Money, mining and recreation

It’s rarely easy and it’s always something. We live in a unique place. A great place with its own challenges. There’s the situation of trying to figure out whether and how to pay for next year’s season ski pass in less than two weeks. Trying to figure out if the health care bill is good for me and will it stop my premiums from going up another couple hundred dollars. Trying to figure out why I trusted Kansas so much in the annual basketball pool that will cost me more money.
It seems so many challenges here are about money. Lord knows the valley is spectacular, the people full of spirit and the small-town feel a blessing. But there’s that money thing. If Crested Butte South had a lot of money, the subdivision could pay for a bus every 15 minutes to stop at each corner and go to Crested Butte or Gunnison and everyone would be happy.
If the state had more money, the local school district wouldn’t have to wonder how they are going to cut a million dollars from next year’s budget. That’s a million dollars that could go to making our kids better students.
If the ski area had more money they could pay for more planes from more places to bring more people in to spend more money and…

A complex study by the Red Lady Coalition that is being made public this week shows that in this county, about 35 percent of the money generated for those living here comes from so-called “amenity-based” activities. The RLC believes that number jumps to more than half if you focus on the corridor between Gunnison and Mt. Crested Butte.
The brilliant clean air and water, the trails, beautiful night skies, the opportunity to enjoy the mountains and the recreational opportunities like skiing, fishing, biking and opportunities to eat at good restaurants and listen to fantastic music all fund our lifestyle. And most of us are willing to sacrifice some economic stability (money) for these trade-offs that people from Houston don’t have out their back door. It’s not a bad trade but real-life economic situations still come into play up here in the Upper East River Valley.
One interesting point in the study is that on a per capita basis, if you work in the amenity-based economy in Gunnison County, the average income is about $29,000. But in similar communities, the same average income is much higher. A successful amenity-based economy can earn you $50,000 or $70,000, depending on the location. The secret is to have a successful amenity and recreation economy.
The first phase of this RLC study is meant to be a baseline for further research. The RLC wants to eventually determine the economic impact a molybdenum mine might have on this county. Maybe there is little impact. Maybe the money brought in by a mine makes up for the money lost by a mine coming in. Further in-depth research is supposed to find out the answer.
But it seems difficult to not understand that a mine so close to Crested Butte, located directly in the watershed of the town, a mine where tailings would have to be deposited in relatively untouched and nearby valleys, would not have some detrimental impact on an economy based in a clean environment and healthy recreation.
And if that mine impact is at all substantial and the amenity-based economy is undercut, how will people pay for their rising insurance premiums, textbooks for the kids, buses to Crested Butte South, their season ski passes and their unexpectedly poor choice of choosing Kansas to win the NCAA basketball tournament? And will they even be here to try to figure it out?
I look forward to hearing the results of the next phases of the RLC study. Maybe my supposition is wrong and there will be little or no impact from the mine. But it is something to keep in mind today because tomorrow sometimes comes sooner than you think.

—Mark Reaman

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