It pays to play outside


Research points to recreation as economic driver on GMUG

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Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Whether he’s railing down a technical section of singletrack or headed out for an all-day endurance ride, Dave Wiens loves to pedal his mountain bike.

“I have a tremendous amount of pride for the trails here,” said Wiens, who serves as executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

Having lived in the valley for more than 30 years, he feels fortunate to be surrounded by the vast network of trails in the Gunnison Valley. And Wiens isn't alone.

According to a recent report, human-powered outdoor recreation is not only popular, but a huge money maker for communities in close proximity to the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests across western Colorado.

A series of studies was commissioned by the Outdoor Alliance, a nonprofit coalition made up of organizations including IMBA, American Whitewater, the American Alpine Club and other groups committed to public lands. According to the reports, the GMUG generates about $392 million each year in tourist spending related to specific types of recreation. That supports 4,150 full- and part-time jobs in nearby communities and $112 million in annual wages.

“What is clear from our research is that not only do the mountains, crags, rivers and trails provide amazing outdoor adventures, they also enable a ton of economic benefit to the local communities around the GMUG,” said Executive Director of Outdoor Alliance Adam Cramer.

James Maples and Michael Bradley of Eastern Kentucky University, who conducted the study, focused on five categories of outdoor recreation — including rock climbing, paddling, hiking, snowsports and mountain biking.

They estimate that humanpowered winter recreation on the forests by tourists — by far the largest money maker of the bunch — generates $333 million in spending per year and supports some 3,500 jobs and $93 million in annual wages. These activities include skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, winter hiking, and other winter recreation.

Of the $333 million, the research says resort visitors account for an estimated $213 million of that spending, while backcountry visitors spend $120 million per year.

Tim Kugler of Gunnison Trails, a nonprofit trail advocacy organization, says he’s excited to see the numbers associated with outdoor recreation.

“That’s the reason I moved here was for recreation,” said Kugler.

For Kugler, the results show the effects on the economy go beyond certain sectors such as the service industry.

The outdoor recreation economy is typically associated with the service and lodging industries, but the reports show that activities such as mountain biking support jobs in a wide range of fields. Also, by way of example, winter recreation on the Gunnison National Forest in particular supported 140 indirect jobs in addition to 1,184 direct jobs, according to the research.

However, higher visitation numbers to the state can come at a price, and Kugler points to greater pressure on resources in the valley.

Within Gunnison Trails, Kugler has worked to maintain the pristine environment in the Gunnison Valley alongside the Forest Service and other agencies — even if it means the addition of something as simple as a bathroom located at a trailhead to ease the effects of recreationists on the land.

Outdoor Alliance’s Cramer hopes that the information helps direct U.S. Forest Service planning decisions in coming years.

“We are excited to share these powerful economic insights with the (Forest Service) as they partner with the public to create a new forest plan for the GMUG that will balance multiples uses of these public lands in a modern and sustainable way,” said Cramer.

“We’re so lucky around here to have the opportunities that we have,” added Wiens.


(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or .)