SALINA, Utah - Jeff Powell and Susan Rottman are schooling about 60 ranchers in the vocabulary of the New West: Family farms are destination vacations, chores are recreational activities and cattle drives are adventure tourism.
This is a crash course in "recreation
ranching," a fledgling industry in the mountain states and, some
say, the economic salvation of the rural
"This is for people like me who had to
leave the farm and are hoping someday to find a way back," says
Russ Cowley of the Six-County Association of Governments, at the
first of three seminars around Utah this spring. "We're going to
have to look at value-added agriculture to save our operations."
To that end, Wyoming ranchers Powell and Rottman
teach Utah families how to market their farms to tourists. "If
you've got a gully that keeps washing out, you can find people who
will pay to come out and fix it," says Powell. "Ranch work can be
exciting, at least for people who didn't grow up with it."
These aren't dude ranches, where the sole
purpose is to entertain city slickers with faux cowboying.
Recreational ranches are agricultural businesses run by people who
earn most of their living through livestock or
State Rep. Brad Johnson has been guiding
and outfitting hunters on his ranch for 40 years and recently began
letting tourists participate in cattle drives.
had 18 ladies, all liberal Democrats, and me a conservative
Republican, on one of our cattle drives," says Johnson from beneath
a black cowboy hat. "By the end, some of them were saying I had
changed their minds about the image of ranchers."
But farm families may have to make some
adjustments if they choose to open their homes to "greenies."
"You may not have to be friendly to your cows
all the time, but with visitors you have to or they won't come
back," Powell says.
"Travelers today do not want
to rough it. They want a hot shower every morning and while they
may sleep under the stars one night, they'll want a bed the rest of
the weekend," adds Rottman.
And some traditional
ranch chores may not be popular with all tourists. "A dude will
love branding a cow, but she may not enjoy seeing the ears docked
and the castration," Rottman says. "They want to see horses and pet
them, but they may be afraid to get on and ride them."
There is one drawback to introducing outsiders
to rural Western lifestyles: The visitors may like it too
"If they come, you want to make sure they
go back home," says Rottman. "We still haven't figured out a way to
convince them to stay at home and just send their money."
reports for the Salt Lake Tribune.