With little prior warning, the Carbon County Commission made the decision to cut a popular program from Carbon County Recreation’s lineup of services. The Outdoor Recreation program was eliminated along with one full time employee of the program. The result has been shock and a bit of anger from those who enjoyed the program.
The Outdoor Program provided the residents of Carbon County access to rafting, climbing, biking and touring opportunities. It was also a boom for bringing in tourists to see the beauty and resources the area has to offer.
According to staff who helped with the program, almost all of the out of area individuals who came to participate in the Outdoor Programs stayed at least one night in Price so they could take part in orientations, rent the equipment and take care of other pre-trip needs.
Commissioner Jae Potter stated that, in an effort to consolidate and save costs, the North Springs Shooting Range was brought into the Carbon Recreation Services under the direction of Steve Christensen. В North Springs Range Manager, Scott Olsen will now directly report to Christensen.В Range operations have been cut from five days a week to four, and hours of operation reduced. Winter hours for the range are Thursday-Friday 2-8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 11-8 p.m.
Potter was asked the reason for the elimination of the Outdoor Program. He stated that В the cost to maintain and replace equipment was В not a wise use of В public money in tight economic times. He went on to add that the program was facing the need to replace two rafts that would cost around $15,000 and that was hard to justify when there are other more pressing needs in the County. Potter stressed several times that he feels it is not the right or responsibility of the government to provide something that the private sector can do. The commissioner stated that there are other resources out there to take over these programs, and he had been contacted by at least three private outfitters looking to do just that. He declined to reveal the names of those who expressed interest.
When pressed about why there was no notification to the public about this pending change, he said it was hard to advertise something that affects personnel. He also stated that no decision had been made yet on the disposal of the outdoor equipment, but would possibly entertain working with any group willing to provide the services to obtain the gear over the course of several seasons if they were not able to buy it outright.
Recreation Director Christensen said there are 12 rafts and frames, 15 IKs (Inflatable Kayaks) 12 Canoes, life vests, cross country skis, boat rigging, camping supplies, coolers, oars, paddles and more. Some of the equipment has been purchased by grants and other institutions like Carbon School District and USU-Eastern, who may step forward to reclaim those items. В The remaining equipment might be sold through Carbon County Surplus, or offered in lot to private outfitters.
Even with these explanations, public outcry remains. There are many questions still not fully answered.
Several people who have much experience in purchasing rafts and other outdoor gear dispute the $15,000 cost for two rafts quoted by Potter. They say that a fully equipped raft that includes everything from the boat, frame, oars, straps, coolers and boxes would run about $5000. Well maintained boats will last upwards of 10-12 years. The rental program would easily generate enough funds to replace the boat when its lifetime is nearing an end.
One issue that has been cited as a contributing factor is when USU-Eastern dropped the Carbon Recreation Outdoor Program. In previous years the college supplemented half of the salary for the Outdoor program manager. The loss of that was in 2010. The program absorbed the cost and still ran on budget in 2011. Revenues were down in 2011, but the drought was a big factor in that as many were afraid there was not enough water to take a river trip.
The Outdoor Program, like most in Carbon Rec are designed to be revenue neutral. They set the cost of the activity to pay for the cost to do it. If enough people do not sign up, the activity is canceled. В The equipment budget per year has been about $20,000. The amount spent will vary from year to year as the need arises. At the end of September the equipment budget had В $21,953 in allocations and carry over. It had revenue of $11,527 and only $4, 020 in expenses. That left a balance at the end of September of $29,460. That would easily cover several new rafts and other needed equipment without even touching new funding.
For now, tours of Nine Mile and Range Creek will continue, but Christensen is unsure for how long. Potter alluded to the fact if a private outfitter is able to pick up the permits needed, tours will also be cut from the Rec department.
вЂњThey are dreaming if they think someone will be able to make a profit doing that,вЂќ stated former Tour Outfitter Layne Miller. He ran a small outdoor tour company for two seasons in Nine mile and the San Rafael Swell. He notes the cost of owning a vehicle, maintaining permits, insurance and other costs make it difficult to run a company out of Price.
вЂњIf it was profitable for a tour business to run tours out of Price, they would have been here already, even before Carbon Rec started doing them,вЂќ he added
He now works with Carbon Rec guiding their tours into Nine Mile and Range Creek.
вЂњMy tours cost the county nothing. If it fills, it pays for itself, including enough profit to go back to the program for vehicle maintenance and fuel.вЂќ
He pointed out that several years ago outdoor tours were eliminated, but brought back after the commission at the time realized the value to the county.
He feels losing the tours will cause a ripple effect across the private sector as tourism drops because we no longer have a way for people to come and be introduced to all the area has to offer. В Miller worries self-guided tours do not allow people to see the best sights and get the education on Rock Art, outdoor etiquette, and history of the area in the same way as they can on professionally guided tours.
If providing services through the government that the private sector can do remains a big issue, then the County may need to brace for even further slashing. While the county runs the gun range, in many areas gun ranges are owned and operated by private companies. Certainly, the same can be said for the horse arena out at the fairgrounds and many services operated by the senior citizens center. The county also maintains the Carbon County Golf course as a public course.
If asked why those services are here, it is stated over and over, that we do not have the population base to sustain a private industryвЂ™s interest in running them. Even if they did, the cost for residents to use them would prohibit many from the access they now enjoy. Each of these county run facilities help maintain the quality of life for our area and have enough community support to allow them to happen. Public input should be a key factor in the operation and decisions of programs that fall under the County budget.
The user base for the Outdoor program spanned recreationists, church groups, Boy Scout and other youth groups and families. Individuals from Moab, who learned of the extent of the program, were jealous, because even though they are surrounded by river running companies and outfitters, most cannot afford the cost to use them. That is a value to our community. Outfitters do not come into a community to provide community based recreation; the tourist dollars are much too lucrative.
While the Outdoor program attracted tourists to our area, they chose the Carbon County program because it was priced to a Utah market to introduce them to the experience. Without a river big enough to float right here in Price, it will be almost impossible to get a river company to move in and take over the services.
The result of this unilateral decision to do away with a well established program without any public input has filled the air with rumor, innuendo and confusion. Despite the bottom line statements from Commissioner Potter, many people still have questions and concerns over this move.