Natural beauty tops Grand Foundation survey results |

Natural beauty tops Grand Foundation survey results

Who remembers back in June 2007 through June 2008 filling out a five-page mail survey, participating in a focus group or being interviewed on the telephone about your thoughts on the quality of life in Grand County?

Intending to “explore and obtain a better understanding of the perspectives, experiences and needs of Grand County residents,” the Grand Foundation, the Grand County Board of Commissioners and the Grand County Needs Assessment Committee contracted with National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) to conduct a county wide needs assessment. Areas of interest included the natural environment, quality of life, public safety, healthcare, transportation, housing, senior services, education, the economy, recreation, the arts, land use and planning.

With an understanding of the key issues in the county, the Grand Foundation and the Board of County Commissioners can work to address the wishes and needs of the county’s residents, both current and projected, and to sustain our quality of life into the future.

The survey showed that Grand County’s small-town atmosphere, the quality of community, the rural, slow-paced feel, and the natural beauty and open spaces were top reasons given for living here. Natural features, a low crime rate, freedom from an urban environment and open spaces were the most valued aspects of Grand County’s unique character.

However, of the eight key categories which emerged from this needs assessment, residents put the greatest importance on the natural environment, including wildlife habitat, scenic beauty, air quality and open space.

Nothing is more important to Grand County residents than the beauty, vitality and sustainability of the mountain environment. Half of all resident surveyed indicated that the natural environment was the magnet that brought them to Grand County and the attraction that keeps them here. The message was that the proper treatment of the environment will be essential for continuing to attract residents to Grand County.

The vast majority of us identified scenic beauty, wildlife habitat and improving environmental management to be essential or at least very important to our quality of life.

In addition to wildlife and scenic beauty, residents identified air quality and open space among the most important characteristics of the county, followed by the availability of trails and parks. Park maintenance was seen as a positive by most residents, but maintenance of trails and open space were rated at best as “fair” by a significant number.

The quality of local water and sewer service fared well against comparison communities, but garbage collection, and especially recycling, got low marks – with almost 70 percent giving recycling programs a rating of “poor.” Observations suggested that a substantial recycling program can reduce the need for landfills, which are often poor solutions anyway, as they have limited life expectancies and require land reclamation.

No needs assessment that includes broad environmental topics can ignore the current challenges posed to Grand County by the pine beetle. Half of Grand County residents rated pine beetle mitigation as “poor.” The pine beetle problem will affect property values and the attractiveness of the county for investors and new residents at least until mitigation or replacement programs are in place.

Eight “key opportunities” were identified for the Natural Environment portion of the study:

• Develop policies and programs to mitigate impacts of pine beetle kill;

• Invest in industries that provide value from the pine beetle kill (e.g., use of timber from dead lodgepoles);

• Develop policies that promote long-term sustainable environmental stewardship and wildlife management;

• Provide better maintenance of trails and open space through increased staff or volunteers;

• Educate residents and tourists about disposal of their solid waste and maintenance of natural areas;

• Consider new or enhanced recycling programs;

• Improve garbage collection services; and,

• Consider a natural environment tax to be placed on new development or tourism that is earmarked for environmental management programs.

In the coming weeks this column will elaborate on the remaining key issues identified by Grand County residents, including Sense of Community; Economy and Employment; Planning and Growth; Health and Human Services; Education; Transportation; and Recreation, Arts and Culture.

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