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A busy river

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The stretch of of the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Canon City is among the most popular in the state. For fishermen, rafters and other water sport enthusiasts it’s a place for adventure or unwinding, but for nearby communities the river is the lifeblood of the economy.

“Last year was a down year (because of the Royal Gorge wildfire),” said Colorado Springs Visitors Bureau chairman Andy Neinas, who also owns Echo Canyon River Expeditions in Canon City. “We had 191,307 people, who rafted with a commercial river outfitter on the Arkansas River. That generated $12,107,835.62 in gross receipts. That’s direct expenditures so we’re a $12 million industry.”

According to the Colorado River Outfitters Association the economic impact of the river totals $23 million in direct expenditures. That has to do with the extra products the rafting industry sells, he said.

In 2013, the association reported the Arkansas river having a $55 million economic impact.

“So the ($12 million) number I gave you earlier is the cost of the raft trips,” Neinas said. “(We’re also selling) the wetsuits at retail, selling photography or things along that line so we calculate our economic impact on this river is $60,734,207. Obviously half of that is the lower river or Fremont County.”

Photo courtesy of Echo Canyon River Expeditions

Photo courtesy of Echo Canyon River Expeditions

The outfitters association said in an end of the year report in 2013 that the Arkansas River accounted for 38 percent of the market share of impact of river rafting in the state. It topped even the Colorado River by a wide margin.

The money earned from rafting is a significant investment, Neinas said. He employs 130 people within his organization.

He employs teachers who work during the summers, as well as providing first job for younger people, and people who have been with the organization for years. Along with the rafting business, Neinas owns a 14,000-square foot facility as well as multiple properties in the area. So, the money made from his tourism business gets spent locally.

“Tourism affects everybody,” Neinas said. “If you own a hardware store in town, you’re seeing tourism dollars because of me (and others in the industry). I just bought a new vehicle from the local Ford dealer. We collectively, as an industry, really do make a difference within the river communities as a whole. We are the ambassadors of Colorado to a lot of visitors who are coming to the area.”

But it’s not only Fremont and Chaffee counties.

“I just bought thousands and thousands of dollars in Pueblo so our reach of industry is not confined simply to Fremont County or Canon City,” Neinas said. “Obviously we do a lot of business in Colorado Springs, as well.”

He said many people come to Colorado simply to raft; however, once they get here, they visit other tourist attractions in the region.

“(Rafting) is just one of the varied opportunities for visitors to have,” Neinas said. “(They can visit) the wonderful Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, the Royal Gorge Route Railway, Seven Falls and there’s a laundry list of spectacular attractions throughout the region so a lot of times, we’re a day trip.”

Recently, Brown’s Canyon between Salida and Buena Vista was designated as a National Monument and a 102 stretch of the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Canon City was designated as a Gold Medal Fishery in 2014.

“This is the longest, single contiguous Gold Medal waters in the State of Colorado,” Neinas said. “The economic impact on the fishery would be an addition to the (earlier) numbers.”

There are also private anglers who fish the rivers, where the numbers may not be calculated in these reports, he said.

“We endeavor to bring more people to Colorado Springs and PIkes Peak,” Neinas said. “There is no imaginary line that separates us from (Colorado Springs to Fremont County) in the eyes of the visitor.”

Rafting is just one element of tourism, he said. Hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and state park visitation also are important to the state, said representatives at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“(These industries) contribute roughly $6.1 billion in economic effects statewide,” said Public Information officer Abbey Walls in a press release. “Based on a 2014 economic study by Southwick Associates, fishing alone contributes more than $1.9 billion in economic effect statewide and 16,413 jobs each year.”

In Fremont and Chaffee Counties, the Arkansas River is one of the most popular places to raft and fish, she said.

“This year (2014), a better than average snowpack and an improved economy, helped lead to an increase of 6.8 percent commercial boats and 12.1 percent increase of private boats over 2013 in the AHRA,” Walls added. “More than 250,000 people experienced the Arkansas River by boat (in 2013).”

But fishing also is an important industry in the area.

“There were an estimated 80,346 anglers using the AHRA in 2014, compared to 73,150 in 2013,” she added. “It’s estimated that the economic impact of anglers is (about) $103.16 per day.”

Although fly fishing does not have as big an economic impact that rafting has, it is a major industry in the area, said Royal Gorge Anglers owner Taylor Edrington.

“As the longest Gold Medal fishery in North America, it’s definitely brought an influx of traffic even though the Arkansas River was already the most fly fished area in the state because there’s so much public access.”

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Navajo Nation marks 150th anniversary of return to homeland

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A long-lost original copy of a historic treaty signed in 1868 by leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes and the U.S. government will go on display later this year as the Navajo Nation commemorates a dark, but significant chapter of history.

Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez and other tribal officials gathered Tuesday in Albuquerque to detail some of the events that will mark the signing of the treaty 150 years ago.

That treaty is what cleared the way for tribal members to return to their homeland in the heart of the American Southwest after being rounded up years earlier by the U.S. cavalry and forced to make an arduous and deadly trek hundreds of miles to a camp in eastern New Mexico.

Nez recounted the hardships of what came to be known as the Long Walk, saying many Navajos died along the route to Bosque Redondo. He also talked about those who stayed behind and hid in canyons and on mesa tops, often foregoing the warmth of a fire to avoid capture.

“We want our younger generation to know about our history,” Nez told a room packed with tribal officials and reporters.

He also talked about problems facing tribal communities, from suicide to alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. He said he wants to tap into the resilience of those Navajo ancestors who endured the hardships of the 1800s.

“What this will do is inspire, encourage our people out there that they can’t give up, to jump back up, dust themselves off and to fight even harder than ever before for what they believe in,” Nez said.

Navajo President Russell Begaye has said this year’s commemoration is also about telling the story of the Long Walk, the signing of the treaty and the return home from the perspective of Native Americans. He and other tribal officials say one goal is to address what they called a “legacy of misrepresentation” that has stemmed from that era.

Before research and planning began for this year’s events, there were only two known copies of the historic treaty. The whereabouts of one is now a mystery and the other has been kept by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The third copy turned up only recently when the relatives of a peace commissioner who was involved in the negotiation and signing of the treaty in 1868 found the document in a trunk in the family attic.

It was rolled up and bound with the original but faded ribbon. It was in pristine condition along with notes and other documents that historians hope might fill in some of the blanks from that time.

Pages of that copy will be on display starting in June at the Bosque Redondo Memorial near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The National Archives is partnering with the Navajo Nation to display the other original copy at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, for the month of June.

It took more than two years of planning to make the exhibition possible as this marks only the second time an original treaty has gone back to a homeland.

Museum director Manny Wheeler said the treaty is more than just a document to the Navajo people.

“When I saw the document and I saw the marks of all of our leaders on that paper, it is a powerful thing and it is very much so opening up dialogue among all Navajos about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler suggested that as much as the document was key to the Navajos’ past, it also has the power to change the future by awaking tribal members to the importance of preserving their culture and language.

The leaders of the Navajo Nation’s three branches of government signed a proclamation earlier this year declaring 2018 as the year of the treaty, and the tribe launched a website .

The commemoration also includes a day of prayer across the Navajo Nation, cultural nights, tours of the tribal council chambers and a run that will span more than 400 miles (644 kilometers) from Fort Sumner to the Navajo capital.

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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‘For fun’ killing reveals vulnerability for homeless Native Americans in New Mexico

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The morning a homeless man was shot and killed in Albuquerque, police say surveillance videos showed him running down a street before sunrise, and then gunfire flash in the dark.

Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

Ronnie Ross, a 50-year-old from the Navajo Nation town of Shiprock, had been shot a dozen times, including once in the forehead and temple, and four times in the back, according to a criminal complaint. Police say the two teenage suspects charged with murder this week apparently shot him “for fun” as they came and went from a hotel party nearby.

The homicide marked the latest in a series of brazen killings and assaults of homeless Native Americans in the city. In Albuquerque, Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

A 2014 survey showed 75 percent of homeless Native Americans in Albuquerque had been physically assaulted.

“Just being harassed is part of everyday life, but it’s not as much harassment as it is overgrown bullying,” said Gordon Yawakia, who works at the Albuquerque Indian Center and was once homeless himself. “What do you do when people are against you and then the authorities are against you and you’ve got nobody, you know?”

In 2014, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, both Navajo, were beaten to death as they slept in a vacant lot. While authorities did not say the men were targeted because they were Native American, activists disagreed and the deaths spurred the creation of a city task force to address Native American homelessness that now-former Mayor Richard Berry said could set the stage for changes for the population across the Southwest.

Now, Ross’ death is underscoring how difficult it may be to protect and find solutions for the city’s Native American homeless population.

“When I hear a story like this it adds fuel to the fire,” said Dawn Begay, who is the city’s tribal liaison, and works with the homeless through a local nonprofit. “Where we’re headed is a good direction but it has to happen faster.”

Ross’ killing in March came three months after the body of Audra Willis was found decapitated in an area not far from the Sandia Mountains that line the city’s east side. The 39-year-old had come from To’hajiilee, a tiny Navajo community west of Albuquerque, and records show she had multiple addresses during her time in the city, including at the Albuquerque Indian Center.

Willis’ especially grisly death sent shockwaves through Albuquerque, just as the beatings of Thompson and Gorman had three years earlier.

The two men had been killed on a July 2014 night when authorities say three boys — ages 15, 16 and 18_returned home from a night of drinking and decided to attack them as they slept on a mattress. The men were beaten with a wooden table leg, cinder blocks, and other objects, police said. One young suspect later told authorities that the teens had beaten dozens of homeless people, though apparently none others fatally.

In Ross’ death, the complaint filed against the 15- and 17-year-old suspects does not identify a motive, but says the two teenagers bragged to friends about the shooting.

According to police, friends and acquaintances of the boys — whom The Associated Press is not naming because of their ages — said the suspects had been showing off a gun at the party, and had said to others that they had shot a man. At one point, the younger boy also said to a close friend at the party that he shot a “hobo” in the back.

The boys made one more stop at the scene to find Ross still alive, prompting the older boy to shoot him multiple times, according to the complaint.

“It’s completely disturbing,” said Officer Simon Drobik, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said Tuesday. “They just shot this guy for fun.”

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