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Cycling events help to boost local economy

After the weather, the local economy is probably the most discussed topic around Pagosa. One refrain has long been: “We need to diversify beyond our tourism economy.” True. Also true, but sometimes downplayed in the discussion, is the need to improve and maximize the tourist economy we are so dependent on.

How? Clearly one of the most effective avenues is through special events that bring people to town. Consider the effect of Folk West’s folk and bluegrass festivals. Consider the effect of GECKO’s races: the Wolf Creek Pass Ride and Reggae, Turkey Track Trail Marathon, Devil Mountain Ultra 50 mile/50k and Mountain Chile Cha Cha.

GECKO’s founder, Morgan Murri, summed it up when he stated, “Our events are adding a strong, positive economic engine to our community.” More than two years ago, GECKO framed out a five-year model to grow their annual scholarship fund to $50,000 and to significantly boost our local economy through organizing outdoor athletic events. “The idea isn’t original. Regional towns like Durango, Moab, Fruita and Leadville are shining examples of how powerful of a role organized athletic events and promoting local trails can play in a town’s economy.”

GECKO’s mission is specifically focused on providing scholarships to kids to attend outdoor educational and leadership programs. “We believe, and evidence supports, that getting teens back in touch with nature is the best way to ensure and entrust the future of the incredible natural world around us.” And in Pagosa Springs that literally means?“around us.”

As a well established endurance athlete, Morgan Murri knew what he wanted to do: “Take the best of all the events and towns we have competed in and adapt it to our incredible town and our natural resources.” Morgan believes Pagosa has several factors that are the perfect storm waiting to happen. “Athletically, we are located at the ideal elevation to train and get fit. We are 3,000 feet lower then Leadville and 3,000 feet higher than Moab. We have a longer, milder summer and an extensive fall. We have trails and terrain that are flat and rolling like the desert and steep and mountainous like Leadville. Aesthetically, we have them all clobbered with our access to a beautiful mountain river, the world’s greatest hot springs, amazing mountains and a vibrant, legendarily friendly town. When you bundle this all up, it is incredible.”

How does one go from an idea to a successful outcome? Planning and hard work. GECKO’s five-year plan began with the Pagosa Peak Trail Run Series, a three-event series of trail runs ranging from 3 to 50 miles.? “We created a signature for each race — a way to appeal to a broad audience from beginning trail runners to the nation’s most established racers,” reports Murri.

A portion of the plan includes bicycling — both road and mountain biking. “A road race including Wolf Creek Pass had to be part of our plan as ‘The Wolf’ has a world-renowned reputation, and a signature off-road ride is also being developed.”

In January of this year, Morgan received information that Lance Armstrong’s vision of putting together a “Tour of Colorado” was being given serious consideration. Additionally, he learned that it was going to happen in 2011.

“This put a fire under the next step of our growth.”

Cycling was always part of GECKO’s plan, but Morgan felt strongly that to be given real consideration getting a stage in the Tour of Colorado to come to Pagosa Springs, it would make sense to have an established event already happening: an organized Wolf Creek Pass road-bike ride.

He explained the concept to a couple of the county commissioners. Commissioner Ranson suggested they present it to the newly-formed CDC. This led to several strategy sessions, and a decision was made to contact Governor Ritter’s office. Thanks to some great work by County Attorney Todd Starr and Commissioner Lucero, GECKO was granted an appointment to present its ideas to the Governor’s office.

In the meantime, GECKO worked to ensure the support of Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Town of Pagosa Springs, Mineral, Hinsdale and Rio Grande counties (all affected by an event taking place on Wolf Creek Pass) and the Wolf Creek Ski Area.? On May 12, Morgan Murri, Commissioner Lucero and County Attorney Todd Starr met with Don Elliman, Governor Ritter’s Chief Operating Officer. Don offered to do all in his power to help us make our event a reality.

The end result? The inaugural “Wolf Creek Pass Ride and Reggae” that just happened at the end of July. GECKO wants to thank and acknowledge the support of the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado State Patrol, the Town of Pagosa Springs, Archuleta County Commissioners, the CDC, GECKO’s Board of Directors, the TTC, the CTC, Wolf Creek Ski Area and an incredible amount of volunteer work to make the Wolf Creek Ride and Reggae happen without a hitch on July 31.?

Morgan also asked Don Elliman from Governor Ritter’s office, “Should the Tour of Colorado become a reality, what will it take to be a stage?” Mr. Elliman replied, “Having done exactly what you are doing. Having the experience of putting on an event, having an event on a world class venue like Wolf Creek and having the support of your community and your governments is exactly what is needed to be considered,” said Morgan.

“We are one hundred percent convinced that this model can be one of the primary economic engines of our community within the next ten years. The impact of what we are doing is already being felt and we are just getting started.” The very coolest part is that all the while Pagosa Springs benefits from the economic impact of all these events, more and more kids will be given the opportunity to “Get unplugged, get off the couch and get outside!”