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Dear Editor:

On a recent weekend when there were no big events going on in Salida, I was struck by how many No Vacancy signs the motels displayed on Highway 50. People were walking around downtown and visiting shops and restaurants. Why do people come to Chaffee County, as visitors, and then to live here?

The simple answer is that it’s the beauty. We have viewscapes that are so breathtaking that they have become scenic byways registered with the state and denoted on travel maps. The Arkansas River has 102 miles of Gold Medal trout fishing. There are bicycle trails up in the hill country that people specifically come here to ride. Our public lands have thousands of acres of forests for hiking, horseback riding, camping and skiing, plus a world-class river for float and wade fishing and whitewater rafting.

We have a quality of life second to none in Chaffee County, and I feel blessed to have been able to live here since 1986.

Voters will consider County Ballot Issue 1A on Nov. 6 for funding that will help sustain the lifeblood of the special natural resources of Chaffee County. As with any economic base, you have to nurture it to keep it alive and well. This measure will increase the county sales tax by 0.25 percent to raise funding to create direct and grant match money for our forests, waters and working lands. I think this is an investment well worth making and why I voted to refer it to the ballot for passage.

This is an excellent opportunity to protect what we have going forward starting now, rather than in another couple of decades. The county’s recent population growth, influx of visitors (both tourists and recreationalists) and the demands on our numerous activities spurred citizens into the Envision Chaffee County planning program over the last two years. I have never, in all my years here, seen such an outpouring of interest and dedication to success. Citizens jumped on board with Envision to help protect what we have so it does not become overrun and destroyed, and to help people be good stewards of our land and water resources, among other goals.

With Ballot Issue 1A, we have an opportunity to come up with revenues to sustain these resources that provide us our quality of life.

Healthy forests are everybody’s playground, for visitors and residents alike. Revenues generated by 1A could help train volunteers to monitor and educate people using the forest today, so they can be better stewards for our kids’ and great-grandkids’ sakes.

Keeping local water local and helping to strengthen forest health to hopefully prevent severe fires and floods is critical for one of our most precious resources, the world-class Arkansas River.

We have the forests and the river, and we also have the ranchlands that offer the viewsheds on Highways 24, 285 and 50 — that open space with horses and cattle, not to mention the elk, deer, antelope, coyotes, fox and fowl. It’s amazing to see huge raptors perched on the high wires. These animals depend on the ecosystem to survive; some of them crucially need the agricultural lands during the winters.

I experienced the dry-up of the Hill Ranch – the explosion of weeds, a fire that burned the peat bog, and the disappearance of all the green plants. You can see it from Highway 285 near the viewpoint pull-out. It’s barely come back and many people have asked me, “What happened?” It was a buy-and-dry, where the land was sold and the water taken off the land. We don’t want to ever let that happen again.

If we don’t have irrigation by our ranches, we won’t have the green meadows, the water and the wildlife in our valley. We need to help these ranchers maintain the viewscapes that visitors and locals enjoy. Ballot Issue 1A will help keep the water on the land so it can continue to benefit everyone.

Healthy forests, working lands and the river: The snowpack provides nutrition for the forest, the water flows down through the ranches and irrigates our jaw-dropping scenic byways, then that water flows down into the river to provide the recreation opportunities that the visitors and we all enjoy on the Arkansas River.

These tie together to create our economic base for the sales tax that sustains the services we so enjoy and the quality of life that we have come to expect. Voting yes on 1A would give residents an opportunity to protect the quality of life for ourselves and let visitors, tourists and recreation enthusiasts help support that lifestyle.

These are the beautiful resources that make Chaffee County special. They bring people to the county and they are fundamental to our economy. Being able to maintain that is what 1A provides. It is a great opportunity. I urge you to vote Yes on County Ballot Issue 1A on Nov. 6.

Dave Potts
Chaffee County Commissioner