Cultural Tourism as an Economic Driver — Part 4: Locally Driven Optimization of Public Lands

Public Land SolutionsreportEconomic Development Planning for Cultural Tourism in Bears Ears National Monument: San Juan County, Utah” looks at the potential of cultural tourism as an economic driver. This is the fourth post in a series analyzing how Bears Ears National Monument can benefit the economy in southeast Utah. Today we look at Locally Driven Optimization of Public Lands; next week we’ll review Case Studies of Cultural Tourism Economies from Around the Nation and in the Bears Ears Region.

Location of Bears Ears National Monument and San Juan County, Utah

Part 4: Locally Driven Optimization of Public Lands

San Juan County boasts a unique landscape and a fascinating cultural history that has the potential to become a more robust economic driver for the region. A 2016 study by the Small Business Majority found that national monuments bring diversity to communities previously dependent on resource extraction. A substantial number of visitors each year from outside the region devote multiple days in the area, spending money at local businesses and contributing to the local economy. A key strategy for maximizing new economic opportunities related to Bears Ears would be to pursue a locally driven economic development plan, perhaps an addendum to the existing county master plan, created in parallel with the Bears Ears National Monument land management plan. If planned correctly, increased visitation to San Juan County can bring additional revenue to existing businesses along with new business opportunities of many types. In addition to visitor services and new well-planned infrastructure, professional services will be needed to accommodate this growth leading to additional increases in jobs and tax revenue.

County Line at the Arizona Border, Monument Valley

As a management plan is developed for the monument, San Juan County has the opportunity to shape its future by determining what type of visitors and residents they wish to attract — and where they want visitors to go — via a parallel economic development plan. Executed concurrently with the monument land management plan, this focused economic development plan can map out effective strategies to improve unemployment rates and household incomes by maintaining existing economic sectors in San Juan County while taking advantage of the marketing opportunity presented by the new Bears Ears National Monument. A county driven economic development plan is an ideal opportunity for San Juan County to take charge of its own future.

Bears Ears, Utah

For example, if San Juan County residents wish to control and calibrate visitation and residential development, planning and zoning decisions can be made that limit hotel construction and protect existing residential areas. Concerns about water availability and other capacity-driven issues can be addressed in advance. While a certain amount of growth in the county is inevitable given current trends, residents can use a supplemental county economic development plan to control and direct that growth to where it is wanted, and limit it where it is not. Decisions regarding the location of the visitor’s center along with other key trail heads and staging areas for different types of visitors will be made as part of the land management plan, but will need to be coordinated with a parallel economic development plan to optimize stakeholder needs and maximize local participation.

While every community is different, highlighted (in next week’s post) are several examples of communities who took it upon themselves to create and execute economic development plans that allowed them to move towards a future of their choice by capitalizing on cultural tourism opportunities while preserving existing industries and lifestyles.

House On Fire Ruin, Bears Ears National Monument

Come back next week for a look at Case Studies of Cultural Tourism Economies from Around the Nation and in the Bears Ears Region. Learn more about Public Land Solutions here.