Commission looks for Visitor Center funding

— The Moffat County Commission is concerned about the Moffat County Visitor Center.

Commissioner Saed Tayyara did not pass up the chance to ask Mike Bauman, Colorado Division of Wildlife representative, why the agency would not increase its funding to the Craig Chamber of Commerce for the Visitor Center.

Bauman, DOW Craig North District wildlife manager, attended the quarterly intergovernmental agencies meeting, where representatives from local, state and federal bodies present in the area meet to share news and plans. It followed the Moffat County Commission's regular Tuesday meeting.

Tayyara thanked Bauman for his agency's continued support through the years but said residents were asking why the DOW's Chamber funding for the Visitor Center has not increased in the past 20 years.

"The Division of Wildlife and the Chamber have a very long relationship," Bauman said. "We've funded the sportsmen's information person every year I've been here. We've been static in the $5,000 range for some years. No, it does not fund enough to keep a person there all the time."

The Chamber previously requested additional funding from the DOW. That process took about a year, and the request eventually was denied, Chamber executive director Christina Currie said.

The sportsmen's information specialist position is the crux of the Visitor Center, Currie added.

Ned Miller, the current specialist, provides an expertise in the area's wildlife, which draws visitors to the Visitor Center, she said. Miller plans to leave his position Dec. 31.

Commissioners Tayyara and Tom Gray wanted to make it clear that Bauman was responsible for DOW funding decisions, they said.

Gray would like every Moffat County resident with strong feelings about the need for a Visitor Center to contact state representatives Rep. Al White, R-Dist. 57, and Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Dist 8, for support.

"If all the local people would say we need some help, then we may have an impact," Gray said. "Let's all send the same message to help out. We all see a need here."

Currie described the need.

Three thousand people in less than the past three months came to the Visitor Center for information, she told the assembly of government officials.

The current staffing at the Chamber, which includes two part-time positions in addition to Miller and Currie, is not enough to handle the current demand, the Chamber director said.

Miller works full time during the hunting season, but budget constraints limit his off-season hours to 16 each week.

Chamber employees, including the director, take time away from Chamber business to handle Visitor Center activities, Currie added.

The Chamber would have to cut its member services to keep the Visitor Center running as it currently is unless extra funding is found, Currie said.

"We're looking at all options to increase funding to at least maintain what we have now," she said.

If enough funding can be found, Currie said the Chamber will look at hiring a full-time general information specialist and keep the sportsmen's information position at current hours.

If funding is not found, the Chamber would look at filling a general information position that is part time and year-round.

Currently, the Chamber is seeking to have interested parties increase their funding to make sure the Visitor Center remains open. That includes the DOW, county, city of Craig and Moffat County Tourism Association.

The DOW is a long-term solution because of the time it takes to process a request.

The county increased its funding from $3,400 in 2007 to $7,500 in 2008, however that is short of the Chamber's $10,000 request.

The city contributes $7,500 as well as many in-kind services such as caring for the premises and performing other maintenance tasks.

MCTA also increased its funding for 2008, from $8,000 to $10,000. MCTA board president Tammie Thompson-Booker has said the group has formalized its budget for 2008 and cannot make any guarantees for additional money.

Thompson-Booker added that MCTA is willing to look at its numbers in the future, and if there is a surplus in lodging tax revenue, it would be willing to contribute what it could.

The Chamber does not want to close the Visitor Center, Currie said.

"We don't want to cut back," she said. "At the same time, we need to run a Chamber. We need the other stakeholders to come to the table and discuss what demand and what need there is and what we can all do to make sure (the Visitor Center) stays open."

The stakeholder meeting needs to happen sooner rather than later, Currie said.

The Chamber has set a workshop meeting for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 29 with the Commission and has asked MCTA representatives to attend.

Ponikvar appointed to MCTA board

John Ponikvar's business as Craig NAPA owner might not be tourism, but the Commission pointed to his recent private efforts when it selected him to fill a vacant seat on the Moffat County Tourism Association board.

In the past, the Commission has been rigid about its interpretation of county statutes that declare an MCTA board member must work in the tourism industry, Commissioner Tom Gray said.

However, Ponikvar's recent efforts to produce Craig's "Elk Hunting Capital of the World" branding campaign qualified him for the position, Gray said.

"He's done a lot these past months, with the branding and everything else," Gray said. "I don't think there's any inconsistency there" against previous appointments.

Ponikvar's actions made him stand out, and the board will look at what people have done outside their professional lives when considering future appointments, Gray added.

The other two applicants were given smaller positions on the MCTA board.

Gary Baysinger, Tin Cup Grill and Mountain Meat Packing owner, was named first alternate. Melody Villard, who co-owns Villard ranch, was named second alternate.

There is the possibility of another vacancy in the future, MCTA board president Tammie Thompson-Booker said.

In that event, the Commission said it would consider Baysinger and Villard for the seat.

At its meeting, the Commission also approved a contract with the town of Dinosaur to split costs for a law enforcement position assigned to the town. The position will be a full-time Moffat County Sheriff's Office deputy. The new deputy would start Jan. 1 at the earliest.

Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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