Outside recreation talks focus on Moffat County’s longstanding traditions, but additionally its future

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Chuck Sullivan (left), Tinneal Gerber (center) and Kirstie McPherson filmed an interview about the importance of the Yampa Valley to local people and how we can embrace the change to come.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office spent the summer traveling around Colorado speaking to communities about new outdoor recreation grant opportunities, including the Colorado State Outdoor Recreation Grant.

OREC staff joined Craig on Wednesday, August 24 for a presentation and listening sessions to hear what state-level communities want to see in terms of recovery support.

These types of grant outreach meetings can seem heavy on the presentation and lighter on the listeners, but OREC director Connor Hall and his staff took a different approach on this leg of their summer tour.

In addition to the listening session, Hall and his team worked with Chuck Sullivan and his project called The Wright to host a Happy Hour and Campfire Conversation where a locally-focused discussion of recovery could be explored.

Connor Hall, Director of OREC, gave a presentation on funding opportunities that will help Moffat County grow its outdoor recreation industry responsibly.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

“On this tour of the state, the consistent line is the deep love and pride that people have for the place they live, especially in this area with so much vastness and wildness,” Hall said. “We want to work with you and help grow this economy in ways that work for you.”

Sullivan said the Wright Project came about to show people what brings them together. Over the summer, OREC and The Wright traveled to the Arkansas Valley, Yampa Valley and Grand Valley, three distinct regions all undergoing some degree of economic and cultural change.

Sullivan said all three areas they covered are river valleys that may have different cities, but at the end of the day they are all connected.

“I hope to bring these stories together so people can see themselves in someone else’s story,” Sullivan said.

If all goes well, the end result of the tour will be a podcast series entitled Voices of our Valley, showing how communities see themselves and how they reconcile differences and shared values.

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The campfire talk took place at the 518 Wine Bar in downtown Craig. Sullivan and Hall teamed up with owner Kirstie McPherson to speak to two Moffat County residents who have a deep connection to the local landscape.

Tyler Emrick, owner of CJ Outfitters, said his favorite spot in Moffat County is Brown’s Park, not only for the wildlife but also for the rich history.

Emrick is a full-time outfitter conducting guided hunts in highly desirable parts of Moffat County, where it takes a resident 24-26 years to draw a mark and a non-resident 30-31 years. Because it takes decades to make a day in these areas, the average age of its customers is 72.

“It’s cool to be part of someone’s once-in-a-lifetime hunt,” Emrick said. “I see all the reactions from customers – from the guy who cries to the guy who hugs you and starts shaking you.”

Communities like Maybell, where Emrick lives with his family, would not exist without the hunting and fishing industry. There are many full time outfitters in the area who have worked with the wildlife and landscape for many years.

“We can’t forget what made the city special,” Emrick said.

Connor Hall (left), Tyler Emrick (center) and Chuck Sullivan (right) discuss what it’s like to be stewards of the country and the issues facing outdoor outfitters in the region.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

There are outside pressures and state laws that are changing and shaping the way outfitters like Emrick do business. He said this has pushed the industry to work together to advocate for itself.

“We’re going to keep letting people come into the state and we’re going to keep growing as a state, we can’t turn that off,” Hall said. “But we can work together and figure out how best to regulate the use of our land.”

Tinneal Gerber, whose family has lived in the Yampa Valley for six – soon to be seven – generations, agreed that shutting people out isn’t the right answer. Gerber said her family came here from Europe generations ago and it’s similar to how it is now.

“We’re in a special place right now, we can take this community and build on it and turn it into something we can be proud of,” Gerber said. “We can bring people into the community responsibly and help them become part of that story and the story that we’re trying to build here.”

Farming, ranching, hunting and fishing aren’t just outdoor recreation, they’re a way of life in Moffat County and a big part of how people have nurtured cross-generational ties to the land.

“As a farmer and rancher you have to love the land and it has to love you too. Otherwise you wouldn’t be successful,” said Gerber. “There are so many things that are out of your control, weather, rain, storms, drought. You have to love the country.”