It’s time to take the step for our economy, quality of life and our future
By Chuck Cichowitz, President, Noah’s Ark Whitewater Rafting & Adventure Co.
On Nov. 6 the voters of Chaffee County have the opportunity to create a continuing support mechanism for our lands and waters.
By saying yes to Ballot Issue 1A, we are investing in the foundation of our economy and our quality of life. As a long-term local and business owner of 37 years, I have seen the positive and negative aspects of growth here in Chaffee County. This measure gives us the means to help balance the impacts our lands are seeing from increasing recreation use, as well as help address the rapidly developing wildfire risks.
1A is an opportunity for us as a growing community to establish a voice and a stronger role in determining outcomes and to invest in and impact the resources we care most about. By acting now, we are able to be on the front side of the curve and not sit idly by – as opposed to reacting to a full-blown crisis.
With near-constant smoke in our summer air, we have seen too many communities in Colorado and further across the West struggle in crisis mode as fires destroyed their forests – and in some cases, neighborhoods. And unfortunately, the trend is now toward drier and warmer weather, thereby increasing the likelihood of large fires. Experts say we could now see a large fire almost any time of year in Chaffee County.
As a direct result of the fire in Buffalo Peaks Wilderness, recreation providers experienced a high volume of calls concerning safety in the backcountry and overall health concern questions. The perception of the impact of the fire influenced tourists to change their plans.
While foresters are clear about the declining health of our forests, we also are experiencing the impacts of rapidly increasing recreation numbers. As an example, an estimated 75,000 to 110,000 people summited our local 14,000-foot peaks in 2017. That speaks to the even greater volume of users who are hiking and camping at lower elevations.
Since I’ve been guiding backcountry trips since 1984, I have seen the results – that our wilderness and non-wilderness areas are looking tired and overused. By establishing stewardship partnerships that bring together the stakeholders of Chaffee County, we can strategically get the users involved and fund mitigation projects in our forests as well as help restore and protect our outdoor spaces.
This in turn helps protect our waterways by addressing the land-overuse issues that affect our streams. And by taking steps toward addressing catastrophic wildfire risk, we are helping to diminish the impacts that large fires can have on our waterways: flooding, sedimentation and destruction of streambeds, fisheries and the aesthetic value we all appreciate – and rely on economically.
1A also supports education for the people who use our lands. From better signage to education in schools and more promotion of ethics such as Leave No Trace, we can make a substantial difference in the stewardship of our lands and waters. And, by us setting standards here in Chaffee County, visitors can take those practices and create a ripple effect elsewhere.
The ballot measure seeks a 0.25 percent sales tax, which amounts to 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase. The revenues can then be leveraged for grants that yield substantially more funding over the years.
Our many recreation opportunities will continue to be the major draw to our valley. The condition of our recreation assets such as the Arkansas River, Collegiate Peaks, Buffalo Peaks and Fourmile Recreation Area will ultimately define the character of Chaffee County and will drive the quality of experience for our visitors as well as those who live here.
We know clearly that a major fire would impact our properties and access to burned areas, and ultimately affect all of our businesses, across the board. A fire on the front of Mount Princeton, for example, would take a generation to regrow and would leave a lasting, negative impression on people’s experience here. These interwoven aesthetic and economic costs are exponentially more than an investment in 1A.
I ask you to join me by voting yes on 1A for Chaffee County’s waters and lands. It’s time to take the step for our economy, quality of life and our future.