Letter: Basalt’s economic engine: flowing through it

I’ve sat on the shores of the Basalt town park debate — quietly watching from a distance because I never thought local politicians would overlook the potential flowing past.

And now after years of debate, an opportunity has arisen to buy the land outright in the heart of Basalt and fund a world-class river park. I think it is time to fully wade into this opportunity.

Having spent years studying the state of our rivers, particularly our main lifeline, the Colorado, we are lucky to have the option to own such a treasure on the banks of our acclaimed gold medal Roaring Fork River.

I’m shocked some people argue such a move would diminish the vitality and/or the economic potential of Basalt, and that it would even push growth elsewhere. Having explored our backyard river throughout the entire Colorado basin source to sea as well as other watersheds around the world, I’ve seen the complete opposite.

Public access and well-developed parks along their banks become economic engines for everything around them. They also become a source of pride for communities rallying families, kids, events and businesses to embrace “their” river park. River parks create vitality and help drive businesses toward them.

A study on the economic benefits of the annual recreation activity of Colorado River (parks, picnicking, fishing, boating, etc.) recently showed flowing rivers with access are huge economic machine. The study came out with a staggering figure — the Colorado River produces $26 billion a year for just recreation. Yes, the Colorado includes seven states and sustains the southwest, but nonetheless, at the time of the study, that value put the Colorado River ahead of Progressive Insurance and U.S. Airways — in the top 150 among fortune 500 companies. Not bad for a river just trying to flow to the sea (sadly, it doesn’t anymore).

If that example involves too many Western river miles for you, just look at our neighbor Salida. They recently developed their own riverfront park, turning a neglected Arkansas river shoreline into a thriving gathering ground with a music venue shell, a whitewater park, a climbing wall and more. It put Salida on the map for tourism and set an example for economic revitalization and infill growth. Today it is heralded as the most popular park in the town and the region.

Basalt is the only town in the Roaring Fork Valley with not one but two world-class rivers flowing through its heart. Imagine the vitality and economic benefits a Basalt public river park with well-planned amenities could provide. It could attract businesses and inspire infill opportunities on neighboring plots like the old Clark’s Market space that have huge potential for redevelopment. And it would do it all while leaving our greatest gem, our backyard river, welcoming and inviting to the public, unencumbered.

We are lucky to have this opportunity to take control of our river because I’ve witnessed over and over that riverfront property, once blocked with development, rarely or never comes back.

Peter McBride