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Promised land

Recreational opportunities helping Montrose become PRIME destination

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Recreational activities around or in Montrose have helped it become a central hub for tourists and residents in recent years.

Montrose’s commitment to offering a wide variety of indoor and outdoor recreational adventures has made it the envy of others and a prized-possession of its residents. With the Community Recreation Center, the annual Montrose County Fair and Rodeo and the pending event center, the enhancement of many local parks, the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and hunting and hiking options on public lands, the quality of recreational offerings is unique.

When the Montrose Recreation District only had the old Aquatic Center as its indoor facility, locals mostly used the building, MRD Executive Director Ken Sherbenou said. But with the construction and opening of the MCRC and Field House, rec staff is finding residents and visitors from surrounding counties utilizing them.

“Now, that we are a multipurpose recreation center and the largest facility on the Western Slope, we are really seeing a regional draw,” Sherbenou said. “We’ve got families from Grand Junction coming here. That’s one of the reasons why we are really trying to make a lot of the rec features like the lap pools open as much as possible because we are seeing that regional traffic.” 

Local residents have also been using the rec center more. According to Sherbenou, when the facility opened, there were 1,500 annual member passes in January 2017. It’s jumped significantly — to over 8,000 — as of January 2018, he noted.

“Thankfully, that’s the trend we are seeing that community people are embracing their recreation center,” Sherbenou said of the numbers. “That’s very satisfying.” 

The local high school and club swim teams have also made good use of the state-of-the-art facility, as it is the home of their practices and several competitions, the latter of which brought swimmers and their families from around the state. Having these events allows athletes and coaches alike to see a different side of Montrose, Sherbenou said.  

“Since we are for a lot of people the first exposure to Montrose and this is what they think of when they come to Montrose,” he said. 

Another MRD building that visitors have become familiar with is the Field House, 25 Colorado Ave., which was once the old Aquatic Center. The space, which includes an indoor turf field, was created for different sports like lacrosse, soccer and a batting cage. 

“Having the field house online has allowed us to offer a lot more additional programs we haven’t offered before or offer them in a way that’s a lot better experience,” Sherbenou said. 

It has enabled the MRD staff to offer unique sports like bubble soccer, he said, adding the venue can also host events such as birthday, bachelor and bachelorette parties. 

“The field house does allow us to offer a lot more than we have been able to in the past,” Sherbenou said. “Just like the rec center has.”

He added that was the goal when creating both places. 

“When we did the design of this facility and the field house, we tried to put in as many different things so that we can keep people interested,” Sherbenou said. “Even as trends change, their interests change or ability change, there’s always something for them to do and have fun.” 

One of those focal points in the near future will be the effort to connect trailheads.

Great Outdoors Colorado announced the City of Montrose and MRD’s $2 million grant application for trail connections was approved, which was the biggest GOCO grant ever awarded to Montrose. Known as “Connecting the People to their Parks and Recreation” project, the funding will support the construction of a total of 2.25 miles of new trails, with underpasses, on both ends of town to connect more of the public with parks and recreational opportunities.

From this enterprise, Sherbenou said he believes the MCRC can also become a trailhead. 

“I can really see families, friends, retirees or kids all meeting at the rec center,” Sherbenou said, noting they can all then connect to the Uncompahgre Riverway Trail and take advantage of spots like the Montrose Water Sports Park. “This will be an excellent way to access this river trail corridor, as well as Baldridge Park.”

He added hikers could go all the way to the Montrose County Justice Center on the north end of town. This could happen within the next year and a half, Sherbenou noted.

The fresh air has been known to entice outside visitors to the area, too. Several years ago Montrose revamped a portion of Baldridge Park into the Montrose Water Sports Park, which offers users a gradient of 11 feet for 1/5 miles, supporting a leisurely run with natural obstacles, according to the city’s website. It was designed for people with all levels of experience in the water — from those wanting to get their ankles wet to expert kayakers and anglers. 

“There are a lot of water opportunities in Colorado in general,” said Jennifer Loshaw, the guest services manager for the Office of Business and Tourism. “The water sports park is an excellent opportunity to learn water sports, but also for people to hone or re-strengthen their skills. 

“People are coming from all over the state because of the easy access. With that capability there, they can come and have an adventure. But they can also get their kids on the river and teach them river safety in a safe environment that is close to town.”

Beyond the WSP, people can take in the wondrous views, picnic and pavilion areas, utilize the various trails, playgrounds and disc golf course, as well as the dog park in nearby Cerise Park.

Off Chipeta Road and sitting high above the WSP, the Sunset Sports Complex is a well-maintained area that features baseball and soccer fields that locals and visitors utilize for practices and tournaments regularly. 

Additionally, last year, the city passed an ordinance allowing swimming at the pond at Taviwach Park, incidental to the use of non-motorized watercraft such as stand-up paddle boards and kayaks.

Montrose continues to be a hotspot for hunters and fishermen, Colorado Park and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said.

“There’s a lot of public land all around Montrose once you get out of the valley,” Lewandowski said. “Where we have public land, that’s where it is pretty open and friendly to wildlife like deer and elk.”

He also said those are mostly the animals people from coast to coast come to hunt in this part of the state. 

“Hunters definitely enjoy being in the mountains during the fall,” Lewandowski said. “The views in many, many areas are spectacular like the Sneffels Range and the Cimarrons. And then for areas for fishing like in the Gunnison Gorge, it’s a world-famous fishery down there. That brings anglers from all over the country.” 

Fishermen are casting their lines to go after trout like brown, rainbow, cutthroat and brook, according to Lewandowski. 

Whether it’s through high country lakes, reservoirs or the Uncompahgre River, the surrounding areas in Montrose hold cleaner water compared to other parts of the U.S., he noted.   

“Fortunately, we have plenty of streams with good, clean water,” Lewandowski said. “We have a lot of smaller streams that are a lot of fun for fly fishing. It’s not really difficult, so people can go out there and fish.” 

These kinds of rural opportunities aren’t just exclusive to hunters and anglers. 

One enticement is the yearly week long Montrose County Fair and Rodeo. According to fair board president Megan Wilson, the rodeo has drawn people from and well beyond Montrose County.

Wilson said she talked to tourists from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and even international travelers from Scotland, and they all agreed the fair has a rustic feel to it.  

“We get a lot of feedback from those people who appreciate that it’s still a small-town county fair, but at the same time we try to encompass different kinds of draws for people of all sports,” Wilson said. “It’s not just the ag community.” 

She noted such events at the fair include horse and livestock shows, tractor pull and motor mayhem.

Wilson said many of the activities at the county fair are available to the public at no cost. 

“They enjoy that the fair is free,” Wilson said. “We do have those big events that we charge for, but they don’t have to pay to walk through the door.” 

The building next door and currently under construction is the Montrose County Event Center. The indoor arena will be able to hold a wide variety of different competitions, Fairgrounds Director Emily Sanchez said. 

“There’s definitely some interesting competition there,” Sanchez said. “I think there are a lot more opportunities that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

So far, ideas have consisted of archery and drone races, Sanchez said, adding festivals and concerts are other possibilities. 

One of those draws means participants are traveling outside of Montrose to partake in them. 

“If we can host a competition at the event center, those competitors have to come from outside the area,” Sanchez said. “When they come in, they are probably spending and leaving dollars in our economy. That’s the kind of positive economic impact that the event center can be used for.”  

Another reason why people are spending money locally is because of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The park is a tremendous asset to the community, even more so in the last several years, Black Canyon public information officer Sandra Snell-Dobert indicated. 

“A lot of people are coming and discovering the smaller parks,” Snell-Dobert said. “It’s not just Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons or the Grand Canyon.”

What has become well known about the park located half an hour from Montrose is the geology of it is quite unique, she added. 

“In the case of the Black Canyon, we have very narrow canyons and there’s nothing like that anywhere else,” Snell-Dobert said, adding other more well known parks have become crowded. “Now people are looking for places that are a little bit quieter and less visited, so they don’t have to jostle with the crowds.” 

Those people visiting the park aren’t just Coloradans. Snell-Dobert noted tourists are coming mostly from western states, but those from outside of the U.S. have increasingly traveled to the Black Canyon. 

“We also do have international visitation and that’s growing,” she said. “We don’t do the big bus tours like (other parks), but we do have quite a few international visitors.” 

Those travelers are seeing the different activities that the Black Canyon has to offer, like hiking, fishing, kayaking, rock climbing, scenic driving and wildlife watching. 

According to Snell-Dobert, those tourists have spent the night and dined in Montrose. 

“National parks, no matter where they are, are great draws for local communities,” Snell-Dobert said. “People will be trying to come to get to national parks, but they have to stay and eat somewhere. So, they are going to visit those local communities for sure.” 

Paying a visit to Montrose just doesn’t include stopping at the Black Canyon. Outdoor activities like hunting and fishing have drawn in people from around the U.S. to look at the unique fall leaves, Lewandowski said. 

In town proper, Wilson noted the Montrose County Fair and Rodeo has been a draw over the summer because of the activities available. The event center being built adjacent to it could draw more people for different reasons, Sanchez said. The MRD has provided a way for outside high school participants to stay overnight in Montrose to compete. 

Sherbenou reiterated he’s aware the rec center may be people’s first exposure to Montrose. 

“I think it’s a great way to put our community’s best foot forward in terms of a small community can have a small town feel, but still have this amazing facility that rivals and is one of the very best in the state,” he said.

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