“This type of foresight puts us light years ahead of other communities”
by Kristy Acuff
Representatives from the county’s Sustainable Tourism Outdoor Recreation (STOR) committee presented at a VIP media reception for the Outdoor Retailers Show (OR) last weekend in Denver. The Colorado Tourism Office selected STOR from applicants around the state who applied to attend the event. Andrew Sandstrom of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association represented STOR, discussing the initiative with representatives from 75 media outlets from across the country.
“The feedback I received was very positive and people are interested to see what STOR can accomplish,” said Sandstrom.
The STOR working group formed this fall at the request of Gunnison County commissioners in order to bring stakeholders to the table to help protect the valley’s public lands, and sustainably manage those lands. The group’s mission is to proactively protect our local economic base through coordinated sustainable tourism. Commissioner John Messner explained, “How do we create a holistic approach to managing sustainable tourism from a landscape/county level? And not individually from our separate silos, but working together so we are not chasing this rabbit over here and this squirrel over here, but working together with a common message.”
According to STOR’s media, “in this era of reduced federal land management budgets, Gunnison Valley communities and federal agencies rally together to solve backcountry and front country user issues. There are more than two million acres of public land in Gunnison County managed through federal and local agencies—the cornerstones of our local economy, tourism, outdoor recreation, ranching and hunting rely on this public land to thrive.”
In addition to Sandstrom, Tourism Association representatives John Norton and Laurel Runcie attended the OR show to make a case for outdoor companies to consider locating in the Gunnison valley.
“I went to explore with outdoor companies if opening branch offices in the Gunnison Valley, or a complete relocation, was worth a discussion. OR is not an ideal environment for opening these discussions because its purpose is buying and selling outdoor clothing and equipment, but it was good we went and we have some follow up,” said Norton.
“Our pitch was pretty simple. We live in a great outdoors valley. Our housing costs are half of many other mountain valleys. Our schools are superb.”
U.S. Forest Service Gunnison District ranger and STOR representative Matt McComb did not attend the OR show but is excited about the proactive synergy of STOR members, which he said is rare among public lands users. “I see the STOR committee as the County’s intent to be leaders… by setting the table for tough discussions about the future while at the same time underlining that we are all in this together. This type of foresight and effort puts us light years ahead of many other communities struggling with similar growing pains who often recoil at the idea of major change instead of embracing the challenge of preserving what must be preserved and naming what must be let go,” McCombs wrote.
Representatives from STOR have already been actively maintaining valley lands through stewardship projects. For example, this fall crew members from the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and the Crested Butte Conservation Corps rehabilitated a trail system that continues to endure a growing number of users. In addition, volunteers from various organizations from ranchers to riders came together for the annual Paradise clean-up to lend a hand for public lands.
The Sustainable Tourism & Outdoor Recreation Committee meets on the second Thursday of each month. Contact director of community development Cathie Pagano at (970) 641-7985 or at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.