Survey: Moffat County’s economy boosted by wild horses | CraigDailyPress.com

Survey: Moffat County’s economy boosted by wild horses

Photographers gather to capture images of wild horses in Moffat County's Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Management Area during one of many basin meet-ups.

CRAIG — Visitors traveling to Moffat County to see wild horses have been adding tourism dollars to the local economy, but until now, data had been unavailable to determine the value of the wild horses of Sand Wash Basin.

Wild Horse Warriors — a nonprofit group of wild horse advocates — hopes the results of a survey created by Craig resident Nadja Rider will provide facts and figures to encourage greater support for the herd.

About 750 free-roaming horses live in the Sand Wash Basin herd management area — a 160,000-acre area about 45 miles west of Craig which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management under the auspices of the Wild Horse and Burro Act.

In 2014 Rider — a frequent visitor to the basin, where she photographs and documents the horses — started her "Wild Horses of Sand Wash Basin" Facebook page.

In August, she used Survey Monkey to ask more than 192,000 followers a series of questions to gain a better understanding of who is traveling to watch the horses, where they are staying, how much they are spending, and what they thought of the experience.

Within a few hours, she said, 500 people had responded, and a total of 859 had responded before the survey ended.

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According to Rider, the data showed the following.

• About half the people taking the survey had visited Sand Wash Basin; the remainder expressed interest in visiting.

• Visitors travel from across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Egypt, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and most European countries.

• Many travel specifically to see the wild horses.

• The average stay was three to seven days, with some staying as many as 10 to 14 days.

• Most reported spending an average $1,000 during their stay. Some groups reported spending $20,000 or more on their trip.

• About half of visitors made day-trips from Meeker, Steamboat Springs, and Grand Junction.

• About half of visitors reported staying in lodging in Craig.

• Visitors also camped in Sand Wash Basin, stayed in lodging in Maybell, or camped in Craig or Maybell.

• Most visitors said they had visited at least once per year and up to four times per year.

• Many visitors have been visiting for four to five years in a row, with a handful having visited for longer.

The survey also collected comments from visitors.

One respondent said, "We usually plan two to three trips to the basin each year. We find the people of Craig to be very friendly and welcoming. If not for Sand Wash Basin, we probably wouldn't visit the area."

Another stated, "I had only planned on an overnight stay on my way home, and then I saw the horses and stayed three nights. I will be coming back with my better camera soon, if the horses are still there."

Many of the commenters recalled stories of flat tires; minor injuries, such as a broken wrist; and other accidents, but these experiences did not deter visitors from returning.

Members of the WHW, including Rider, presented their findings to Moffat County commissioners Ray Beck and Frank Moe during the public comment period of an August board meeting. Commissioner Don Cook was not present.

"I don't think our commissioners understand the value, economically, of what they (the wild horses) do for Moffat County," said WHW founder Cindy Wright in an interview after the meeting.

WHW, and members like Wright, raised more than $20,000 in a month, an amount that has grown to more than $35,000, to help provide water to the horses during the summer’s extended drought. The effort has been done through an agreement with the BLM.

The money is being spent locally to pay for equipment, services of a professional water hauler, and water, which WHW had hoped to obtain from the county at the Maybell Fire Department.

Moe confirmed that, initially, the group was being supplied water from public sources in Maybell. However, that was curtailed, Moe said, due to concerns there would be insufficient water for the county to meet essential public service needs, road and bridge, and firefighting in the face of the drought.

After WHW presented its survey results, Beck and his wife visited the Sand Wash Basin.

"I think we can all agree that the wild horses are an economic benefit to Moffat County, but I think we can all also agree that the horses in the basin are overpopulated," Beck said.

The BLM has determined the land can support between 163 and 362 horses without detriment to the ecosystem.

The commissioners take exception to the idea that the county isn't supportive.

Beck said the county has supported projects by the Moffat County Tourism Association to install interpretive signs and feature the wild horses in marketing material.

He's asked the WHW to give commissioners dates and times, so they can set a meeting to bring people together to discuss the future of the horses in light of their overpopulation and the drought.

"Let's sit down at the table and discuss who is responsible for what and why and get everyone on the same page," he said.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.