We all know that our local economy is largely dependent on the natural beauty of the land and the outdoor recreational opportunities it affords. People come from all over the world to hike the trails, bike our roads, ski the mountains, bag the peaks, fish the alpine lakes and float the rivers.
As the open space director for Eagle County, I am keenly aware of the many benefits that conservation and recreation projects provide.
However, I was recently reminded of this fact on a personal level when eight friends from Denver came up for the weekend.
It started months ago, when I mentioned to them that Eagle County Open Space was acquiring critical properties along the Colorado River to preserve fish and wildlife habitat, maintain local agriculture and provide new recreational access points.
These properties serve to expand access to more than 45 river miles from State Bridge to Dotsero, which is little known and infrequently enjoyed by the public.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado River upstream from State Bridge receives more than 65,000 user days per year, while the portion downstream from State Bridge receives fewer than 5,000.
Eagle County Open Space began a concerted effort to develop additional access points, including State Bridge river access and Two Bridges river access, which opened earlier this summer, and at Dotsero Landing, which will open in a matter of weeks.
In addition, Colorado River Ranch and Red Dirt Creek open space, both of which are under contract, will add to the new floating and fishing opportunities for local residents, guides, outfitters and tourists - which brings me back to my Denver-based group of friends.
During their weekend, they filled their cars with gas, bought sandwiches and snacks in Eagle, paid an outfitter to float the river, stayed at a swanky hotel in Vail, ate at a very fancy restaurant, partied at a nearby bar and ate breakfast at yet another restaurant on Sunday morning before returning to Denver.
I don't know how much they spent, but it was a bundle. In their words, "The trip was so much fun, we want to return later in the summer to float from Cottonwood to Dotsero."
Open space and recreation projects provide immediate, permanent and tangible economic benefits to our community. Of course, these amenities also exist for our own use and enjoyment, forever.
The Colorado River Conservation and Recreation Project is partly about preservation of wildlife habitat, agricultural heritage and scenic features, but it is also about maintaining a strong local economy by providing a greater range of recreational opportunities and experiences.
In so many ways, these key acquisitions represent investments, ones that will pay us strong dividends for generations to come.
Toby Sprunk is Eagle County's open space director.