This summer, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (or as we like to call it, OREC) took to the road for a listening tour. The team criss-crossed the state meeting with community and business leaders in communities from Monte Vista and Durango to Fort Morgan and Sterling—all with the goal of hearing firsthand what these communities are experiencing in a world changed by the pandemic.
By mid-August, the team had completed 9 trips to 16 counties, hosted 6 listening sessions and met or reached 193 people, not to mention countless individual meetings and site visits, with more trips planned for August and September. At each stop, OREC staff have felt welcomed and privileged to get a look at the incredible work happening on the ground. So many talented people are working to sustain a strong outdoor recreation industry while protecting the natural resources and community values that make these places so special.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest takeaways from the OREC summer road trip, and where the team hopes to go from here:
Coloradans Love Where they Live
Perhaps this sounds like a given, but it was abundantly clear at every stop on the tour. Whether people live and run businesses in Monte Vista or Leadville, they love where they live because of the access to nature and outdoor recreation. Very often, these are the reasons they have chosen to live in their communities, and that love of place is key. It drives their motivation to solve challenges, like balancing outdoor recreation with resource protection and developing affordable housing for workers. We can’t think of a more powerful force for change.
The Outdoor Recreation Conversation is Expanding
In the outdoor recreation space, stewardship and managing use on Colorado’s public lands have been longtime priorities. As individual communities and as a state, we’ve worked hard to take care of the places we love by recreating responsibly and encouraging visitors to do the same. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, priorities in the outdoor recreation industry have broadened. Business owners are thinking about cost of living, access to affordable housing for their employees, and what climate change means for the future of their communities and their businesses.
These topics came up in nearly every community, and at OREC we’re taking note. While these are complex and multifaceted issues that require collaboration and policy solutions across many different levels of government, the OREC office will play a role in representing the outdoor recreation industry in statewide efforts to address these issues. We are also working hard to create an outdoor recreation industry alliance to serve as an influential and consistent partner for our office in advocating for the interests of outdoor recreation on these issues and more.
There are So Many Opportunities for Collaboration
While Colorado communities share a love of place and the outdoors, each one is also unique— shaped by the landscape, traditions like ranching or mining, and the people who’ve made it home. By visiting destinations across the state, the OREC team is getting an up-close look at the different ways communities are managing land use, planning for climate change and working to provide housing for workers. Many are fostering collaboration between towns and across valleys and counties. OREC sees an opportunity to take that partnership one step further by supporting regional partnerships and statewide opportunities to learn from each other.
The Outdoor Industry is Creative
As part of the listening tour, the OREC team has been spreading the word about its first grant opportunity, the Colorado State Outdoor Recreation Grant. Made possible by funds from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), this grant program is intended to help with pandemic recovery efforts. Specifically, the grant will support upgrades to outdoor recreation infrastructure, planning assistance, marketing and promotion of events and assets, and workforce development within the outdoor recreation industry. Across communities, the variety of ideas to put this type of funding to use has been inspiring. The solutions are as varied and unique as each community and speak to the creativity that this industry brings to planning for the future. It’s given OREC a new appreciation for the ways this office can help catalyze important projects across Colorado through this type of funding.
OREC Can be a Voice for the Industry
As a relatively new office—OREC was established in 2015—one of its purviews is to advocate for the outdoor recreation industry across the state. From the beginning, this team has understood that unlike some industries, this one is made up of several subindustries, such as manufacturing, tech, and retail. Many are composed of small businesses. With so many different viewpoints and experiences, the best way to get a sense for what is going on in the industry is to visit these businesses, talk to the people who run them and listen. The work doesn’t end there, however. We also understand that part of our job is to take what we learn and share it across the state—with other divisions in OEDIT, other state agencies, and even the Governor’s office. OREC is uniquely positioned to be a voice for the outdoor recreation industry, and we’ll continue to look for opportunities to do so.
For now, the listening tour continues, with visits planned for Trinidad and Steamboat, among others. What the team is learning will help guide the office's goals and priorities, and inform advocacy for future funding opportunities. Help us shape the future by attending an upcoming community session. After that, the OREC team will take what they’ve learned and incorporate it into plans for the future. You can check out a list of future visits here, and follow along on Facebook or LinkedIn.