Outdoor recreation coalition evolving

Sarah Shrader
Chandler Smith

A coalition formed nearly 10 years ago to promote the outdoor recreation industry has embarked on what the organization terms a new chapter.

The Grand Valley Outdoor Coalition is establishing itself as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization with a newly appointed executive director.

Sarah Shrader, founder of the coalition and president of its board, said she’s pleased by the efforts of the group and the results. “In just a short decade, our community has reinvented itself into one of the most coveted places to live, work and play in the Rocky Mountain West.”

Chandler Smith brings more than 20 years of experience in the industry to his appointment as the executive director.

“I intend to lead the organization with passion and a true commitment to inclusivity and community engagement. Stewardship, providing equitable access, fostering sustainable growth and securing funding for our outdoor recreation infrastructure are a few of the initiatives we plan to champion.”

The changes follow two grants from the ZOMA Foundation, which supports the efforts of rural communities to explore economic drivers that promote growth and resilience.

The changes also follow a six-month planning initiative that took into account the comments of the coalition leadership council, business and community leaders who participated in discussions and the 1,300 residents who completed a survey.

According to the results of the survey, more than 80 percent of the people who live in the Grand Valley do so because of access to outdoor recreation.

The Grand Valley Outdoor Recreation Coalition in turn adopted a new mission and three-year strategic plan. The organization also launched a website to serve as an online gateway to outdoor recreation in the region.

The coalition was launched in 2015 to promote the outdoor recreation industry by supporting existing businesses, recruiting new businesses and marketing the area as a destination for a variety of activities.

A study conducted by researchers at Colorado Mesa University concluded outdoor recreation contributes more than $484 million a year to the Mesa County economy and accounts for nearly 10,000 jobs.

Nathan Perry, an associate professor of economics at CMU, was lead author of the study. Perry joined with Tim Casey, a professor of political science and head of the Natural Resource Center at CMU, and Johnny Snyder, a professor of computer information systems. They received funding from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade and Zoma Labs.

While the study only estimated the economic effects of outdoor recreation, Perry said the results reflect the significant role of recreation in accounting for more than 7 percent of the value of goods and services produced in Mesa County and one in 10 jobs.

The study estimated the direct economic effects of outdoor recreation businesses at nearly $199 million and a total of 3,690 full- and part-time jobs in 2021.

Adding indirect and induced effects to take into account the purchase of materials and services in the supply chain as well as employees spending their wages, the total estimates came to nearly $319 million and 4,501 jobs.

The direct effects of outdoor recreation tourism were estimated at nearly $342 million and a total of 3,930 full- and part-time jobs. Adding indirect and induced effects, the totals came to more than $556 million and 5,396 jobs.

The study also estimated the effects of outdoor recreation on gross domestic product, the broad measure of goods and services produced in Mesa County. The direct effect of outdoor recreation businesses on GDP topped $131 million. The direct effect of outdoor recreation tourism on GDP exceeded $190 million.

The total of nearly $322 million constituted 4.8 percent of GDP in Mesa County, Perry said.

A separate study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated outdoor recreation generated $13.9 billion in Colorado in 2022 and accounted for 130,000 jobs.

The Grand Valley Outdoor Recreation Coalition supported several local projects — including the Palisade Plunge, a 32-mile mountain bike trail from the top of the Grand Mesa to the town of Palisade.

As one of 13 coalitions across Colorado, the Grand Valley Outdoor Recreation Coalition will work with the state outdoor recreation office.

The Grand Valley Outdoor Recreation Coalition also will support a regional partnership funded by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Great Outdoors Colorado to protect land, water and wildlife in Mesa, Delta and Montrose counties.