Site Visit: Rocky Mountain Adventure in Colorado
By Prianka Sharma, Assistant Chief Counsel
On a warm and sunny Tuesday afternoon in August, Assistant Chief Counsels Jamie Belcore and Prianka Sharma traveled to the scenic Poudre Canyon, CO to meet with Ryan Barwick, owner of Rocky Mountain Adventures, an outdoor recreation company. The company operates rafting tours on three of Colorado’s popular rivers, and one off road tour on the Continental Divide. Due to the seasonal nature of the industry, Mr. Barwick switches between entities, operating a snowmobile tour company in Winter Park, CO in the winter months.
The operation consists of eight offices, not all of which are operational year round. He has 12 full-time staff, and 85 summer employees. In the winter the staff is smaller and consists of around 45 employees. Mr. Barwick stated that staffing is one of the hardest parts of running the businesses because housing is an issue for his employees. It is easier in summer when many employees are able to and enjoy camping outdoors, but during the harsher winter months it can be difficult for them to find affordable places to live and perform the temporary jobs for which they are hired.
Due to the remote nature of the operations, access to broadband can be an issue for the offices. In some offices the phones operate on a VOIP (voice over IP) system, thus if the internet connection is down or slow, the business does not run because staff cannot receive or make phone calls to customers. Mr. Barwick also spoke about a lack of competition in providers of internet services which can lead to increased prices for consumers.
In addition to accessibility issues, Mr. Barwick stated that some of his colleagues have encountered issues with the National Park Service (NPS) requirement to maintain $5 million in insurance. He stated that it costs nearly $15,000 to pay for the insurance level required by the NPS.
In addition he runs into challenges when trying to operate across neighboring state lines in Wyoming. To cross the border for even one mile, the Department of Transportation requires an interstate designation, and thus requires a CDL-eligible driver even for a passenger van, as well as additional insurance. However in the industry owners can only buy up to $2 million of insurance per vehicle through their insurance carriers, which forces the business to buy a $3 million umbrella, which is an additional $13,000 cost.
A common theme Advocacy hears is that uncertainty wreaks havoc on small business operations. Mr. Barwick stated that because he operates on Federal Lands, it is unclear what happens in events such as government shutdowns because there is no one to provide guidance to permit holders and the lands are not closed off. Furthermore he stated that the Agencies should strive for more consultation with local business owners and permit holders before implementing new policies to see if they can reach a consensus. He stated one instance in which without notice a regional BLM representative shut down an activity that he and other tour operators offered. There had been no warning or an opportunity to comment. Advocacy is hopeful that Mr. Barwick will be able to find regulatory relief in the form of having more input and a seat at the table for small businesses in the outdoor industry.
Advocacy was in Wyoming and Colorado for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables August 7-9.
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Prianka Sharma is an Assistant Chief Counsel for Advocacy whose portfolio includes natural resources, agriculture, and energy. Sharma can be reached at Prianka.firstname.lastname@example.org.