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Front Page » December 20, 2012 » Opinion » Guest column
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Guest column


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By DENNIS WILLIS
Guest columnist

Abandoning popular programs not the answer to budget woes

It seems the Carbon County Commission has succumbed to "psychosis of the sphere." It is abandoning a successful and popular outdoor recreation program to concentrate on ball sports. This choice is a short sighted attempt to save $100,000 in costs while ignoring value and community needs. There is also an unlikely hope that some commercial guide/outfitter will step up and provide this valued public service.

I came to Carbon County 33 years ago by chance and stayed by choice. We like it here for attributes that are hard to find and cannot be imported or exported. We enjoy a great quality of life; low crime, relatively clean air, vibrant community and access to great outdoor experiences. The diversity and quality of the outdoor recreation within two hours of Price is hard to come by. It should be a point of pride for the community. Carbon County Outdoors provided a gateway to those experiences for local residents who might not otherwise partake.

This county needs an outdoor recreation program. It connects our people to their remarkable landscapes. The program provided an avenue for people to try new activities like rafting, canoeing, kayaking, climbing, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. We could try these at low cost and more importantly learn correct technique, making the experience more safe and enjoyable. Carbon County Outdoors gave many a youth their first great outdoor experience and some seniors a last opportunity to explore places like Range Creek. Through the rental program, even citizens with limited resources could rent a raft or snowshoes and have provide for their own recreation that would be out of reach if they had to purchase equipment or use outfitter services.

Our county has serious problems needing attention. The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute ranks Carbon County at the bottom of Utah counties for health. Our people smoke too much, are obese and suffer a lack of physical activity. Our population is also older than average with a third of us being over age 45. A quarter of our children are being raised in single parent households. We rank 17th out of 29 counties for personal income, with a 13% poverty rate. We don't have a lot of money. Our median household income is $42,000.

A community based outdoor recreation program directly addresses these issues. Youth who are introduced to healthy activity and lifestyle are more likely to carry those habits into adulthood. They tend to do better in school. Most of us appreciate the value of getting the family together for a day or three of quality outdoor time. Instruction and the availability of rental equipment make a variety of outdoor recreation experiences available to us at reasonable cost. Learning to recreate correctly and safely makes our impact on the land lighter and saves on the search and rescue budget. This part of Utah is not well served by the Avalanche Forecast Center. Backcountry users and snowmobilers are pretty much on their own. Even more so since the popular avalanche and snow safety classes will be no more.

We have the resources here. The Wasatch and Tavaputs Plateaus, Range Creek, San Rafael Swell, Desolation, Gray and Labyrinth Canyons are our collective backyards. A community based outdoor program is the key to getting our people out to enjoy these national treasures. These places are already well served by nearly a hundred commercial outfitting companies providing trips to well heeled clients from other places. Their services typically start at over $100 per person, per day and it is rare to find clients with household incomes below $70,000. Carbon County Outdoors was not competing with those outfitters. For the local single Mom with a couple of teenagers or the senior couple on a fixed income, going with a commercial outfitter was never feasible choice. A local family of modest means could afford a couple of lessons and rent cross country ski or snowshoe gear for a few trips a year for less than the cost of a single person going to a Nordic center for one day. The loss of availability of rental equipment means less opportunity for our residents to get out and enjoy our magnificent outdoors and benefit their health at the same time.

One complaint we often hear about the area is, "There is not much to do." The decision to eliminate the outdoor program adds truth to that statement. The $100,000 saved here helps assure our unenviable status as Utah's unhealthiest county. This county is spending millions on a lawsuit over two track roads and "access" to public lands. Closing the outdoor program denies access to our own backyard to county taxpayers most in need and deserving of it.

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