While everyone’s been bandying about the phrase “sustainable tourism” like it’s the solution to all our town’s woes – and secretly wondering what sustainable tourism really means – Durango Mesa Park Foundation, with the support of donor and founder Marc Katz, is getting the show on the road.
The foundation that has envisioned a multi-use community park atop what was previously known as Ewing Mesa announced last week in a low-key sort of way that with Katz’s financial support, it will pay for construction of the bike park to be created atop the mesa. The bike park is the first big step in the development.
Foundation planners and the bike community had become somewhat discouraged about how long the city planning process was taking and that some aspects of the city’s design proposal didn’t match the foundation’s vision, prompting the shift in approach.
We’re fairly sure the bike park – the first project on the mesa – qualifies as a sustainable tourism initiative. Promoters hope the multi-use bike park will serve a lot of people – from world-class cyclists to Durango parents and kids just biking for fun.
Once the bike park is complete, cyclists and their followers will come for events, stay in our hotels and motels, eat at our restaurants and cafes and shop in our stores. As a group, cyclists are generally ecologically conscious, since the outdoor world is their environment; they may be easier on the land than some. Our great spring and fall weather may bring races in the shoulder seasons, when we can handle increased tourist traffic. Cyclists are also what tourism promoters like to call “high-value” tourists; chances are, if you can afford a $5,000+ bike, you might spend some serious money while you’re here. And you’re likely to come back again, maybe for another race, or maybe with your family on vacation.
The even better news is that the foundation hopes to have some of the bike park ready to go within a year or two. (Two state high school mountain biking championship races already have been held on the mesa.) It’s hard to imagine any other economic development project in the works that could have such a big impact so soon.
This is where some of that new lodgers tax revenue should go – toward luring the big bike races to Durango. We don’t need anything new (such as a convention center) to meet the needs of these tourists. We don’t have to guess at how to best attract them. We just need to build it and – with some targeted marketing – they will come.
The city should pony up whatever money it can to help, along with the county. The initial investments will come back to the governments through increased tax revenues. And eventually, the foundation plans to give Durango Park Mesa to the city and county.
Some big things still need to happen to make the bike park a reality, mostly infrastructure development. And the oundation can’t do this alone. This is a private-nonprofit partnership of great magnitude – and one that is going to last a long time.
So whatever discord may have developed between city staff, the foundation folks and the biking community needs to be put in the past. Maybe the foundation can be more patient with the necessarily slow wheels of government. Maybe city staff needs to give it the gas. Maybe a picnic on the mesa is in order for all. Somebody can bring an old boom box and play Bob Marley’s “Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright.”
Meanwhile, the rest of us should be thinking up other ways to further develop a sustainable economy for Durango. Let’s focus on getting to yes, on the bike park project and more.