CPW hosts panel to discuss Craig’s economic transition | CraigDailyPress.com

CPW hosts panel to discuss Craig’s economic transition

Tri-State power plant is scheduled for full decommission by 2030, which will create a huge transition for local residents and the economy.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting on Sept. 8 was held in Craig with several items on the agenda, including a panel discussing the future of outdoor recreation in Craig. 

The commission met at the Quality Inn and Suites on Sept. 8. The CPW commissioners were joined by several local voices including a panel of local leaders, business owners and outdoor recreation representatives to discuss outdoor recreation in Craig. 

Representing different viewpoints on the relationships between the river and the future of the local economy were Director of Moffat County Tourism Tom Kleinschnitz, owners of Good Vibes River Gear Josh and Maegan Veenstra, Vice President of Generation for Tri-State Tim Osborn, Executive Director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce Jennifer Holloway and Policy Advisor for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Jo Jo La. 

These panelists were invited by CPW because they were featured in the short film called, “Craig, America,” which was produced by a longtime partner of Friends of the Yampa, American Rivers.  

The seven-minute video was co-created with the help of Craig representatives who wanted to help tell the story of Craig’s transition from a coal-based economy, and how the Yampa River can continue to play a vital part in supporting the community. 

“Craig, America” was presented to CPW to introduce the panel and open up the floor for commissioners to ask questions and better understand how Craig is navigating the current economic transition.

Since the video was produced, Holloway explained that the community has made progress on several outdoor recreation projects including expanding access to the Yampa River and getting funding for a $3.3 million white water park. 

“There is definitely exciting stuff for the business world,” Holloway said. “And how that can help with creating small entrepreneurs like the Veenstras, as well as how we can protect the river, which is what the movie is themed around.”

Holloway mentioned that Moffat County Tourism has also been working with collaborative partners like CPW and BLM on getting funding for infrastructure, such as staging areas, to better prepare Moffat County’s open spaces for tourism without overdeveloping the local wilderness. 

The sentiment from many of the panelists is that the community has to continue to work together and with regional and state resources to make a plan for increased outdoor recreation.

One of the main concerns from local residents in increasing outdoor recreation tourism is how to negotiate inviting visitors into the wilderness while also keeping those spaces wild.

Before commissioners, the panelists were also able to advocate for how essential hunting and fishing tourism has been for outdoor recreation in the community. 

Through the local marketing district, Kleinschnitz said, it is possible to gauge how many visitors come to different locations in Moffat County, including Loudy-Simpson Park. 

“One thing I would like to impart with you,” Kleinschnitz said. “We looked at those stats back to 2018 and every time just before a hunting rifle season in Moffat County between 1,200 to 2,200 unique people from outside the region were in the parking lot [of Loudy-Simpson].” 

Kleinschnitz pointed out how hunting, fishing and agriculture are precious resources for the local community and economy. 

“The hunting opportunities are something that we just can’t lose after we lose our extraction industry,” Kleinschnitz said. 

One of the challenges of transitioning to new economies and increasing outdoors tourism is trying to maintain the identity of the existing community and its culture. Another aspect of the transition will be continuing to protect the Yampa River as a vital resource for Moffat County Northwest Colorado communities. 

Osborn explained that Tri-State’s co-members are still navigating what will happen with the Craig Station power generation site after the final decommission in 2030. Any form of power the current plant could be converted to would need water in order to generate power. 

“Moffat County is an area of Colorado that has always been kind of overlooked, and now it’s time for Moffat County to come into the spotlight a little bit,” Josh Veenstra said. “Hopefully, with the energy we bring — the pop — we can do it. We can be a craft industries economy. We can never replace Tri-State, but if a couple of smaller craft industries pop up, it will create more diversity.” 

Holloway said the Craig Chamber has also been encouraging remote work by adding co-working space to the 775 Yampa Building and by offering training and resources to help locals start their own businesses. 

“That is the biggest interest we are getting when we talk to people who are in jobs that are going to be transitioning,” Holloway said. “They are more interested in doing their own thing rather than being retrained or moving to another similarly trained job somewhere else. Because most people really are tied to this place, people who live here really don’t want to leave.”

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