Outdoor recreation talks center around Moffat County’s longstanding traditions, but also its future | CraigDailyPress.com

Outdoor recreation talks center around Moffat County’s longstanding traditions, but also its future

Chuck Sullivan, left, Tinneal Gerber, center, and Kirstie McPherson were filming an interview about the significance of the Yampa Valley to locals, and how we can welcome the change that's coming.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

Editor’s note: This story has been update to clarify The Wright is a Colorado-based nonprofit organization.

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office has spent the summer traveling around Colorado to talk with communities about new outdoor recreation grant opportunities, including the Colorado State Outdoor Recreation grant. 

OREC staff came to Craig on Wednesday, Aug. 24, for a presentation and listening sessions to hear what communities want to see happen on the state level in terms of support for recreation. 

These types of grant outreach meetings can be heavy on the presentation and lighter on the listening, but OREC Director Conor Hall and his staff took a different approach in this branch of their summer tour. 

In addition to the listening session, Hall and his team partnered with Chuck Sullivan, and the Colorado-based non-profit called The Wright, to host a happy hour and Campfire Conversation where a locally-focused discussion of recreation could be explored. 

Connor Hall, director of OREC, gave a presentation about funding opportunities that will help Moffat County grow its outdoor recreation industry in a responsible way.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

“Across this tour of the state, the through line is the deep love and pride that people have for the place they live, especially in this area with such vastness and wildness,” Hall said. “We want to work with you and help grow this economy in a way that works for you.” 

Sullivan said The Wright project came together as a way for people to see what brings them together. Over the summer OREC and The Wright have traveled to the Arkansas Valley, the Yampa Valley, and the Grand Valley, three distinct regions that are all in some degree of transition, both economic and cultural. 

Sullivan said all three areas they covered are river valleys that may have distinct towns throughout them, but at the end of the day they’re all connected. 

“I am hoping to bring these stories together so people are able to see themselves in someone else’s story,” Sullivan said. 

If everything goes well, the end result of the tour will be a podcast series called “Voices of our valley” that would show how communities see themselves and how they reconcile differences and shared values. 

The Campfire Conversation was hosted at the 518 Wine Bar in downtown Craig. Sullivan and Hall teamed up with owner Kirstie McPherson to talk with two Moffat County residents who have a deep connection to the local landscape. 

Tyler Emrick, owner of CJ Outfitters, said his favorite place to be in Moffat County is in Browns Park, not only because of the wildlife but also the rich history.

Emrick is a full-time outfitter who does guided hunts in highly sought after parts of Moffat County, where it takes a resident 24-26 years to draw a tag and a non-resident 30-31 years. Because it takes decades to draw a tag in these areas, the average age of his clients is 72. 

“It’s cool to be a part of a person’s once-in-a-lifetime hunt,” Emrick said. “I get to see all reactions from clients — everywhere from the guy that cries to the guy who hugs you and starts shaking you.” 

Communities like Maybell, where Emrick lives with his family, wouldn’t exist without the hunting and fishing industries. There are many full-time outfitters in the area who have spent many years working with the wildlife and the landscape. 

“We can’t forget what made the town,” Emrick said. 

Connor Hall, left, Tyler Emrick, center, and Chuck Sullivan, right, discuss what it’s like to be stewards of the land, and the struggles outdoor outfitters are facing in the region.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

There is pressure from outside forces, and state legislation, that is changing and shaping the way that outfitters like Emrick are doing business. He said that it has pushed the industry to work together to advocate for themselves. 

“We’re going to keep having people come into the state and we’re going to keep growing as a state, we can’t turn this off,” Hall said. “But we can work together and figure out how to steward the use of our land best.” 

Tinneal Gerber, whose family has been in the Yampa Valley for six — soon to be seven — generations, agreed that shutting people out isn’t the right answer. Gerber said her family came here from Europe generations ago, and that’s similar to what is happening now. 

“We are in a special place right now, we can take this community and build on it and turn it into something that we can be proud of,” Gerber said. “We can responsibly bring people into the community and help them become a part of that story and the history we are trying to build here.” 

Agriculture, ranching, hunting and fishing are not only outdoor recreation, but a way of life in Moffat County and a big part of how people have cultivated multigenerational relationships with the land.

“As a farmer and rancher, you have to love the land and it has to love you back. Otherwise you wouldn’t be successful,” Gerber said. “There are so many things that are out of your control, weather, rain, storms, drought. You have to love the land.”

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