Regional: Hunters bring big economic contributions
Post Independent Staff
Money brought into the area economy by hunters visiting Garfield County over the past several years has varied, but there’s no question that the fall big-game hunting season has a positive economic impact on this area.
The first of four separate big-game rifle seasons in Colorado runs Oct. 11-15 for limited elk license holders, followed by combined deer/elk season Oct. 18-26 and Nov. 1-9, and a final combined limited season Nov. 12-16.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, hunting generates an estimated $919 million per year, including $181 million generated in the northwest part of the state.
Garfield County ranks as the second-biggest Western Slope county behind Mesa County in terms of economic output, generating $22.6 million in spending and $1.7 million in local and state taxes, and creating 322 jobs, according to a February 2014 analysis.
In Rifle, the number of hunters has been consistent over the past two to three years but still isn’t what it was prior to the recession in 2009, according to Frank Ladd, CEO of the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce.
Ladd did not have an accurate number of packets that had been sent out this year requesting information regarding hunting in western Garfield County, because many of them now get their information online.
“With the access to the Internet, they don’t need our help as much,” Ladd said.
But everyone seems to agree that hunting season brings increased revenue into the area, whether it be through restaurants, lodging, fuel sales, food purchases or outdoor gear and clothing.
“It’s much busier during hunting season,” said Alan Robinson, general manager of The Roaring Fork Co-Op in Carbondale. “It’s often the last stop before they head into the hills. Our license sales are up quite a bit this year, and we’re getting a lot more hunters from out of state these days. Most of them don’t have this kind of store back home.”
Many of the hunters going through Glenwood Springs and Carbondale are on their way to McClure Pass and beyond.
Some of the more popular hunting sites include Thompson Creek, the Flat Tops and the Thomas Lakes/Hay Park area.
“We see a lot of hunters around town in the fall,” said Lisa Langer, vice-president of tourism marketing at the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
She added that most of the out-of-state hunters seem to plan ahead and already know where they’re staying when they arrive.
“Some camp, some bring RVs, some stay in lodging,” Langer said.
Restaurants also see an increase in business during the season.
“We have hunters from all over America come in,” said Lauren Boebert, owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle. “They come in for breakfast on their way out and come in for dinner on their way back.”
Boebert joked that you can’t always see the hunters, because they’re dressed in camouflage.
“They’re kind of hidden,” she said with a laugh. “People may think the tables are empty, but they’re really there.”
Red Rock Diner in Carbondale says it sees a boost during hunting season but also said it has noticed a downturn since the recession.
“Hunting season has gotten smaller, at least in our part of the valley,” said owner Bob Olenick. “We used to be a lot busier for a lot more days. Hunting season still brings in a fair amount of income during the week before the season starts and when it’s winding down. Once the season starts, if the weather stays nice, the hunters are up in the woods.”
And for the fashion conscious — at least for those hunters from out of state — more hunters are wearing camouflage than orange, according to Olenick.
Bill Kight, public information officer for the White River National Forest, still suggested that hunters, and anyone venturing into the back country this time of year, wear bright orange in order to be seen during hunting season.
All in all, hunting season is a profitable season to a lot of businesses in this area and to the state of Colorado.
“Hunting brings in a tremendous amount of money to the state,” said Mike Porras, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northwest region. “Many local businesses, like restaurants and hotels, look forward to the hunting season as other communities look forward to the ski season.”
— Post Independent reporter John Stroud contributed to this report.
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