Dear Editor:

Outdoor recreation is a “natural” economic development opportunity for Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County. No expensive infrastructure investment is required. No big “build it and they will come” get-rich schemes needed. We already have what we need. It is all around us.

But is this a meaningful opportunity for us? Are there economic benefits we can derive?

According to a study by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), in Colorado, outdoor recreation generates $13.2 billion in consumer spending, 125,000 jobs, $4.2 billion in wages and $994 million in state and local tax revenue.

What’s more, the industry is growing, even during the economic recession when many industries were shrinking. According to the OIA, the industry grew at 5 percent between 2005 and 2011.

So how can we capitalize on this opportunity?

Spending is comprised of two categories, 1 — the purchase of gear and vehicles and 2 — the lion’s share of spending is on trips and travel, lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, groceries, gasoline, souvenirs, river guides, outfitters, lift tickets, ski lessons, entrance fees, licenses, and much more—the things Pagosa Springs already offers in abundance.

We already reap the benefits of active tourists but opportunistically, rather than in an intentional way. Active tourist spending supports innumerable small business owners locally and could support so many more. We have already have local businesses that support the manufacture or sales of outdoor gear such as Voormi, Ski & Bow Rack, Summit Sports, Eagle Mountain Mercantile, The Hub and many more. We also have companies that supply the services and adventure packages.

As only one example, we have companies like GECKO, a local nonprofit which actively invites a new segment of active tourists to Pagosa Springs. GECKO actively targets endurance athletes but also the casual weekend athletes and their families and friends in search of a sense of achievement and outdoor adventure. 30 percent of participants bring one person, but 37 percent bring two to three and 17 percent bring more than three. Eighty-one percent of participants buy lodging and 86 percent of those stay two to four nights.

Better yet, participation in GECKO events is up more than 25 percent for the last three years and on track to repeat next year; 95 percent of participants say they will come back.

I’ve casually interviewed many participants as well as their supporters. For first-timers, they plan to be back and bring friends — maybe even stay longer. They post photos and videos to Facebook and share with their friends and family the great adventures they have here.

We cannot afford to buy this type of advertising that we can get free by offering adventures we have here in abundance.

Want to feel the vibe firsthand? Join in the EPIC Mountain Challenge festivities this weekend.

We should also grow or attract other companies to organize more around the unbelievable Nordic skiing and other adventures we have to attract off-season active tourists. Let’s intentionally attract these types of businesses and events and, thereby the tourists in search of the many natural adventures we have to offer.

It’s a “natural” opportunity.

Muriel Eason

This story was posted on October 3, 2013.