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CampV owner Natalie Binder looks over renovations to cabins on Camp V west of Naturita, Sept. 6, 2020. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.

Nine Colorado outdoor recreation businesses and nonprofits are turning to outdoor industry students at Colorado Mesa University, Colorado Mountain College and Western Colorado University for help in solving their unique challenges. 

The Wright Collegiate Challenge is a 12-week program that pairs students with businesses and nonprofits to develop strategies for navigating Colorado’s growing outdoor recreation industry. The 5-year-old challenge is cheered by business owners who get fresh eyes on their issues while outdoor students gain real-life perspective on the industry.

“I think Colorado does the best job of just about any state in producing workforce for the outdoor recreation industry and this is one of the best programs to inspire that in the state,” said Conor Hall, the boss at the state’s outdoor recreation office. 

This year’s nine businesses and nonprofits last week pitched their problems to students at CMU’s Outdoor Industry Studies Program, CMC’s Outdoor Education Program in Leadville and Western’s Outdoor Industry MBA Program. The three institutions are among the first in the nation to offer higher-education focused on the outdoor recreation economy.

Scott Borden, the director of the country’s first outdoor MBA program, at Western, regularly surveys his students, who “overwhelmingly … say this is not something they can get in a classroom.”

Here are the issues the businesses and nonprofits hope the students can help solve. Tune back in a few months and The Sun will share the solutions the students developed.

  • The Durango-based founders of Trip Outside, which connects users with guides, outfitters, tours, lessons and gear for 5,000 different adventures in 350 destinations, are Julie and Reet Singh. The couple has grown their company from two destinations in 2018 and are hoping to “create a playbook” for a community in Colorado that gathers guides, nonprofits and tourism marketing organizations to foster more “regenerative outdoor adventures,” Julie Singh said. 

“How can we get more people outdoors without disrupting communities and ecosystems where they recreate?” she said.

  • Gunnison’s Andy and Gail Sovick are hoping to find a more sustainable, wooden display case to replace plastic racks that display their Beacon Guidebooks in more than 90 stores. 
  • Justin Talbot is hoping the students can help him with a “creative approach to grassroots marketing” for his Galena Mountain Projects in Leadville, which makes local guidebooks and pearl-snap shirts.
  • David Leinweber is hoping to create a tool to help better disperse the 30 fly fishing guides at his Angler’s Covey outfitting shop in Colorado Springs. The idea would be a way for guides to check which stream, lake or river is most crowded and possibly select a quieter corner to fish with hopes that a model could eventually scale up for public use.
  • Natalie Binder and Paul Koski are hoping students can dig into federal approval processes for new trails and ask “what’s the hold up?” Binder is the founder of the 120-acre Camp V outside Naturita, where she blends glamping with art and recreation and hopes her singletrack can spin into neighboring public lands. Koski is in nearby Nucla and a longtime board member of the West End Trails Alliance, which is working to build more than 50 miles of mountain biking singletrack to expedite the region’s decades-long transition from mining to tourism, recreation and an entirely different economy.

To get approval for those trails across the 1,500 square-mile West End, Koski and the WETA crew wind through four different Bureau of Land Management field offices in two states. 

“Why does it take nine to 10 years to put in sometimes the simplest of trails?” asked Koski, who envisions students diving into “an investigation.” “We would just like to look at what’s the hold up? And how does it compare to building a pipeline or power line?”

  • The San Luis Valley Great Outdoors group has participated in the Wright Collegiate Challenge for three years. Two years ago the student helped the group hammer out plans for the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserve. A year later the students helped strategize a way to include recreational paths alongside a bankrupt railroad. The San Luis Rio Grande Railway was recently acquired by a wealthy Colorado investor who has indicated support for that recreational access. And now SLVGO is hoping the students can develop a plan for off-grid cabin rentals — they are calling it Tin Can Camp — that can lure visitors while protecting natural resources and public lands.
  • Nathan Creswell, the director of climbing at the 24-hour Grip Bouldering climbing gym in Grand Junction, is looking for “more avenues to grow stewardship of local climbing areas” and more climber involvement with the region’s Western Colorado Climbers’ Coalition.
  • Colorado has about 200 skateparks and 20 skater-owned skate shops. Most of those shops offer local nonprofit skate programs to build a community around skating and the concrete parks. Stacy Falk, the owner of Ramps and Alleys skateshop and clubhouse in Salida, hopes the Wright students can develop a network to unite the state’s skaters, with a collaborative effort to help build skateparks, support business owners and get more kids skating.
  • Amy Raney has been renting sandboards to visitors at Great Sand Dunes National Park since 2018. Now the owner of Blanca’s SpinDrift SandBoards is hoping to build her own sand-surfing boards out of locally-grown hemp. Using local production and local materials, she hopes her operation can be carbon neutral.

“Our relationship with the land needs to be reciprocal,” Raney said. “We need to give back and equalize the land that provides our sustenance and our outdoor recreation.”

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, two teenage girls and a dog named Gravy. He writes The Outsider, a weekly newsletter covering the outdoors industry from the inside out.

Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors, ski industry, mountain business, housing, interesting things

Location: Eagle, CO

Newsletter: The Outsider, the outdoors industry covered from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state

Education: Southwestern University


X (Formerly Twitter): @jasonblevins