Are Colorado’s oil and gas and recreation industries all that different? Economists say no — and we need to protect them both
When the mines closed and the railroad left town in the 1980s, “pretty much everyone in Salida was unemployed,” Mayor P.T. Wood remembers. And when the West Slope oil and gas industry took a nosedive in 2014, sales tax revenue in Fruita plummeted 90%.
Both communities have filled at least part of the void left by the West’s traditional mining and drilling industries with recreation-based economies – anchored by kayaking and rafting in Salida, which sits along the Arkansas River, and by mountain biking in Fruita, with its miles of desert trails.
The story, however, isn’t a simple one, as economists and municipal officials caution that one can’t simply replace a drill rig with a mountain bike and that each of these economic sectors comes with strengths and weaknesses.
Each, in its own way, also takes a toll on the land.
The extractive industries provide high-paying jobs but are vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles. Tourism is sustained by seasonal and often low-paying jobs, as well as waves of travelers bringing traffic congestion to small towns.
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