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Camp V, with cabins, camping, and glamping stays, is filled with art installations, Apr. 21, 2023, near Naturita. (Hugh Carey, 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.

Outdoor industry students from three Western Slope universities this week offered solutions to several outdoor recreation businesses seeking innovative solutions to vexing challenges. 

Eight teams of students from Colorado Mesa University’s Outdoor Industry Studies Program, Colorado Mountain College’s Outdoor Education Program at Leadville and Western Colorado University’s Outdoor Industry MBA Program were coupled with eight outdoor businesses as part of the fourth annual Wright Collegiate Challenge. The 12-week program pairs students with businesses to get fresh perspectives on issues while delivering real-world experience to the outdoor industry’s up and coming workforce.  

“This is one of the coolest things that happens in Colorado,” said Conor Hall, the executive director of the Colorado outdoor recreation office, which has partnered with the Wright Collegiate Challenge as part of its mission to help educate an outdoor industry workforce. 

Hall said the outdoor recreation industry is “the true lifeblood” of the state and “we need talented people coming into this space.”

“I’ve always been inspired by the student teams in the Wright Collegiate Challenge and what they come up with,” said Hall, kicking off the final presentation by students. “I hope you stay in this industry and stay in Colorado. We need your minds and your talents and your passions.”

  • The owners of Angler’s Covey fly fishing shop and guiding operation in Colorado Springs were hoping students could create a system to better communicate where Angler’s Covey guides would be fishing on any given day with a goal of reducing crowding on popular stretches of rivers and streams. 

    The team of students from Colorado Mesa University proposed an app that would allow guides to select dates and use a map with different features showing water temperatures, spawning alerts and regular fishing reports that include flows, water turbidity and even suggest fly patterns anglers could use.

  • Andy and Gail Sovick, the owners of Beacon Guidebooks in Gunnison, were looking for a better way to showcase their guidebooks at more than 90 stores, including 21 REI locations. The students from Western Colorado University created a multi-tiered display case that fits Beacon’s guidebooks made with laser-cut, environmentally sourced birch plywood. The design, which ships flat, fits within guidelines provided by REI and the outdoor retailer is reviewing the design for possible inclusion in stores by next winter. They also created a template so the owners could track boosts in sales using the new display systems.

    A panel of judges for the Wright Collegiate Challenge awarded the students from Western Colorado the “best in class” award for their design. 

  • The owner of Camp V — a boutique glamping and artist compound in Naturita — joined with the West End Trails Alliance to better understand how the community can expedite plans for 75 miles of singletrack to help grow the region’s outdoor recreation economy. The students from Colorado Mesa University pedaled from Grand Junction to Naturita and hiked miles of proposed new trails. The students recommended a partnership with the Colorado Wildlands Project and its nascent effort to establish a new national monument around the Dolores River to help kickstart delayed federal approval of trails around Naturita and Nucla. 

  • Justin Talbot, the owner of Leadville’s Galena Mountain Projects, wanted a marketing plan to help the guidebook and apparel maker expand into neighboring Chaffee and Summit counties as well as better connect with locals in his hometown. The students from Colorado Mountain College’s Leadville campus created a two-year plan that included enlisting brand ambassadors, a social media strategy and raffles at local events. 

  • Nathan Creswell with the 24-hour Grip Bouldering climbing gym in Grand Junction asked Colorado Mesa University students to develop ways to better engage local climbers with the region’s Western Colorado Climber’s Coalition

    The students worked with the Bureau of Land Management, the climbers coalition and landowners in the Unaweep Canyon to create a sign at Nine Mile Hill. The sign has a QR code travelers can use to access information about recreational activities in the canyon, including details on hundreds of bouldering routes and bolted sport climbs and how to connect with the climber’s coalition. The sign will be installed in a pull out along Colorado 141 on BLM land used as a parking lot for climbers accessing routes near Nine Mill Hill.

    The students designing the sign won the “Most Engaged Team” award from the judges.

  • Stacy Falk, the owner of Ramps and Alleys skateshop and clubhouse in Salida, asked the Wright students for help developing a network to unite the state’s 20-plus skateshop owners, with a collaborative effort to help build skateparks, support business owners and get more kids skating.

    The students from Colorado Mesa University set up a channel on the social media platform Discord. The CollaborSkate channel has 10 skating organizations and 21 members working together.

  • San Luis Valley Great Outdoors, a nonprofit that works to create recreational opportunities in the 8,000 square-mile high desert valley, asked students for help marketing the group’s new Tin Can Camp, a collection of tiny homes on Colorado State Land Board land the group leases in Penitente Canyon. The off-grid cabin rentals were developed to generate revenue for the organization, which previously used Wright students to help plan how recreational trails could parallel local railroads in the valley. 

    The students from Western Colorado University wrote postings for the cabins for listing on the Hip Camp rental platform, created binders with local information for each cabin and made a promotional video for the rentals.

  • Amy Raney wanted students to help her create a new, sustainably made sandboard out of hemp grown in the San Luis Valley for her Blanca rental shop SpinDrift Sandboards

    “We need to give back and revitalize the land that provides our sustenance and the places we recreate,” Raney said.

    Students from Colorado Mesa University sourced hemp from a hemp processing plant in Monte Vista and built four prototypes testing different mixes of hemp fibers and resins. The board-building students won the “People’s Choice” award from the viewers of the presentation.

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Jason Blevins

The Colorado Sun — Email: Twitter: @jasonblevins