County sinks outdoor rec program
Intends to save money, encourage private firms
The outdoor activities of Carbon County Recreation - which include guided trips to Range Creek, rafting trips in Desolation Canyon, snow shoeing lessons, rock climbing classes - are ending. One employee has been laid off and the equipment will be sold.
"We are closing them down right away," said Country Recreation Director Steve Christensen, as he reviewed the soon-to-be published Leisure Guide the department puts out a few times a year. "The rental equipment and those types of things will be sold at surplus."
According to County Commissioner Jae Potter, the elimination of the program was a decision county commissioners made based on revenues and budgetary concerns. Because of that, the department has also laid off one employee.
"This is about budgeting as much as it is anything else," said Potter. "We need to squeeze down the costs of the county as much as we can."
That squeeze also included bringing the North Springs Shooting Range under the domain of Christensen and his department.
"Scott Olsen will now be the program coordinator out there," stated Potter. "We did have a $250,000 budget for North Springs and we now have been able to cut that to $150,000. We want people to use it but we have adjusted the hours and are working on promoting more group use of the facility."
Potter also gave another reason for cutting out much of the outdoor recreation program: getting the government out of the way of private business.
"I was at a meeting in San Juan County recently and talked with a small tour group/outfitter owner and he told me that he could never have started and made that business successful if such a program had been operating down there," explained the commissioner. "I look at this as that government is standing in the way of private enterprise. He told me with everything we have up here he thought that a small outfitter could do well in our area."
While the recreation department has let go of one employee in the process of shrinking down, Potter says that the cost of the employee wasn't the real expense of the program. In fact the fees the program got from people basically paid for the employee.
"It was the equipment," he said. "The costs of maintaining it and buying new when it wore out was pretty high. We were looking at replacing a couple of the rafts and the costs were over $10,000."
He said that the county will save $100,000 a year by not running the outdoor programs.
"I just think our recreation program ought to focusing on groups that can come into town like ball tournaments and things like that," said Potter. "They will bring money to our community."
But there are some that are very concerned about the end of the outdoor programs.
Dennis Willis, who retired from the Bureau of Land Management a few years ago, and who was their outdoor recreation planner, said the demise of the outdoor program will be a blow to the area, both in terms of visitation and the economy.
"For many people who came here it was their first experience in the area," said Willis. "This area has a lot to offer, but many people don't know much about it. That program was an introduction not only to locals but to many from other places."
Willis maintains that the program was one of the best ways to boost tourism to Carbon County, because those from the area and from out of the area who participated all told others about their experiences and it drew others here.
"These people who had experiences have been some of the best boosters for the county," he said.
Willis said more than that, giving great experiences though, the program also taught proper ways to use the outdoors and to be safe.
"I know the avalanche program they offered during the winter has prevented some tragedies," he said. "This is a huge loss to the local community in so many ways."
Willis also pointed out that the county has had some pretty special permits to do things on state and federal lands that may go away.
"They have had permits for places like Range Creek and from the BLM for river rafting," he stated. "Once those are gone they may never get them back."
Willis said he thought the county also had concerns about the liability they were facing by running these programs despite having insurance to cover such problems.
"I have done some research and I am unable to find a single case that settled for more than the limits of the insurance coverage," said Willis.
When asked about liability, Potter said that was really only a small concern when making the decision.
"That was really a yes and no concern," he stated. "Insurance is becoming more expensive. We have also had a some luck in that we have not had any problems. I credit the employees of the Recreation Department for that. But that really didn't enter much into the decision."
Willis said the one of the biggest losses in his opinion was the things that were taught that helped people to participate in recreation types of activities correctly.
Of concern for others is where they will get equipment to still do their activities. If the county sells off its equipment, much of which they also rent for private citizens to use, where will people be able to get it. One local person that rafts each year with his family said that they have been able to do it for around $100 because of the county's equipment prices. They are questioning what the cost will be if a private firm takes over the rentals.
Some have also wondered about the climbing wall that the county takes to events.
"We will be keeping that because it is such an attraction at the various venues around the county," concluded Potter.