From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 1 - 8/31/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

The Lodging Tax and the Tourism Fight

It will be interesting to see if and how the debate over the proposed countywide lodging tax develops. I hope the question causes people in the north end of the county to discuss tourism, and to what extent Pinedale wants to be a tourist town. This could be a fight, but it's a discussion we need to have.

I have mixed feelings about tourism. One thing I do know is that tourism is nothing new to Sublette County or our economy. The Box R Ranch is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, so we know that outfitting and tourism have been around since the early 1900s. Tourism doesn't pre-date ranching in Sublette County, but it did come before our oil and gas industry which developed in the 1950s.

I also know tourism is a huge part of Pinedale's economy and employment. The strongest part of Pinedale and Sublette County's economy is government employment. Whether oil and gas or tourism comes next isn't known.

So I know tourism is part of Sublette County's heritage, is a large part of our economy and employs many, many locals. These are tourism's strengths.

Tourism also has a dark side. There seems to be a line out there where a small tourist town markets itself to the point that it loses its soul. The unique character of the community is smothered with clichˇd tourist trappings like old west photo establishments, rubber tomahawks and espresso bars. The neat little town evolves into a typical tourist trap. This is what has happened to places like Jackson Hole, Park City and Steamboat Springs. These places have signs everywhere proclaiming, "We're for Sale!"

Where is that line? When do the concrete economic benefits from tourism begin to erode the soul of the community? At what point do we sacrifice the town to make more money?

Most people in Pinedale don't want to see their town become another Jackson. But at the same time we all could use a few more of those tourist dollars circulating in our checking accounts.

Many people who talk to me about this say we can't stop it. They could be right.

Others, who support unfettered marketing and economic growth, accuse me of being against all change. It isn't that simple. On one hand, if I could do anything for the people of Sublette County I'd wave a magic wand and increase the per capita income by $5,000/year. On the other hand, just about everyone who lives in Pinedale could make more money living somewhere else. Most of us don't live here because we think we're going to get rich. We live here for the outdoors, wildlife, and especially, the small town lifestyle.

But damn, it's just hard to make a living in Sublette County. We live here so we can hunt and fish, but spend all summer and fall working as hard as we can during the "earning season" so we can make it through another long, cold and poor winter. Where's the justice? What a frustrating predicament!

I haven't decided for sure, but I'm leaning toward supporting the lodging tax proposal. I hope it can be used to promote some of our local events and can help out our economy during the slow months. I'll admit right up front that if passed, the lodging tax will benefit my business.

But I'm wary about promoting Pinedale too much. That's right, I want it both ways. Further, I'm not convinced we can't have it all - a better, stronger economy, while still retaining our small-town lifestyle. But it will take open, frank discussion and hard, grueling work.

Let's face it, forces are pushing Pinedale towards Jackson. If we're to change course, we need to decide our own future through discussion, planning and action. Some of this work has already started with the County Master Plan Revision. The debate over the lodging tax could be another important step we need to take.

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