Vail Valley Voices: Wilderness matters to our economy |

Vail Valley Voices: Wilderness matters to our economy

Josh Lautenberg
Vail, CO, Colorado

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is right on target when he talks about the value of protected wilderness for our local economy.

Here in Vail and in places like Aspen, Snowmass Village, Eagle and Breckenridge, our economy has prospered over the years in large part because of its location in the heart of the Colorado Rockies.

So how does wilderness support the economy?

Because of their famous majesty and beauty, the Rocky Mountains attract visitors from around the world. Think of all the people who can’t wait to leave behind the noise and pollution of the city to come here for their week or two in the mountains. To be able to smell the fresh air and stare at the perfect Colorado blue skies.

The beauty of the Rockies is also a big reason that people choose to live here, whether they are professionals looking for a great place to live, tradesmen applying their expertise in a diverse construction market, or athletes seeking a place where they can make a living while chasing adventure and glory.

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According to the widely reported numbers, Colorado as a whole benefits to the tune of $10 billion a year, thanks to quiet recreational activities like alpine and Nordic skiing, hiking, fishing, climbing, mountain and road biking, snowshoeing and wildlife viewing. Hunting adds billions more. It’s estimated that more than 100,000 jobs in this state are tied to this portion of our economy.

Locally, if you take a look at forest-user monitoring by the U.S. Forest Service, the numbers are profound. According to the numbers gathered by Forest Service employees in 2007, 76 percent of visitors came to ski and snowboard at our resorts, spending billions annually in the resorts of Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen.

To understand how important this spending is, let’s take a look at the impact of people who come here primarily to cross country ski or snowshoe. They represent just 4 percent of “forest users,” according to the Forest Service statistics, yet they spent $29 million on purchases of retail, food and lodging in our communities.

The thing that cross country skiers share with other recreational users for the forest – hikers, skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, snowmobilers – is a desire to experience Colorado’s pristine environment and abundant wildlife. The Central Colorado Outdoor Heritage Act will ensure that all of us continue to share that experience.

As a real estate broker here in Vail, I can tell you that our proximity to the Holy Cross and Eagles Nest Wilderness Areas is a big draw for people who decide to buy a vacation home.

Nature is our neighbor, and as a result we have fantastic fly fishing, great hiking, some of the world’s best skiing and snowboarding, and a plethora of other outdoor activities.

When someone buys a home in Vail or Snowmass Village or Frisco, they are going to spend money on everything from recreation to dining to clothing and jewelry to music, movies and other entertainment. They pay property taxes. They bring their friends.

Second-home owners make a big splash in our community, and they share their fantastic experiences with their friends and acquaintances back home. And part of their story invariably includes the fantastic views, the herd of elk on the hillside and the sound of a stream rushing past.

This place is worth protecting from extractive industries like energy development, logging and mining, as well as by people who love this place but overuse it. Designated wilderness allows people to enjoy the land on foot, horseback or in a raft or kayak, at the same pace and in the same way we have for most of history. It’s a place where we set aside mechanical advantage and take it in at nature’s pace.

By supporting Sen. Udall’s initiative to add to the inventory of protected wilderness here in central Colorado, we can all help ensure that the majestic and precious landscapes that so define our communities remain healthy for generations to come.

Josh Lautenberg is a real estate broker based in Vail.

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