—Ed. note: Local entrepenuer Juan Delaroca, who operates a bike tour company in Trinidad, Backshop Bikes, is arguing to stop closure of Las Animas County Road 85.5 for public recreation. The Las Animas County Board of Commissioners is meeting on the closure at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the Las Animas County Courthouse.
One year later, and another attempt to close C.R. 85.5 is being presented to the Las Animas County Commissioners. Here is why it still is a bad idea. An emerging outdoor community and economy is poised to contribute to the county’s operating budget. It is in the best interest of Las Animas County to maintain and promote access to this special piece of Colorado history.
Preserving public access to C.R. 85.5 is key to unlocking new revenue streams for our county government. Outdoor recreation diversifies our local economy and increase sales tax revenue to that benefits the county residents. We are talking about millions of dollars of revenue from the Las Animas County wide dirt road and trail system. Preserving access to San Francisco Creek Pass represents giving the community a chance of developing a healthy and diverse economic future.
The private parties seeking closure will argue there is no economic benefit to public road access and it infringes upon their ranch livelihood. Last year, one mentioned ranchers being the main economic contributor to the county, and because of this the C.R. 85.5 should be closed. While ranching is an important legacy industry, it can no longer be considered a leading contributor to the local economy. Outdoor recreation and the business activity it produces is the future of Trinidad-Las Animas County. It offers a far greater financial return than what the private owners can offer with ranching operations. Closing C.R. 85.5 will likely mean asking other county ag operators to increase or shore up budget shortfalls for county government financially challenged. It is at a point where it would be fiscally irresponsible and unfair to ask for farmers and ranchers to contribute more when outdoor recreation offers a means of offsetting the workload.
Based on the 2012 U.S. Ag Census data, the average market value of ag products per farm/ranch in Las Animas County was $43,414. Now let’s compare it the the average total farm production expenses of $51,265. It’s not hard to see that the average farmer/rancher is not going to be able to provide enough to county coffers. Complicating the matter is the aging rancher population. The average is 62 years old. It begs the question. Is it fair or principled to burden those already having a tough time to make more of contribution to the tax base? This is where outdoor sports, in particular cycling, offers a sustainable alternative to increasing county government revenue. Imagine the county budget climbing from $1.1 million in 2019 to $1.2 million in 2020 off of C.R. 85.5 alone. It’s not out of the question.
C.R. 85.5 has historical significance. It started out as a native american footpath and meanders through an amazing landscape that is largely undiscovered. It’s exactly the kind of route cycling tourists seek out because it has special qualities to it. San Francisco Creek Pass means adventure and exploration, while also easily accessible. You get to ride from New Mexico into Colorado. It’s a pretty cool thing to experience. Many cyclists will even be easily swayed to take the SW Chief over to Raton, ride back and stay a night or two in Trinidad. C.R. 85.5 is a county revenue stream just waiting to happen. It has drawing power and can be a benefit to the community as a whole. Keeping it open positions the Trinidad-Las Animas County community to attract the key benefit of cycling tourism, which is increased business activity. This road symbolizes building a future beyond just the cannabis industry.
Here is how an outdoor recreation economy justifies keeping the C.R. 85.5 open and the $6,000 spent by the county to maintain it. We promote the road as part of the Santa Fe Trail Scenic Bikeway system. In turn, this attracts mountain biker and gravel cyclists in the age range 25-45 of years old, with the majority (55 percent) having a household income level greater than $80,000. They average lodging stays of 3 to 5 days (longer if the visitor is from far away; shorter if the visitor is from close by, and on average spend per day $60 - $100 (inclusive of accoms, food, recreation, etc but exclusive of travel costs to get to a destination).
Let’s say we attract 1,000 cyclists throughout the summer to explore our 1,500 miles of county dirt roads. Each visits 3 days with an average of $75 a day. That comes out to $225,000 in total spending locally. It’s not hard to see the how an outdoor rec focused revenue streams can quickly begin to add up. The county will see an operating budget positively affected by an outdoor recreation economic based decision. C.R. 85.5 is an important part of the future economy of Trinidad-Las Animas County. It can increase local spending, generate sales tax and stimulate business by making the community attractive to entrepreneurs and employers. The question is, can closing the road money in the same way keeping it open can?
Maintaining public access to C.R. 85.5 represents the starting point of a Trinidad-Las Animas County outdoor recreation industry. It affords us the opportunity to offer up our mountains, canyons, and planes as a worthy cycling destination on the southern Front Range. We have a network of uncrowded roads that travel through stunning landscapes and across remote areas People will want to spend money to experience it all. Trinidad is the second busiest state port of entry, with 10-12 million people coming through per year. Among them are a number of cyclists eager to explore what southern Colorado has to offer. Keeping C.R. 85.5 just makes too much financial sense for a county in need of revenue streams.
To put it in perspective, a 2018 Grand Valley Public Trail Systems Socio Economic Study in Mesa County Colorado Economic Impact Study found that three trails Kokopelli, Lunch Loop, and 18 Road have an economic impact of trail users on Gross Regional Product (GRP) of $14,586,336. Again, not hard to imagine what C.R. 85.5 can contribute.
Last year, the Las Animas County Planning Board in a vote of 3-1 denied the request to close Frisco Pass. Let’s hope the County Commissioners say no and embrace what the outdoor recreation industry can do to our community’s future.