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Josh Buettner, Iowa Public TV
Josh Buettner, Iowa Public TV
In the American West, recreational and tourist activities on public lands can conflict with agriculture, ranching and mining. Despite this potential clash between leisure and livelihood, the people of Grand Junction, Colorado, have found a way to share their state’s precious resources. Iowa Public TV’s Josh Buettner reports on a Western community where coexistence has triumphed over conflict.
It is a recurring conflict in the Western U.S., where relaxing in the great outdoors bumps up against those who use the land as their livelihood.
From Iowa public TV's market to market program, Josh Buettner discovered a place where that conflict has been overpowered by coexistence.
Since its birth in the Old West era, farming and ranching have been tied to Grand Junction's economy. Now the largest metro area on Colorado's Western Slope, recent decades have seen the region's picturesque landscapes attract a new wave of stakeholders.
One of the challenges in the West right now is finding common ground between livestock producers and agriculturalists and outdoor recreation people.
Typically running over 500 head of cattle on 12,000 acres of land they lease from the city of Grand Junction, Janie VanWinkle and her husband, Howard, are accustomed to sharing resources and dealing with adversity.
Drought last year forced them to sell off around 20 percent of their herd. This year, a downhill bike trail is looking to break ground and eventually cut through their ranch.
This particular part of Colorado has been a pretty underappreciated part of the state for a long time.
George Gatseos is general manager of Over the Edge Sports in nearby Fruita, which has become a mountain biking mecca. The area boasts hundreds of miles of single track trails initially constructed on public land by volunteers, led by the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail association, or COPMOBA.
The 30-year-old nonprofit has five chapters and roughly 500 members. In 2016, the group's $1.6 million Palisade Plunge trail proposal was given the go-ahead by state government, though no funds were allocated. All manner of activity on Western public lands, whether biking, grazing, hunting or mining, to name a few, fall under the purview of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Of the more than 245 million acres overseen by the federal agency, about 13 percent of the nation's land, over eight million of those acres are in Colorado. Grazing permits on public land are administered by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.
Federal numbers reveal livestock foraging activities generate almost $150 million annually in Colorado.
You expect that you're going to see livestock grazing in those same areas, and so I think a lot of the bicyclists realize that a lot of their trails actually came from cattle walking through this area.
Collin Ewing is a BLM national conservation area manager in Western Colorado.
And somebody decided to ride a bike on it. And, you know, eventually it became a big sport, and the BLM adopted those trails.
Initial trail plans would have sliced through the heart of the VanWinkles' lease. The ranchers were concerned that excess trash, trespassing and habitat disruption would be a problem.
But the cyclists worked with the VanWinkles, and agreed on a less disruptive route.
They're going to cut across the corner of that property, and that'll work for us. And they're comfortable with it, too.
We both love the land. We use it slightly differently. So that's probably bound to bring some differences of opinion too, so…
In nearby McInnis Canyons, 21 grazing allotments sit among the nearly 300 miles of trail and river access.
You're seeing that a lot in the West now, ranching and mining towns that are still ranching and mining towns, but also are inviting tourism into their economy.
One of the Bureau of Land Management's biggest challenges is accommodating multiple uses of terrain owned by all Americans.
So this is a bicycle cattle guard, so that the bicyclists don't have to get off their bike to open the gate. And so the gates don't get left open. So, the cow stays in the pasture and everybody has a good time.
Many ranchers employ rotational grazing practices to regenerate pasture, but say the effects of multiple users can lead to frustration.
We're an easy target. But, in reality, it's all of the uses, and we have to figure out how we're going to make that all work together.
We were able to come up with a compromise, and I think that's really important, no matter what we're talking about. Just understanding each other, that's a really important piece.
By navigating the convergence of recreation and livelihood on public land, cyclists and ranchers hope they have carved a durable path toward collaboration in their community.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Josh Buettner in Grand Junction, Colorado.
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