By James Garrett
Special to The SUN
Pagosa Springs is currently enjoying the distinction of hosting six visitors from Kyrgyzstan who have come to the community to observe and learn methods of tourism development.
The visitors hope to take home improved understanding of means to capitalize on their homeland’s own great natural beauty and historical significance as draws to attract future visitors.
Krygyzstan is a land-locked, Central-Asian nation bordering China to the east, Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west and Tajikistan to the south. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, it gained independence in 1991 with the USSR’s breakup.
The mountainous country sits astride the ancient Silk Road, the caravan trading route between the Far East and Europe which flourished millennia ago. A major stop on the route was located in the eastern region of present-day Krygyzstan, on shores of Issyk-Kul Lake.
Issyk-Kul is a saline lake, second only in size to the Caspian Sea, and also the 10th largest of all the world’s lakes (by volume). The second highest major lake in the world after Lake Titicaca and surrounded by mountains, Issyk-Kul is nevertheless warm and never freezes. It was a popular tourist destination within the Soviet Union.
The visitors include Nazira Makenova, from the village of Jyrgalan; Aman Zhanserkeev, from the city of Karakol; Begimai Mukasheva, from the south shore of Issyk-Kul; Beksultan Abdisalamov, from the city of Osh; Talantbek Toksonbaev, from Osh; and Zeinep Isakova, from Bishkek, the capital city.
Most of the visitors are connected with regional destination management organizations (DMOs) established in their home areas. DMOs are an outgrowth of a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program in Kyrgyzstan known as the Business Growth Initiative. Isakova is a USAID employee.
According to USAID’s website, a focus of the initiative has been tourism. It has “assisted four tourism destinations in forming [DMOs] with local stakeholders to develop and execute strategies and activities to deliver better tourism experiences for visitors.”
Development of guest houses, hiking trails, activities, guide training, destination websites and promotional activities are some of the strategies cited that have been fostered by the initiative. Makenova owns and operates a guest house.
To encourage development of strategies for tourism, the USAID Initiative joined with a project operated by the United States Congress, Open World, to fund the visitors’ travel to the United States, for opportunities to observe and discuss tourism-related organizations and attractions.
The Open World program, according to its website, is “a bipartisan Congressional outreach to Eurasia,” operating in former Soviet republics, “aimed at establishing mutually beneficial relationships with future leaders.”
Selection of Pagosa Springs as our Kyrgyzstan visitors’ destination occurred through the cooperation of Rotary International, which supports Rotary Clubs throughout the world.
According to Pagosa Springs Rotary Club President Kim Moore (the noontime club), Rotary International sends notifications of opportunities to participate in international goodwill and development projects to chapters throughout the country.
When the message announcing this opportunity was received, Moore consulted with the local club’s international projects leader David Smith, a well-informed and experienced hand in such activities.
Moore explained Smith recognized a “good fit” for Pagosa with the project, due to similarities between Pagosa Springs’ and Kyrgyzstan’s endowments with natural beauty in geographically remote areas.
Rotary then submitted an application to host the visitors and escort them on an exploration of local tourism, which was accepted. After a stop in Washington, D.C., for interaction with congressional and Open World personnel, the travelers from Krygyzstan arrived in Pagosa Springs for a week’s stay last Friday.
The visitors’ itinerary calls for stops at Chimney Rock National Monument, Navajo State Park, the Piedra Trail, Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park, the San Juan National Forest, the Geothermal Greenhouse Project in Centennial Park, the East Fork and West Fork San Juan River campgrounds, Treasure Falls, Wolf Creek Ski Area and Lobo Overlook, Durango, the Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass festival, tubing on the San Juan, Yamaguchi Park and other venues. Also on the itinerary are visits with local leaders and Tourism Director Jennie Green.
On Saturday, the group’s visits to Chimney Rock and Navajo State Park were a great success. The group enjoyed the standard, but always fascinating, tour of the archaeological features amid the natural splendor of Chimney Rock, and then spent the afternoon at Navajo State Park. Park Manager Brian Sandy explained the Park’s operation and then led a tour of its facilities.
After touring the two facilities, a discussion at the end of the day disclosed the visitors had already noticed much of interest and value.
They commented in particular on the heavy involvement at both Chimney Rock and Navajo of volunteers in providing critical services to help attract visitors. Of great interest were the means of involving volunteers.
Sandy discussed the effectiveness of incentives like park passes and facilities access in helping to attract volunteers. And Rotarians Moore and Peterson observed that community members having existing interests in the history that parks preserve, and the recreational activities like hiking, fishing and hunting they foster, can be useful sources of volunteers.
Also noted by the visitors was the positive effect that public investment in tourism infrastructure can have on private enterprise to serve the needs of visitors for recreational equipment, services, food and lodging.
The visitors will embark on their return trip to Kyrgyzstan Saturday, hopefully carrying with them valuable lessons and lasting friendships.
By James Garrett