With local economic development ideas turning once again to themes of rural gentrification, lifestyle marketing, recreation and tourism there is one local economic development asset that provides a model and foundation of success to build on.
It is the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway. Since its incorporation in 1992, the Grand Mesa Byway, through its local association board, has obtained funding for numerous improvements and projects across the entire Grand Mesa.
The projects sponsored by the Byway Association in conjunction with its partners in support and in funding have helped improve access and enhanced the appreciation of the Grand Mesa and the national forest for visitors and for local residents as well.
Over the years the association has received grants totaling $422,000, which when leveraged by its partners, have had a major impact in developing the tourism economy of Delta County.
Among projects the Byway Association has played a key role in developing:
• A $120,000 grant obtained for the 1993 construction of the Cedaredge Welcome Center was the Association's first major success; a $155,000 total project investment. The Welcome Center is now owned by the Surface Creek Valley Historical Society and serves as a center for ongoing economic development efforts and community life.
• In 1994, $23,000 in funds were obtained for preservation and trails construction with interpretative signage at the Raber Cow Camp on Lands End Road.
• In 1996, a $72,000 grant obtained with Byways effort helped design, manufacture and install exhibits and interpretative displays at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center and Lands End Observatory. Also in 1996, the Association won $67,000 for interpretative work at Cedaredge and on top of the Mesa.
• More work has been completed at the Byway's north entrance at I-70 and elsewhere with $103,936 in grant funding.
• There have also been grants awarded for marketing activities and brochure design and printing.
• One of the Byway Association's most unacknowledged contributions to the Grand Mesa and its users was $186,500 it acquired and provided in support of reconstruction, expansion, user facilities construction and safety enhancements at the County Line parking area. That was a project which both Delta and Mesa counties, the Forest Service and others contributed to as well.
According to the state Byways office, over a dozen major grants have been awarded to the local Byway Association for projects including construction and physical improvements, interpretative signage, materials and displays, and advertising and marketing projects.
These improvements could not have happened without the initiative and enterprise of a few dedicated individuals who were willing to step up at the right moment and seize an opportunity to benefit their community.
The local Byway Association was incorporated in 1992. Those serving as board members have included Bill Miller, president, Lloyd Snider, vice-president; Mary Kiser, treasurer; Kim Ralston, treasurer; and members Barbara Petersen, Rich Garrett and Kathy Dirks.
The Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway has received designation status from CDOT, the Colorado Historical Society and the Grand Mesa National Forest. Miller was among those who in September 1991 traveled to Denver for an official Byway designation event. Others in that group, Miller recalls, were Al Mullen, Bruce Hovde, Bob Watson and Mary Kiser.
Miller recalls, "On Sept. 19, 1996, Maynard Nelson [of Cedaredge] and I drove to Denver to receive the National Scenic and Historic Byway certificate." The honor was presented by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation Federico Peña, former mayor of Denver. The event took place at the Colorado Governor's mansion.
In recent years, funding from the federal level, especially for marketing, has declined, Miller notes. He and Kelli Hepler, coordinator for the Delta County Tourism Board, say that money for the all-important marketing push is scarce. Many Grand Mesa visitors may not even be aware that they are enjoying facilities and interpretative enhancements that the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway Association is in large part responsible for helping to provide. Miller still serves on the Byways Association board with other members. But, he notes, the board is currently inactive due to the current lack of funding opportunities, a situation that he and Hepler believe could change.
Nevertheless, in the mean time the Byways Association is still looking to the future and to an ever greater role the Byway can play in local economic development efforts. The Association has already gotten in line with pending grant applications for more physical improvements and for marketing. A 12-page professional marketing plan stands completed and ready to begin implementing when funds become available.
There are 13 Byways in Western Colorado listed on an official register. Delta County is also home to a section of the West Elk Loop Byway. The Byways projects in Colorado received $17.9 million in funding between 1992 and 2012.
The Byway Association has been a leader in forming partnerships for funding and for political support to advance its projects. Among the funding the partners it acknowledges are the Forest Service, CDOT, Colorado Historical Society, Delta County Commissioners, Town of Cedaredge, Grand Junction Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Region 10. In addition, there are other local governments, agencies and organizations who have lent backing to Byway improvement projects.
As local economic development plans turn more and more to the lifestyle economic sectors, the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway is a ready made vehicle for promotional efforts -- one that has a proven track record of success in the field.