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Overcoming the challenges

Director optimistic despite drought, disease

Josh Nichols

Wally Ralston, the first director of the economic development corporation for Craig and Moffat County, said he is optimistic about Moffat County’s economic situation despite several factors that have area residents concerned.

Ralston began his new job last week in an agricultural community that is facing one its driest summers in decades that could not only take a toll on ranches and farms but tourism as well if the Yampa River dwindles to low levels.

Add to that an outbreak of chronic wasting disease that could make for a weak hunting season, which could make or break some area businesses that depend on the season’s influx of revenue.

“The drought is God’s promise,” Ralston said from his temporary office at Colorado Northwestern Community College Tuesday afternoon. “We can do certain things about it, but it’s out of our control. Further on down the road we can apply for aid but I don’t see that just yet.”

Regarding chronic wasting disease, Ralston said it is important that the disease has not yet been discovered in area elk herds, and the percentage of deer infected is less than 1 percent.

“When you say 1 percent that’s a very small amount,” he said. “That’s not going to adversely impact the area.”

Hunters will continue to come here, he said, because it is a great place to hunt.

“Chronic wasting disease is a problem,” he said. “But Colorado is still a far better place for hunting than many places. Where else are hunters going to go?”

One advantage is the licensing system in Colorado, he said.

“It’s an inconvenience that we have wasting disease,” he said. “But it’s still a far better place for hunting than Wyoming where I come from. With the lottery system there you can live in Central Wyoming and might have to go down to Cheyenne to hunt. Colorado is a far better place in terms of not having a lottery system.

Ralston went so far as to say that revenue might improve for Moffat County next hunting season with the possibility of having a testing facility for chronic wasting disease in the area. Hunters will stay in the area longer, he said.

“If a hunter comes out, bags an animal and wants to wait three days for a test, that gives us an economic boost,” he said. “There is a strong indication we will have a better hunting season.”

A 1- percent infection rate will not scare hunters away, he said.

“Hunters are risk takers to an extent,” he said. “Some are not going to come but many will.”

If there is a negative impact on the economy due to the disease, it won’t last long, Ralston said.

“Look at the impact of 9/11,” he said. “There’s been a resurgence since then. We might see an initial impact but we’ll come right back. A hunter is still going to want to come to Moffat County to bag an animal.”

For now, Ralston said he will continue to try and gain a better understanding of financial issues in the community.

“We have diverse interests in this community,” he said. “Everybody has encouraged me to take small steps. My first priority is to go out and get a pulse of the business community.”

This will include visits to the power plants, coal mines, downtown businesses and ranchers, he said.

He will then develop a plan outline to address some of the major issues he comes across.

“It’s a question of how do we want to move the ball forward,” he said.

Economic development does not mean the goal is to turn Craig into a Denver, he said.

“I have empathy for those who don’t want any change,” he said. “This is a great community to live in. I would not want to change that.”


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