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Opinion: High country businesses support wilderness

Economic benefits of quiet recreation are profound

Wilderness is good for business.

By Josh Lautenberg

Senator Mark Udall is right on target when he talks about the value of protected wilderness for our local economy.

Here in Vail, and in places like Aspen, Snowmass Village, Eagle and Breckenridge, our economy has prospered over the years in large part because of its location in the heart of the Colorado Rockies.

So how does wilderness support the economy?

Because of their famous majesty and beauty, the Rocky Mountains attract visitors from around the world. Think of all the people who can’t wait to leave behind the noise and pollution of the city to come here for their week or two in the mountains. To be able to smell the fresh air and stare at the perfect Colorado blue skies.

The beauty of the Rockies is also a big reason that people choose to live here, whether they are professionals looking for a great place to live, tradesmen applying their expertise in a diverse construction market, or athletes seeking a place where they can make a living while chasing adventure and glory.

According to widely reported numbers, Colorado as a whole benefits to the tune of $10 billion a year thanks to quiet recreational activities like alpine and Nordic skiing, hiking, fishing, climbing, mountain and road biking, snowshoeing and wildlife viewing. Hunting adds millions more. It’s estimated that more than 100,000 jobs in this state are tied to this portion of our economy.

Locally, if you take a look at forest user monitoring by U.S. Forest Service, the numbers are profound. According to the numbers gathered by USFS employees in 2007, 76 percent of visitors came to ski and snowboard at our resorts, spending billions annually in the resorts of Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen.

To understand how important this spending is, let’s take a look at the impact of people who come here primarily to cross country ski or snowshoe. They represent just 4 percent of “forest users,” according to the USFS statistics, yet they spent $29 million on purchases of retail, food and lodging in our communities.

The thing that cross country skiers share with other recreational users of the forest — hikers, skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, snowmobilers — is a desire to experience Colorado’s pristine environment and abundant wildlife. The Central Colorado Outdoor Heritage Act will ensure that all of us continue to share that experience.

As a real estate broker here in Vail, I can tell you that our proximity to the Holy Cross and Eagles Nest Wilderness Areas is a big draw for people who decide to buy a vacation home. Nature is our neighbor, and as a result we have fantastic fly fishing, great hiking, some of the world’s best skiing and snowboarding, and a plethora of other outdoor activities.

When someone buys a home in Vail or Snowmass Village or Frisco, they are going to spend money on everything from recreation to dining to clothing and jewelry to music, movies and other entertainment. They pay property taxes. They bring their friends.

Second homeowners make a big splash in our community, and they share their fantastic experiences with their friends and acquaintances back home. And part of their story invariably includes the fantastic views, the herd of elk on the hillside, the sound of a stream rushing past.

This place is worth protecting, from extractive industries like energy development, logging and mining as well as by people who love this place, but overuse it. Designated wilderness allows people to enjoy the land on foot, horseback or in a raft or kayak, at the same pace and in the same way we have for most of history. It’s a place where we set aside mechanical advantage and take it in at nature’s pace.

By supporting Sen. Udall’s initiative to add to the inventory of protected wilderness here in Central Colorado, we can all help ensure that the majestic and precious landscapes that so define our communities remain healthy for generations to come.

Josh Lautenberg is a real estate broker based in Vail.

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2 Responses

  1. Good to hear the business side of this, very encouraging, indeed. Recognizing the natural beauty commercially, over the extractive industrial practices, is the path to take, in my mind at least.

  2. It is interesting when vague references are used to tout huge sums of money created by wilderness, yet no substantive studies are ever quoted or made available for review. Perhaps they do not exist.

    Here is a study showing billions of dollars of positive impact on local Colorado economies due to OHV use: http://tinyurl.com/74omcmn . A corresponding negative impact will be created by expansion of wilderness in Colorado. We have around 4 million acres now, and the need for more is questionable. Great care is necessary here due to the restrictive nature of wilderness designation and the negative impacts on local economies.

    The wilderness legislation in question is opposed by the managing agencies, based on testimony given in previous congressional hearings. This is perhaps because inadequate funding is provided for administrating wilderness areas in the proposed legislation. The agencies cannot afford the drastic re-allocation of budgets that wilderness would mandate. Wilderness is very expensive to create and maintain, it is not free. The costs are not borne by a few, they are passed on to everyone by increased federal budgets and increased taxes.

    Motorsports provide significant contribution to local economies, yet they are not mentioned in this article. It is easy to suspect intentional bias when stakeholders vitally important to the issue are completely ignored.

    The professionals, tradesmen, and athletes so prominently featured as desirable contributors to the local economy are not a cross-section of the population, but an elite group who can afford the stratified real estate of Aspen and Vail. It is likely they also ride motorized vehicles to enjoy the back country, an activity prohibited by wilderness.

    We need to focus on stewardship and conservation of this land, not restricting public access to a wealthy elite. This article has the point of view of a real estate agent, but contains nothing of substance in the discussion of real issues surrounding wilderness legislation.

    Businesses would be harmed by the proposed wilderness legislation. A few wealthy real estate buyers do not constitute an economy, nor will they pay the real costs of limiting access to public lands. More wilderness may make some real estate brokers rich, but it will impoverish the general public.

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