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Commissioners Plot Course for the Future, Invite Others to Come Along

Recently, the Kiowa County Board of Commissioners did something that is a true reflection of the optimism that seems to be gaining strength in the county, and they did it in a pretty progressive way.

Kiowa County PavillionIn a 6:30pm “work session” that took place on Monday, March 26th, Commissioners Scott, Oswald and McLoud announced a goal for the future of Kiowa County. It’s a goal with broad based appeal and the potential for benefit in a number of areas. It’s also high interest, relevant, easy to grasp and well within reach of accomplishing.  Setting such a goal is, in and of itself, a step worthy of praise; vision for the future is imperative in all good leaders.

However, that’s not all.  The commissioners announced the goal at an initial work session where they invited members of all the town councils, all the recreation districts, the Chamber of Commerce, KCEDF, the fair board and a variety of other stakeholders throughout the county. The purpose of the meeting?  Short term, those in attendance were asked to brainstorm on ways to reach the goal.  But the long term purpose also has some very exciting implications, not the least of which is creating a coalition of people devoted to working together in making that goal a reality.

That’s not just progressive, that’s smart.

The goal itself is straightforward, almost deceptively so, and includes two different areas of focus.   The first area involves exploring, and then acting upon, ways to expand the use of the Kiowa County Fairgrounds.  The second involves possibilities and priorities for development of a campsite on county owned property at Nee Gronda Reservoir.

It’s difficult to conceive of two better areas the commissioners could have chosen.

A person would have to have been living in a cave for the last decade to not know that rural America, including rural Colorado, is encountering an unprecedented number of serious challenges. In some cases, the problems are so severe and far reaching that the continued existence of communities are actually at risk.  But let’s face it:  in Colorado, there’s rural and then there’s rural.  Small towns on the Western Slope may have local difficulties of their own, but, in many ways, those challenges pale in comparison to the “life threatening” problems facing some rural counties on the Eastern Plains.  

In response, some communities have taken bold and aggressive steps to attract new businesses, a move that can be defended and justified, and rightly so. That approach also comes with its own risks, most of which involve investing potentially large amounts of money in building pre-requisite infrastructure and offering incentives on the hope that the return will warrant the expenditure.   

At the same time, even the most “radical” experts in economic development will agree that, when considering how to grow a local economy, the best place to start is to survey existing assets.  

Given that outdoor recreation is the single largest leisure industry in Colorado, in Kiowa County, the fairgrounds and the lakes have the greatest potential for broad appeal among residents and tourists as well as revenue for the local economy.

History has proven that the lakes can draw substantial numbers of people, especially with special events like fishing tournaments.  As has been previously reported, a state sponsored feasibility study conducted a number of years ago indicated that the economies of Kiowa County and others in the region could expect an annual influx of several million dollars overall as a result of the tourism the lakes could attract.  Granted, the study is dated, but, with effective promotion and the development of urban corridors that are extending from southeastern Denver, it’s not unrealistic to anticipate that potential revenue, if not more, continues to exist.  

In regards to the fairgrounds, the facilities, whether used in part or as a whole, are versatile enough to support any number of different events that, again, with the right promotion, could draw significant crowds.  It just requires a certain amount of thinking outside of the box and the willingness to view the fairgrounds as an asset to be used for multiple purposes in addition to—not instead of—the annual county fair and rodeo.

As a preface to the meeting, it was stated that some work is already under way.  A new boat ramp was just completed at Nee Gronda, and the commissioners are reviewing initial plans for a campsite. For the fairgrounds, the commissioners have been working on grants to replace the grandstand seating as well as rest rooms that are ADA compliant.  Any large scale projects will require obtaining additional funding from outside sources, a factor which is always part of the overall equation.  

Nonetheless, there was good attendance at the first work session and those who participated generated some interesting ideas for activities, improvements, promotions and benefits. (Table of results follows the article.) The next session is scheduled for Monday, April 9th.

At this point, it would be natural—if not downright expected—for the average reader to assume the planning and implementation of the goal is the responsibility of those individuals who sit on one of the boards invited to the session.

However, making that assumption is akin to missing the point.  The very first people with the opportunity to take advantage of any expansion and development will be the people who live here.  Having more options for leisure activities is directly related to quality of life, and quality of life is one of the primary reasons people live where they do.

Likewise, some of the best promotions in an area like this begin with “word of mouth”, beginning first and foremost with—yup, you got it—the people who live here.

And that brings us to, perhaps, one of the most fundamental considerations:  consistent, local support is absolutely essential for this goal and others to be met.  

That’s not an entirely new notion in Kiowa County.  Newspapers from as recently as a few decades ago—when the population was very similar to what it is now—report on events where, time after time, large numbers of local residents showed up.  The sense of community spirit and support literally jumped off the page, and it’s a fair assumption that it was, in many ways, self-perpetuating.

It doesn’t take an expert to understand how the cycle works. If local businesses—a significant draw in any community—are going to survive, let alone grow and thrive, they must have a foundation of local support on which they can count.  If new businesses are going to open and survive long term, local patronage and a strong and interactive relationship with local residents are, likewise, vital.  There is no other way around it; it simply doesn’t work any other way.

If local events are going to be offered, they must be attended—especially at first—by locals.  If there’s a reason that an event is not attended, local feedback must be given so that improvements can be made.  If a desired event is going to be held, the suggestion that leads to the event has to be offered first.  

Building a thriving community is not a spectator support; if the people of Kiowa County are hoping to prosper economically and socially from new and expanded options for activities, the people of Kiowa County must become involved, at some level.

It’s a model that works, but it requires the conscious, long term commitment of the community.

In this case, Scott, Oswald, McLoud and others are taking very real steps toward creating good, realistic, relevant possibilities for the county.  They’re doing their part.  But the success of these projects and any other projects waiting to be tackled in the future ultimately rests in the hands and the actions of the people.    

Commissioners Plot Course

  FAIRGROUNDS    
ACTIVITIES   IMPROVEMENTS   PROMOTION   BENEFITS
Carnival   Electrical Upgrades   Riding Club   Increase Recreation
Concerts   ADA Compliant Restrooms   Boards/Committees   Increase Revenue
Flea Market   Handicap Assessible Pathways   Fund Raisers   Promote Community
Craft Fair   Cover Pavilion   Business Involvement   Promote Families
Races   Grandstand seating    Digital Sign    
Tractor Pulls   Grandstand walk area / ramps   Combination Advertising    
Cook Offs   Lighting Upgrades   Involve Community Groups    
Dog Trials   Sound System   Word of Mouth    
Junior Rodeo   Crows Nest Upgrade   Make Fees Affordable    
Community Auction   Repair/Upgrade BBQ Pit        
Frisbee Golf   Restrooms at Pavilion        
Dances   Landscape / Clean up        
Horse Shows   Renovate under grandstand area        
Monster Trucks   RV Hookups / Camping        
Paint Ball   Improve pens / alleys        
Laser Tag   Expand/Build-motor sports park        
Ranch Rodeo   Water Park        
Gymkhanas   Digital Signage        
Roping/Penning/Sorting/Cutting   Playground        
Archery & Shooting   Disc Golf Course/walking paths        
Motor Sports   Sewer Dump        
Activities for Kids & Families   Concession Stand @ Pavilion        
Bingo            
Demolition Derby            
Car Shows            
  LAKES    
ACTIVITIES   IMPROVEMENTS   PROMOTION   BENEFITS
Gaming / Hunting   Camp Grounds   Fish & Game Club   Increase Recreation
Fishing Tournaments   Convenience Store   Boards/Committees   Increase Revenue to Area
Boating   Bait Shop   Fund Raisers   Promote Community
Water Sports   Water Craft Rental/Repair   Business Involvement   Promote Families
Fish Fry   Picnic Area   Digital Sign    
Bird Watching   Camping/Fishing Gear & Supplies   Visitor Center     
    Boat & RV Storage   Community Partnerships    
    RV Dump        
    Swimming area for Kids        
    Playground        
    Food Truck / Mobile Café        
    Digital Sign        
    Area Map / Directory        
    Visitor Center        







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