The days of summer in Buena Vista are filled with people of all ages from all over the country coming to the valley to enjoy the outdoors.
From camping to off-roading, there are activities to fit the bill for any type of adventure vacation.
One of the appeals of the area is the public land offered so locals and tourists alike can truly feel the luxury of getting lost in the outdoors.
In a grassroots effort to raise awareness and support for public land and resources, county residents have joined together in hopes of making a difference.
The Ark Valley Women United Environmental Interest Group, or huddle for the environment, as they like to call it, have banded together with 42 local businesses and created an informational poster in hopes of raising curiosity and interest to provide a gateway into something bigger. Susan Greiner and Kathy McCoy are the leaders of the group and felt the need to do something in order to see positive action.
Because of the recent executive order by President Donald Trump to review 26 national monuments created in the past 20 years, the Ark Valley Women United wanted to raise awareness of the issue.
The women emphasize that Chaffee County is 80 percent public land; therefore any decision made in this capacity could ultimately affect the county’s funding and tourism-based industry.
“We made a poster that highlighted what we perceive as a threat to public lands and the importance of it to our business community,” said Greiner. “We used the example of what is happening in Utah, that the leaders would like to reduce the size of national monuments and turn the land over to private interests for fossil fuel development – this led to the president starting a review of national monuments with 100,000 acres or more.
“This is something that has never happened in the history of our country, and if actually happens it would set a precedent which could open up all national monuments including Browns Canyon National Monument here in our valley to being changed or privatized,” she said.
Greiner and McCoy stressed that the importance of this movement is for people to realize no matter a person’s stance on how the land may be used, we should all come together because ultimately we all want to use it indisputably. Especially with the short-term summer growth from tourism, there are likely many more people reached if organizations and businesses join in support.
“As polarized as people are in the country right now, supporting public lands should be a non-partisan issue, and ought to be something we agree on. So we thought ‘Let’s reach out and try to start something that we can all grab on to and protect our public lands in the process,” she said.
McCoy emphasized that by bringing various types of businesses together the misunderstanding and differences can be set aside to achieve the ultimate goal. While Colorado as a state is currently in firm favor of maintaining the land access and national monuments already established, she said it is important to educate on how to stay up-to-date with information in case such issues are brought to the valley, she said.
“Our goal is to raise awareness and to reach the hearts and minds of people so those who are maybe getting the wrong idea about public lands can understand why they are important and that they really do belong to us,” said McCoy.
The group’s poster can be found located inside the windows of many local businesses. Many of these business owners, while they may have personal motives, can concur on the value of the current land that surrounds us.
Dave Schiefelbein, editor of The Chaffee County Times, not only understands the allure of what brought so many to the valley but the importance of why it needs to be maintained as well.
“The Chaffee County Times is a partner with many businesses in our community, and as such, we recognize the important economic, cultural and lifestyle amenities our public lands provide,” Schiefelbein said.
“Far beyond the impressive tourism draw, public lands provide that quality of life we all hold so dearly. We are blessed to have access to the tremendous assets that make Buena Vista a unique destination,” he said.
Megan Kingman co-owner of CKS, not only wants to see the public lands protected but has also been affected as an outdoor retail company by the recent petition for the Outdoor Retailer Show in Utah to be moved because of the state’s political stance.
Over a dozen companies took a stand to have the show moved, which will now be held in Denver.
“As a business in the outdoors industry, it is imperative to take a stance in support of our public lands, not only for the future of our industry but for the future of everyone who has had and will have the opportunity to enjoy the open spaces,” Kingman said. “Public lands are something that are unique to our country and a reason people come here to tour and see the ‘wild west.’ I think that our public lands are what make America great.”
Born and raised in the area, Sarah Haske, founder of HEC Studios, travels the state selling handmade Colorado-inspired hats and without the land to explore; her business would not be the same.
“My hats are inspired by outdoor scenes that are rooted from growing up in BV. We are fortunate to be surrounded by public lands and waterways that allow us access to natural wonders and to experience the solitude and benefits of the outdoors,” Haske said. “In an era of rapid development, I can only hope that the protection of natural areas, resources and public lands is there for future generations,” said Haske.
Jed Selby, business administrator and founder of the South Main development, agrees that without the appeal of the public resources surrounding the valley, he like so many others, would not have called this place home.
“I moved to Colorado because of the beauty of the mountains and incredible outdoor recreational opportunities they offer. To help in any way I can to protect the main reason I am here is a no-brainer,” said Selby.
The influx of outdoor enthusiasts flocking to the valley is an adjustment that all business owners make each summer.
For Annika Woolmington, owner of Buena Vista Roastery Café, it has helped her business thrive even in the off-seasons.
“So much of the draw for the valley is to be to go out into the wilderness and roam doing whatever pleases you. Our town has the potential to grow because we have so much public land, versus certain places that may be stunted because of what surrounds them. It is also helping our shoulder season, with the public land that is helping sustain our tourism year-round it can continue into months that aren’t just designated for the obvious rafting or snow season,” said Woolmington.
Though the women actively involved with raising support around the area have only just begun with their endeavors, they hope this will lead to further public outreach such as informational meetings, pamphlets, and especially more involvement.
“It is pretty impressive, really, when you see that hunters and anglers are standing up with conservation groups who are standing up with Patagonia and REI that all have different goals as organizations but all are coming together to protect the environment, it really could be something that has wings,” said Greiner.