Brower: With wildfire, 2020 is just piling on in Grand
Grand Enterprise Initiative
(It’s fitting perhaps, that this article is running on a Friday the 13th during 2020, the unluckiest year I can remember. But there it is.)
The economic impacts of the devastation in Grand County caused by the East Troublesome fire are difficult to predict right now.
Those impacts are nothing, however, when compared to the human and personal losses many Grand County residents suffered as a result of the fire, which I think was one of the fastest (if not the fastest) spreading wildfire ever in the Rocky Mountains, if not the United States.
The second largest wildfire in Colorado history destroyed 300 houses and up to 200 more outbuildings and structures in the county. That cold fact belies the emotional and personal turmoil that many local residents have felt as a result of the fire (many of them friends of mine). It’s just awful.
As far as how the fire will hurt our local economy, well, the ways are myriad and depressing.
First, Grand County was already suffering from a severe housing shortage, which resulted in extreme difficulty for many employers hoping to hire workers who would wait on and serve our visitors. Construction companies struggle to find workers and even health care profession jobs, teaching jobs and management jobs have gone empty because of the difficulty of finding housing.
And now we have the East Troublesome Fire, which just cut our housing inventory by 300. And many of those homes were housing people who lived and worked here in the county at all levels of the economic ladder, whether they be professionals or service workers. So, the fire just took a huge bite out of our already extremely limited housing inventory.
What about the question on whether the fire’s impact will discourage visitation and tourism to Grand County. Remember, such tourism is increasingly the life blood of Grand County’s economy. Hunting, skiing, fishing and sightseeing are the reasons people come up to Grand County. The fire just took a huge swipe at our local landscape that makes all those activities enjoyable in Grand County.
Who knows how long trail closures on the national forest here will stay in place? Just drive up Colorado 125 and you’ll see that although the highway is open, the trails are closed, probably out of safety concerns. The roads off of County Road 4 back into the forest are also closed, probably for the same reasons. How long will those closures last?
And Rocky Mountain National Park has its west entrance by Grand Lake closed. The fire did major damage in the park in the area for several miles along Trail Ridge Road (US Highway 34) beyond the west entrance. How long will that entrance be closed? And what about the numerous trails along the road that take visitors in the remoter areas of the park?
Public lands officials will be weighing the danger of allowing people in those areas while also trying to keep visitors happy by offering as much as possible to the visiting public.
Which raises the key question: Will tourists return next summer like they did last summer? I’ve heard differing opinions on that. Luckily, and thanks to the firefighters, much of the US 34 corridor and the town of Grand Lake escaped the worst ravages of the fire.
And then there are the impacts on agriculture because of the likely impacts on our watershed. Silting, landslides and flooding, perhaps, are now greater risks here because of the fire. How badly will our watershed be affected?
It’s almost an insult to say to the community that the economic activity that will blossom around rebuilding our county is sure to be vigorous. But the fact is that this has come in the wake of great loss.
Grand County will survive, and even thrive, after this event. But it won’t be easy.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower
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