Your Watershed column: A dollar sign put on the outdoor recreation industry |

Your Watershed column: A dollar sign put on the outdoor recreation industry

Jon Nicolodi

In the discussion of conservation, the beauty and soul-satiating nature of the wild places that abound in America is often used as a reason for their preservation. With lofty words and increasingly sophisticated media, awareness is spread about the breath-taking vistas and natural wonders that should be permanent fixtures of our country’s ideology.

But sometimes that isn’t enough, because a family’s health has historically been built upon the use of those resources in their backyard, or because someone has invested in the use of that natural resource from some distant city. Economics is being used with great depth and complexity to put a dollar sign on those wild places to spur those who aren’t as easily swayed by photographs of picturesque vistas.

Earth Economics, an international science-based economics firm that works to put a value on what nature provides, calculated that $140 million is spent annually on outdoor recreation alone in the Middle Colorado River Watershed, which spans from just east of Glenwood Springs to De Beque. It supports 972 jobs annually within Garfield County and contributes $43 million to GDP and $6 million to local and state taxes.

How could anyone ever calculate that? Earth Economics has some practice, to say the least, with a long list of economic analyses over the last 19 years. In addition to “Economic Contribution of Recreation in the Middle Colorado Watershed,” some of their other recent publications within our region include “The Economic Benefits and Costs of Snow in the Upper Colorado Basin” and “Nature’s Value in the Colorado River Basin.”

Upon completing “Nature’s Value in the Colorado River Basin,” Earth Economics reached out to the Middle Colorado Watershed Council in Rifle, with the interest of doing a focused study of the Middle Colorado River Watershed.

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One thing that we knew well and that they found out was that within Garfield County, locals and visitors recreate outdoor in just about every possible form, from running to fishing, jet boating and picnicking.

Earth Economics started out by estimating how many outdoor recreation visits there were by collecting data from federal, state and local agencies and private guiding companies. This in itself is intimidating, and the report wraps up by stating that the economic contribution of outdoor recreation in the Middle Colorado River Watershed is likely underestimated because they can’t possibly capture data on all of the users and visits.

They then estimated how much money was spent per visit, with the “types of visits” broken into nine categories, recognizing that how you recreate impacts how much you might spend per visit.

“Commercial rafting” came in as the most expensive, at $117.78 per visit, while “local park recreation” was the least expensive at $16.14 per visit. The modeling program Earth Economics primarily uses, which inputs county-specific data into its calculations, considers three categories when calculating amount spent per visit.

Say a fly fisher wants to grab dinner in New Castle after a day out. The amount of money they spend at the restaurant is considered, as is the amount that the restaurant pays another business for the ingredients, as is the portion of income a restaurant employee would re-spend in the local economy. All because that fly fisher wanted to eat out before driving home.

Breaking it down further, of that $140 million, the Colorado River itself is responsible for at least $32 million annually spent on recreation, supporting 321 jobs within the county, contributing $15 million to GDP and generating $2.5 million for local and state taxes. And that doesn’t even consider what the Colorado River is responsible for in supporting other uses like agriculture and industry.

Visit us at for more information on the report.

Want to learn more about all of the industries and perspectives invested in the health of our watershed and the challenges it faces? Join the Middle Colorado Watershed Council and the Colorado River Water Conservation District at the annual State of the River meeting at 6 p.m May 15 at the Ute Theater in Rifle. It’s entirely free, with dinner available beforehand.

Jon Nicolodi is the Community Outreach Coordinator for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. To learn more about the MCWC, go to You can also find them on Facebook at

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