June 7, 2018 – In today’s newsletter, the Outdoor Industry Association writes a glowing review of how Colorado’s Grand Junction area in recent times has come together to preserve and enhance our natural resources, driving tourism and a growing outdoor recreation industry. Here are the key points from the story:

“Surrounded by stunning land features such as the Grand Mesa, Book Cliffs and Colorado National Monument, the Grand Valley—that is, Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade—has long been a beloved home to and a destination for outdoor lovers. However, it wasn’t until recently that local policyholders, business owners and stakeholders have refocused economic investment on preserving and enhancing the area’s sustainable treasures. It’s starting to pay off.

A whopping 74 percent of Mesa County is comprised of public lands. Recreational use of those lands, be it hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, whitewater paddling, skiing or four-wheeling, has been the top focus of local leaders over the past five years. After all, the Outdoor Recreation Coalition—a vested interest group of businesses and entities ranging from Colorado Mesa University to Powderhorn Mountain Resort, from welding service providers to biking and Jeep outfitters—recently estimated that outdoor recreation brings in more than $300 million annually for Grand Valley’s economy and provides more than 2,000 local jobs.

‘The most direct way people see that is through tourism,’ says Outdoor Recreation Coalition Founder Sarah Walker Shrader, who is also co-founder of Bonsai Design, a Grand Junction-based business that designs adventure courses all over the world.

‘We are one of the very few places in Colorado where you can paddle the river, mountain bike and ski in the same weekend. If you’re really ambitious, you can do it all in the same day,’ she says. ‘The Grand Valley is an incredible place to work and play. You’ve got a lot of businesses and industry that relocate here because they want to have this lifestyle.’

The Shraders—Sarah and her husband, Thaddeus—moved to Grand Junction in 2004 and launched Bonsai Design a year later. After growing from a basement business to a flourishing international enterprise, the couple spent about three seconds considering other places they could live and decided to ‘double down’ on Grand Junction.

‘We don’t need to live here. We could have our HQ anywhere in the country. But we love the lifestyle. We love that our kids have direct access to public lands and wild spaces. That’s a pretty hard thing to come by in rural communities,’ Sarah says… ‘Also, we have the infrastructure to help businesses thrive. We manufacture all of our own equipment here. We need welders and fabricators and machinists to do that work. It’s been awesome to have that infrastructure right here.’

Bonsai Design spearheaded and is one of the first companies to occupy the forthcoming Los Colonias riverside business park in Grand Junction, a park straddling the Colorado River, which, when completed in 2019, will offer direct access to paddling and swimming in the river, a park and picnic and zipline across the river, exemplifying Bonsai’s unique products.

The park will add to the improvements and refinements the Grand Valley has made over the past five years to make the area more attractive to every variety of newcomer, tourist and prospective business alike. These include a flourishing fine-dining scene led by farm-to-table restaurants like Bin 707 and 626 on Rood, both of which are perennially packed from happy hour through closing time every night of the week; 23 wineries and tasting rooms throughout Grand Junction and Palisade, the latter of which now features a Fruit & Wine Byway; a series of signed routes through its numerous vineyards and orchards, ideal for navigating by two wheels.

Grand Junction’s Main Street has also undergone a facelift. Dove-tailing off of its 34-year-long Art on the Corner exhibit, which now features more than 100 unique sculptures of various subjects and mediums created by local and regional artists, Main Street is now a bustling cultural hub of shops, theater, performing arts center and ever-growing array of bars and restaurants.

Further investments include the Palisade Plunge trail, a 30-mile mountain bike trail that begins on the Grand Mesa and drops 6,300 feet into the town of Palisade. The timeline for completion of the trail is a question mark, as it is still securing final funding, which recently included a $200,000 grant from the Department of Local Affairs.

‘As a mountain biker, [I think the Plunge] would be huge,’ says Outdoor Industry Association State and Local Policy Manager Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, likening it to destination trails like Moab’s Whole Enchilada and Crested Butte’s Monarch Crest. O’Brien Feeney adds that the Grand Valley’s effort to ramp up its economy is unique in that the outdoor community is working with and not against the area’s legacy money maker—the oil and gas trade.

‘The thing we find compelling about the activities going on locally is that they’re able to continue that natural-resource-based economy while adding a more intentional focus on outdoor recreation,’ O’Brien-Feeney says. ‘Over time, oil and gas goes through these ebbs and flows, and a local economy that is mostly based on that type of activity is on the whim of it. Outdoor recreation is becoming more accepted as a financial resource on the Western Slope. It’s not a case of one thing taking the place of another.’

One of the key ingredients to Grand Junction’s success integrating outdoor recreation as an economic driver is the community’s collaborative spirit.

‘I want the extraction industry to do well,’ Shrader says. ‘One of the great things about this community is we have a lot of collaboration. The oil and gas industry just wrote a letter of support for the Palisade Plunge. The more we work together, the more we’ll have success in our community.’

Palisade Plunge would add to the Grand Valley’s bounty of more than 1,500 miles of mountain bike trails, most of which are located in Fruita. The town of Fruita, a long-standing hot spot for fat tire fanatics, has also made significant investments in its outdoor recreation offerings, including the current $4.3 million project to extend the iconic Kokopelli Trail.

Of that $4.3 million, the town only used $10,000 in conservation funds and secured the bulk of the funds in grants. The ribbon cutting for the new section of trail takes place in July…

Fruita has an industrial business park—much like Grand Junction’s [Las] Colonias—of its own in the works and is opening a wake boarding park on one of its lakes this summer.”

Read the full story here.

Learn more about the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado’s Grand Valley here.

Photo courtesy Tyler Logan for the City of Fruita.