Monte Vista is working to grow its outdoor recreation economy, now with help from a federal program

Dave Burdick/CPR News
Sandhill cranes fly in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley on Saturday, March 12, 2022.

Monte Vista, a small town in the San Luis Valley, is receiving federal help to grow its outdoor recreation economy. It’s one of 25 communities across the country chosen from a pool of more than 100 applicants for the program.

Assistance comes from the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) program, which is a collaboration between the EPA, USDA, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC). 

The program provides technical planning assistance to small towns, though it does not give grant money to recipients. It aims to help rural communities leverage their nearby access to the outdoors to grow their local economies. 

“The economic impact of outdoor recreation near our national forests and grasslands is vital to support health and prosperity in rural America,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore in a recent statement.

Mick Daniel, who directs the non-profit San Luis Valley Great Outdoors, said building up the town’s outdoor economy is key for the area’s growth.

“In the San Luis Valley, I’ve heard every economic development scheme at this point that could happen,” he said, “and what if it was just as simple as a trail in a community?”

Daniel said that Monte Vista’s annual Sandhill Crane Festival, which features 20,000 migrating cranes, is an asset for the town. He said that pairing traffic from the festival with enhanced access to the outdoors could help make Monte Vista a destination for more visitors looking to get outside.

Daniel also said getting people to stop in Monte Vista is a priority.

“We have Highway 160, which is this major corridor, and what we’re seeing is people heading straight to Durango," he said. “So what do we do to get people to stop and spend a little money in downtown Monte Vista and maybe stay a night?”

Daniel said more trails in town and access to the Rio Grande River are a few of the keys to building up Monte Vista’s outdoor opportunities. To his knowledge, there is only one trail accessible from town, and no access to the Rio Grande River. He hopes a bike shop or gear store will pop up as these activities are primed to grow. 

Glenwood Springs participated in the pilot round of the RERC program in 2019, and has since secured grants to increase access to outdoor activities, while expanding access to affordable housing and managing their local natural spaces, according to the EPA.