George Newman and Molly Ogilby: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
How are we going to continue Colorado’s forward momentum after the biggest financial downturn in half a century? A great opportunity to reawaken our economy is to invest in our natural environment. By preserving open spaces and working landscapes, we spur the tourism and outdoor recreation industries and create jobs.
In other words, by investing in all things green – our forests, wetlands and plains – we will get a whole lot of green dollar bills back in return.
People travel from all over the nation and world to visit Colorado’s pristine mountains and valleys. When these tourists arrive, they open their eyes to view the spectacular landscapes, and they also open their wallets. In 2007 tourists in Pitkin County alone spent $626 million, which supported 4,510 jobs across our county. By shopping in our towns and dining in our restaurants, tourism generated $17.5 million in local taxes. The Board of County Commissioners realizes the importance of tourism to our economy and recognizes that tourist dollars help fund county projects, such as road and bridge repairs.
Close to two-thirds of the tourists who visit our remarkable state come here primarily to recreate in the outdoors. Avalanche Ranch is a popular lodge and cabin rental destination in the Crystal River Valley, and is one of the many places that tourists go to hike, bike, fish, hunt, horseback ride and climb during the summer – and ski, skate and snowshoe in the winter. Whether fishing in the Crystal River or hiking on Mount Sopris, Avalanche Ranch visitors rely on the numerous outfitting and guiding companies in the area.
These companies are part of Colorado’s vibrant outdoor recreation industry, which is a key part of the state economy. Across the state, the outdoor recreation industry supports 107,000 jobs and contributes more than $10 billion annually to Colorado’s economy. Because Pitkin County is a paradise for outdoor recreationists, we economically benefit from the residents and visitors who explore our county by foot, ski or paddle. In 2007, hunting and fishing alone in Pitkin County generated nearly $24.9 million and supported hundreds of jobs. The employment opportunities offered by the tourism and outdoor recreation industries are tied specifically to our land and therefore can’t be out-sourced. If we continue to protect our landscapes, these jobs will be here in the years to come.
Throughout last year’s recession, Pitkin County continued to invest in land protection. In fact, our Open Space and Trails Program is renowned for its innovative approaches to protecting land. To date, the program has preserved more than 17,699 acres of scenic open space, wildlife habitat and agricultural land. This program protected the Filoha Meadows Open Space, and many other keystone properties in the Crystal Valley that provide a scenic backdrop for Avalanche Ranch. Our investment in conservation easements on working ranches helps protect our county’s agricultural legacy, including Avalanche Ranch, which is home to 150 locally produced, grass-fed steer.
We are motivated to protect our land due to our environmental ethic and historic legacy, but we are also motivated because it positively impacts our economic bottom line. A recent report from the Trust for Public Land showed that Colorado’s $595 million investment in conservation easements since 1994 has returned $3.5 billion in public benefits. That’s a return of $6 for every $1 invested!
Open space preservation is important to sustaining our way or life and carrying all of us out of these difficult economic times. Protecting our natural gems ensures that visitors will continue to stay at our lodges, our locals will continue to hike, bike, fish and hunt, and that the revenue from these activities will add up in our county bank account.
As Colorado climbs out of this recession, we need to be vigilant in reminding our state and federal elected leaders to prioritize investments that protect what are arguably our greatest economic assets – Colorado’s heritage of breathtaking open spaces, public lands, and working ranches and farms.
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