Printed in the Durango Herald February 23, 2019

Let’s get Creative with our outdoors

It’s the penultimate day of a 30-day trip as I sit here and write this column. My bare toes are pushing through a sandy beach at Surprise Canyon on the Grand Canyon.

As Durangoans, many of us have had the great fortune of rafting this 280-mile geologic wonder boasting 80 big-water rapids and some of the most diverse and wondrous scenery in the world. The fact that so many of us have been down this grand river is a minor miracle since the weighted lottery system gives you about a one in eight chance of pulling a permit. As a result, many of us have waited a decade or more to run the Grand Canyon.

This speaks to our lifestyle, values and aspirations. The outdoors are a reflection of our personality here in this remote corner of the Southwest where the desert meets the mountains. We have chosen to live here, start our businesses here and raise our families here, in part because of access to the outdoors.

And that is why the outdoors industry and the nonprofit organizations that support our trails and wild places are a key component to our local identity and, therefore, our local economy. With the recent article in the Telegraph, and the many meetings and gatherings over the last few months, you may have heard about the group of community leaders and organizations working to establish a certified Creative District in Durango. The outdoor industry is a key piece to this initiative because a Creative District, and the stakeholder process that goes along with it, works to communicate our unique identity and story through the creative artisan economy.

From beer to craft foods, to the creative arts and manufacturing, a Creative District would set the stage to build and recognize a broad and diverse creative economy that supports the local community, while also providing a unique invitation to tourists as one of the many reasons to come visit our town.

A great example of the intersection of our natural and cultural environment and the tourism economy is the recent offering of Mesa Verde tickets at the downtown Welcome Center run by the Durango Area Tourism Office. Similar to the concept of a Creative District, it is one of those ideas that makes you think, “Why have we not done this before now?!”

Approximately 600,000 people visit Mesa Verde National Park each year, spending an estimated $55.4 million in nearby towns, and supporting 814 jobs, according to National Park Service data. DATO set a goal of selling 25,000 tickets in the first year. The Welcome Center wildly exceeded this goal by selling 32,000 within five months, with about 10,000 sold during the 416 Fire. With only 30 miles between downtown Durango and the entrance to Mesa Verde, offering convenient ticket sales in downtown Durango is a phenomenal way to both boost our local economy and celebrate this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the value that we place on it as locals.

When Durango becomes a Creative District, it will be yet another unique opportunity for tourists and traveling locals alike to visit our town. Imagine a creative corridor where you can stop off in Durango, check out one of the many vibrant murals around town, pick up your tickets for Spruce Tree House, then head on the road to Mancos where you can visit their Creative District before you land at Mesa Verde. The creative corridor continues to Telluride and Ridgway, which are both certified Creative Districts as well.

For more information about the Durango Creative District and to join the dialogue, visit

Monique DiGiorgio is managing director of Local First in Durango. Contact her at