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“Hell no?”  “Hell yes!” Agritourism’s worth it

by Edie Flanagin

HUERFANO- Huerfano County has a long and colorful agricultural history.  A new chapter in this story is emerging in our  county with the advent of Agritourism, a combination of agriculture and tourism.  Many agricultural producers find the idea of allowing strangers onto their land for monetary gain a distasteful “Hell No!” idea.  However, after the day long workshop last Wednesday, sponsored by CSU Extension, Colorado Dept of Agriculture and Huerfano County Tourism Board, some of that reluctance may be abating.  Nineteen local ranchers and land owners attended the workshop.  The morning sessions, held by Martha Sullins, CST Extension and Dawn Thilmany, CSU marketing professor, concentrated on the ways to incorporate agritourism into landowners’ portfolios, how to market an idea and how to set up business plans to follow through with the ideas.

    The mid morning speaker was John Koshak, with Colorado DOW who spoke about the Colorado Birding Trails across the state and specifically in our area.  He introduced Grady Grissom, ranch manager for Rancho Lago Cattle Company in Eastern Huerfano County.  Grissom gave an excellent presentation on what his ranch is doing to incorporate birding into their operations.  (see related story, p.XXXXX)

    While eating barbecue sandwiches and fixings made by Huerfano County 4-H, the workshop participants were further educated about Agritourism by Duke Phillips, the ranch manager of Chico Basin Ranch, which is northeast of Pueblo and of the Zapata Ranch in the San Luis Valley.  He and his family operate the Chico Basin Ranch which runs between 1500 to 2000 cattle with the help of ranch guests who actually pay them for the privilege of being a ranch hand!  Phillips explained that screening these working guests is the most important step in his agritourism endeavor. The workshop participants asked many questions of both ranch managers and everyone believes the two made a good case for venturing into agritourism.

    The afternoon sessions dealt with liability issues and marketing.  Kathie Riley, P.C. provided information about Colorado laws and the limits of liability of landowners.  The final session was presented by a pair of visitors from Kansas; Deborah Divine, Kansas Scenic Byways Programs, and Heather Huntington Fuesz, who is a rancher with guest lodging and hunting leases on her land as well as a member of the Kansas Agritourism Committee.  These ladies energized the workshop with their marketing know how.  They presented ways to find a target audience, formulate goals, set up business plans, and how to get sites  ready for visitors.

    The attendees of the workshop ranged from people who had never really thought about starting an agritourism business to people who are already making the majority of their livelihood from the business.  All in all everyone felt the day was worthwhile, with many good ideas to take back  to the homestead.  Odds are, agritourism will become part of our county’s landscape in the near future.