Locals to make a difference with Tourism Association

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— There are some people around here who think they can help out.

Today, the Moffat County Commission likely will give one of them a chance.

As of 1 p.m. Monday, three residents submitted letters to the county declaring interest in filling a vacant seat on the Moffat County Tourism Association board. The Commission will review their letters and possibly select one for the position at its meeting today.

Two candidates run businesses heavily influenced by tourists, and the other, Craig NAPA owner John Ponikvar, started the "Elk Hunting Capital of the World" branding campaign for Craig.

County statutes dictate that anyone named to the MCTA board must be a part of the tourism industry professionally.

In the past, the Commission has been rigid about who is part of that board because of the statute, Commissioner Tom Gray said. The Commission will look at Ponikvar's credentials in the branding campaign before members make a decision.

Both Gray and Tammie Thompson-Booker, MCTA board president, expressed interest in naming a restaurant owner because there is not one presently on the board, and that is a large part of the tourism industry.

Despite the candidates' differences, each thinks he or she can bring something unique to Moffat County's tourism push.

The restaurateur

Gary Baysinger, 50, owns and operates Tin Cup Grill and Mountain Meat Packing, both of which are directly affected by area tourists, he said.

He is the only restaurant owner to request a board position.

"Tourism is a big part of my bottom line," Baysinger said. "Tin Cup gets a lot of visitors through the year, and Mountain Meats is obviously linked to the hunters when they're up here."

Baysinger has lived in the area for 45 years, almost his entire life. He wants to do whatever he can with his experience in business and with the area to help, he said.

"I'm just interested in being a good team player and seeing what we can do to get more and more people coming," Baysinger said.

The rancher

Moffat County's wide-open spaces are more than Game Management Units, and they can offer a lot more to Moffat County's visitors, Melody Villard said.

Her family owns Villard Ranch, located north of Craig.

The Villards recently started getting friends and family - and their friends' friends and families - to come to the ranch for a few weeks and live as ranchers. It's a vacation from their daily grind in faster parts of the world, Villard said.

"You hear people say, 'God, I want to slow down. I want to not know what happened on the Internet for a week,'" she said.

The county can benefit from promoting that kind of vacation, and the ranchers can benefit from showing a world trying to leave them behind the value in living off the land, Villard said.

"I'm really into the history of this area and sharing that with people," Villard said. "It gets harder and harder to continue ranching when people don't understand why we do what we do."

Villard's focus, if she is named to the board, will be to concentrate on year-round tourism because that will have the most positive impact on Moffat County.

"It will open a whole new ballgame for tourists and businesses here," she said.

The self-starter

John Ponikvar does not have a business traditionally thought of as part of the tourism industry.

In his thinking, however, everything about Moffat County is part of the tourism industry.

"Any business in Moffat County is a part of that," Ponikvar said. "We all cater to tourists."

Ponikvar founded Craig's "Elk Hunting Capital of the World" campaign - and paid for the design and the merchandise - because he has an interest in promoting Craig, he said.

It's that energy he wants to bring to MCTA.

"Whenever I get involved in something, I put a lot of energy into it and want it to be successful," Ponikvar said. "I think the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership has kind of stalled out. You don't see a lot of action coming from the Tourism Association, and the Craig Chamber of Commerce seems pretty limited as to what they can do.

"We need to get all three of these groups working together and then we can not only help tourism, but we can promote good economic development, too."

As part of his tenure on the MCTA board, Ponikvar would work to expand Moffat County's image to an outdoor lifestyle destination, including hiking and river rafting as well as hunting.

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