable housing (which is needed) but also something like a parking-garage-and-ride option to deal with that increasing traffic before it even gets to the proposed roundabouts in CB? Start thinking how to make people park south of town and use even better public transportation to get to the ski area in the winter and big events in the summer. Use the public TA money to not only attract people to our unique amenities but also spend equally to help protect those amenities. Spend a real chunk of money to educate, enlighten and bring into our flock, visitors that appreciate what this place already has to offer: wilderness instead of rec centers; somewhat rough single track instead of paved trails; fat bike trails to go with ski runs; true opportunity for authentic adventure instead of manufactured experience. In other words – what if we purposely looked to a unique future with balance instead of the typical…

What if

—Mark Reaman

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