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Hunters bring in the big bucks

Amanda Holt MillerWestern Garfield County Staff

RIFLE – Bill Strandberg, Jimmy Lee, Bryan Richardson and Pete Burns make an annual pilgrimage from the suburbs of Atlanta, Ga., to Colorado’s Western Slope every fall.They never go home empty-handed.The men make the trek to hunt elk in the Colorado high country. They usually go home with a plenty of elk meat, but they always go home with souvenirs for their wives and memories of good campfire meals and time spent in the Rocky Mountains.Wednesday morning, just before the start of the first open rifle season, the men started the day with a hardy breakfast at the Basecamp Café in downtown Rifle. Then they went a few steps down Third Street to Miller’s Dry Goods.”The guys like to get something nice for their wives,” Burns said. “Most of these guys always spend a lot of money here.”In fact, most hunters do spend a lot of money in this area. Hunters infused the Garfield County economy with more than $53 million in 2002, according to an economic impact study commissioned by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. With that figure, Garfield County ranks 11th out of the 64 counties in Colorado for an economic impact from hunting. Nearly 700 jobs in Garfield County rely on the hunting industry, according to the study. Garfield County’s hunting economy contributes to the $797 million in direct expenditures related to hunting in the state.More than $28 million of hunting dollars in Garfield County came from out-of-state visitors in 2002. The average out-of-state hunter spends $300 a day while residents spend only $34.”They come from everywhere,” said Gary Miller, who owns Miller’s Dry Goods. “Our No. 1 state is Pennsylvania.”Miller tracks his hunting season business with a big map of the United States located at the front of the store. Hunters use little red pins to spear their hometowns. Each pin typically represents a group and now, at the beginning of the seasons, the map is already pimpled with hundreds of red dots concentrated primarily on the east and west coasts and in the south.Miller stocks up on T-shirts and Rifle souvenirs for hunting season. Hunting season is as big, if not bigger, for the store than the holidays.”You don’t want to leave Rifle without proof that you were here, or you’re wife might wonder,” Miller said. “We have the world’s largest supply of Rifle, Colorado T-shirts. We’ve always gone after the hunting business very aggressively.”Miller also owns Anderson’s Clothing in Glenwood Springs. He does not make any attempt to cater to hunters upvalley.”They like Rifle,” Miller said. “They don’t really come up here much.”Julie Wernsman, who owns Choice Liquors in Rifle, noticed the same phenomenon. She used to own Valley Liquors between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. There, she could count on October and November to be two of the slowest months of the year. Last year in Rifle, October and December were her two biggest months.”All week long, hunters have been coming in,” Wernsman said. “It’s amazing what a difference they make.”Hunters have also been filling up local motels and hotels.”During hunting season, I could probably build on an extra 40 rooms and fill them every night,” said Cheryl Lucas, the manager at the Winchester Motel. “They fill us out pretty much every night.”According to the economic impact study, hunters spend about 28 percent of their trip money on food and lodging. They spend another 27 percent on sporting goods and another 20 percent on transportation.Kevin Rider, who owns Timberline Sporting Goods, said business has been good for his first year in the shop, but he’s also heard hunters complain about the high gas prices.”It seems like it’s steadily declined for the last 20 years,” Miller said of hunting traffic in Rifle. He blames high non-resident license fees and the expense of traveling. An elk license, which is the most popular big game animal in western Colorado, is $485 for a non-resident.The economic impact study noted that the hunting impact in 2002 was not as great as it was in 1996. The total economic impact of hunting in 1996 was $1.98 billion compared to $1.51 billion in 2002. The study estimated that fires, drought and a poor economy effected the lower hunting numbers in 2002.The city does not track the impact of hunting season on its economy, said finance director Nancy Black.”There are too many factors,” Black said. “We don’t have any way of tracking it.”Strandberg said he and his buddies do their part to support the local economy.”We buy between $400 and $600 worth of groceries,” Strandberg said. “We bring some horses, but we lease more and we can’t feed them Georgia hay, it has to be Colorado certified hay.”


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