One can make the case that Katelin Cook is becoming our biggest friend and advocate for Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) tourism recreation in the state Colorado. The friendly and spirited Economic Development Coordinator has been working diligently throughout the years. She is motivated by her love of community and passion for responsible OHV recreation. Katelin has accomplished so much and inspires many of us to what the future might look like. We make a phone call to Katelin to see how this all came about, how OHV tourism is progressing in Rio Blanco County and just what might the future look like.
Katelin Cook, Economic Development Coordinator, Rio Blanco County
Interview by Ben Janin
Hello Katelin, before we ask you handful of questions can you give our readers a little background on yourself?
Yeah of course! Well I have lived my whole life on the Western Slope. I graduated from Meeker High School, moved back here in 2007 and settled down with my husband who was born and raised here in Meeker. And we feel so blessed to celebrate our growing family in this community.
Do you have any kind of background in OHV’s before you got started with the benefits of OHV tourism?
Oh yeah, my brother and dad always had dirt bikes, and it has always been part of our family time. We were always getting together as family, going camping and riding dirt bikes. These days I got a side by side! It’s a Commander by Can Am. Often after a long strenuous weak of work, my husband, two dogs, and I load up and drive right out of the garage from our home in Meeker and take the forty five minute ride up to Howey Reservoir. We will grab our camp stove, park at a look out and cook diner. It’s just awesome. I love living here.
Wow that’s great! So how did OHV tourism become a growth strategy for Rio Blanco County?
Katelin: Four years back when I was the chamber director, John Bongiovanni stopped by. I had never met John before and he was asking me a whole bunch of simple questions about where to go OHVing and asked if we had any maps. I past this test he sprung on me because I had grown up in the area and love the outdoors. Well this impromptu conversation took place hours before John had a larger meeting with Rio Blanco and it was established that there were some real opportunities in our neck of the woods.
As a result our county commissioner got our leaders from the town of Meeker and Rangley in a meeting together. Conveniently, the forest service had just completed a travel management plan and it was established that we had a marketable OHV trail network called the Wagon Wheel Trail System. The Rio Blanco asset has 16 interconnecting loops totaling 250 miles. It’s a great trail system that offers many skill levels; people can either come to learn to ride for the first time or they keep coming back to continuously improve and challenge themselves.
What can you tell us about the process of getting to this point and how things are progressing?
We have really encaptured synergy of everyone being involved; everyone from the town, the chamber, Rio Blanco County, the Wagon Wheel OHV Club, BLM, forest service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, COHVCO, Colorado TPA and the two John’s as I like to call them (John Lane and John Bongovianni). Receiving an OHV grant and working with the Great Outdoors Consultants has been extremely valuable. The agriculture community has been very important as well, they have leases up there and are very part of the process. Communication among all the user groups is a must and doing things like calling the ranchers ahead of time before an OHV event is absolutely critical. We also work with the Colorado State Patrol, the Meeker Police Department and the Sherriff; we even have the major and commissioner involved, speaking at some the Meeker Rendezvous events such as the rider safety meeting.
Tell us a little bit about the success of the Meeker Rendezvous (a now long standing OHV event)?
Katelin: Attendance has grown 25% every year. Last year we had 150 registered vehicle users with a total of 250 people showing up. We have ongoing relationship with the forest service, we are communicating to them and all of our stakeholders. There are no trail restrictions yet, but at the same time we do not anticipate 1,000 people showing up. We keep 12 people to a group, plan our guides accordantly and spread the area out so we are not bumping into each other. We also have wide array of vendors that show up, we got everything from OHV dealers attending, Stay the Trail, Search and Rescue and of course a number of our local businesses.
So what does the future of OHV tourism look like in Rio Blanco County?
We are now in a better position to include Rangley, which is just a fabulous destination for OHV recreation. It’s high desert and has slick rock that is a bit like Moab. It even has a rock crawling park! I believe it’s the only one in Colorado. They just held a round of the World Extreme Rock Crawling Championship Series (W.E.Rock). In any case we want to duplicate what we have done in Meeker for our town of Rangley. We are very motivated for OHV tourism in Rio County to be a great success story. We want to be a model community so that OHV tourism can grow through out the state of Colorado! Ben: Well Katelin, it was nice speaking with you. Thank you for all that you do for our community and OHV tourism.