Local food, dead trees, horse activities = economic development?

Locally grown food, wood salvage products, and horse-related activities were primary discussion items in the second brainstorming session last week on Bayfield business development and retention.

Most of the participants at the June 25 session had also attended a previous economic development session as well as a community visioning meeting on April 29.

Town Manager Chris La May started discussion with recent additions to the long list of to-do items created during economic development meetings in 2008.

One of the additions was to attract food and beverage businesses. La May cited apparent unfilled need in Durango and lack of industrial space there.

Suzanne Arms objected that those are "low-wage jobs creating crap food."

Discussion turned to businesses that could enhance local food production.

Upper Pine Fire Chief Bruce Evans stressed support for the "farm to table" concept and year-round locally grown food. "The food crisis is going to mushroom. The water shortage in California will put a food crisis on this country in short order," he predicted.

"I'm a big supporter of farm to table," he continued. "It's healthier for kids. I drive by these greenhouses. They are empty in the winter. They could be growing vegetables in the winter."

Arms said the Bayfield Family Center is mapping local producers to try to know who grows what. She also said some locals are hoping to open a natural food store in Bayfield.

The town had a healthy foods store several years ago that was unable to make it.

More generally, Evans said, "The challenge in the whole Four Corners is the transportation corridors," the cost of getting products in and out of the area. He cited a friend who considered moving a bicycle making business to Bayfield but gave it up because of that issue.

He cited a different business opportunity, all the fire or beetle-killed trees in the region, and slash from fire hazard mitigation projects.

"Part of the problem with mitigation is there's nothing to do with the slash except chip it and take it to the landfill, or burn it," he said.

He cited a recent fire conference at Fort Lewis College. "We talked about making briquets" from chipped slash. They are the fastest growing fuel in China and Africa, he said.

Partly decomposed dead trees at Vallecito could be turned into methanol, Evans said. That can be used as a fuel or other industrial production. He also cited a planned but still not started wood-fueled small scale electric generation plant near Pagosa. "There was consideration of doing that in Forest Lakes, but all the regulations to get on the (power) grid, it's just not worth it."

Evans also cited health care-related businesses and offering Bayfield as a place to move the county fairgrounds, since it apparently will be a long time before the county can develop the identified site at an operating gravel pit near Grandview.

La May commented, "We brought that up with the county commissioners" at a recent breakfast meeting in Bayfield.

That got to the horse-related discussion, with the idea that horse activities fit with Bayfield more than the mountain biking and other outdoor activities associated with Durango.

Evans suggested a horse trail from Bayfield to Vallecito, although he didn't know "if you can connect the dots." He cited a subdivision in Texas where all the homes are linked by riding trails, and a proposal by the Pine Valley Church to build an equestrian facility on land they own east of the church, previously platted as part of Dove Ranch.

La May wanted to discuss business retention.

Ron Dunavant said some businesses might still be doing something that's no longer viable. If so, "they will die no matter the retention efforts. Maybe they need help to migrate to where the demand is."

The Bayfield Chamber has focused this year on getting a motel in Bayfield. Chamber president Melanie Mazur said that would provide customers for local restaurants and gas stations. Perhaps it could be a facility that accommodates horses and dogs, she added.

Evans said, "There are enough horse people, what the church is proposing... that whole concept to be able to take a long trail ride and come back to civilization."

He also suggested B&Bs as an option for Bayfield. La May said the Town Center zone north of Mill Street is where that would be allowed. "It would be hard in a residential zone," he said.

La May wanted to know how the town could strengthen the chamber.

"We are all small business people volunteering time with the chamber," Mazur said. The chamber can't afford a paid staff person to do the office tasks volunteers don't have time to do. The town could help with a staff person, even just a half day a month, she said.

La May said he sees a challenge in the huge list of suggestions. He wants meeting participants to help prioritize them down to something that can be implemented.

"All these are important," he said. "If the opportunity presented itself, we'd jump on it."