Introducing Conor Hall, New Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Bureau Chief | Mail from Pikes Peak


Colorado has a new face for its powerful outdoor industry. He’s a youngster.

It’s 32-year-old Conor Hall, who, from his mountain town of Crestone, achieved an impressive amount early in his career.

It has been a career in politics, most recently with The Trust for Public Land. For the nonprofit, Hall held a directorship that saw him lead local ballot action to fund open spaces, climate, and equitable access in the West.

Previously, Hall served as a senior executive to then-Governor John Hickenlooper, advising him on policy decisions. This included, in 2015, the establishment of the Office of the Outdoor Recreation Industry.

Hall is now the bureau’s third director, charged with driving the industry through policy, promotion and workforce development, while championing public lands and the environment.

Within weeks of starting his job, Hall was also busy securing funds he said would be unprecedented for his office — what he called “two pretty big grants from federal stimulus money.”

The idea, Hall said, is “to send (the money) over the next two years across the state to businesses, nonprofits, institutions of higher education, local governments, local economic development groups, tribes”.

Conor Hall, who grew up in Crestone, is the new director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.

It could be as high as $7 million, Hall said. “And that’s exciting, because this office was never really a granting office. So we have to get up to speed and learn what is the best way to do it, the best way to make sure that we are really spending the funds effectively and efficiently.

Among other accomplishments, while studying political science at Earlham College in Indiana, Hall survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He is cancer free today.

We talked about that and more. Here is an abbreviated version of our conversation:

So, about Crestone.

It was a pretty wild and interesting place to grow up. I come from a family of six and we didn’t have cable TV or anything.

Really spent every waking moment we could play outside. We were doing lessons in primitive survival skills at 9 or 10 years old, doing solos in nature.

I was going to ask what inspired your passion for the outdoors. Most of it happened in Crestone?

Yes, a lot has happened in Crestone. But I will add one. About 10 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had big, big tumors all over my chest and neck, I had to go through very intensive treatment, chemotherapy, radiation, all those horrible things to get through it. I found that I took great comfort in being in nature. It helped me through in many ways.

wow. So you would have been diagnosed in your early twenties?

21. I thought I was invincible at the time. I had had life and death experiences, rolling cars, falling off cliffs, over and over again. When I heard this news and it wasn’t an adventure-based near-death experience, it was tough. I was telling everyone that I thought I would be fine, but I really had to deal with my own mortality.

I remember a conversation I had with your predecessor, Nathan Fey, asking him where he saw untapped potential around the state, places perhaps on the verge of further exploiting the external economy. He mentioned your San Luis Valley.

Nathan was right. I absolutely see this as one of those areas with huge potential. I’m also looking at Moffat County (northwest).

They have so much. Their market forces are shutting down, the extractive economy that was up there. So we want to see if there is a way to bolster some of these jobs in this economy with the o-rec economy. There are places like that all over the state. If we’re able to do this well and really strengthen those local economies, then I think we can relieve some of our best-known communities as well, like along the I-70 corridor. It’s a huge goal for us.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing this space?

There are ongoing challenges around the supply chain, obviously that’s huge for this industry.

There are so many different sectors of the industry that have been hit hard by this labor shortage, and there are a lot of issues associated with it. Affordable housing in our mountain towns is obviously a major issue.

What role does your office play in these conversations?

We hear it from people around the state in the industry. I think we certainly have a role to play, and I would like us to be at the table and advocate for more affordable housing. Again, we currently have an unprecedented amount of funding flowing through the state. … We want to be an advocate and a helpful partner.

In response to the absolute numbers we’ve seen in some places, we’re seeing new management strategies like fees to help offset costs, like reservations. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this.

We must be lucid. If there is increased use, there will be consequences, so it is incumbent on us as heads of state to help people enjoy these spaces responsibly and sustainably. … It is also the funding of forest guards and infrastructure. It should also be an important part of the conversation. Increased funding to manage some of these places.

Along with the fees, there are also equity issues that go with it, aren’t there?

It’s just in the foreground. We want to keep those first or second users who have come through the pandemic, many of whom may not have had traditional or easy access or come from disadvantaged communities. We want them to come back and make it as easy as possible.

What are some of your most memorable outdoor experiences?

My first multi-day backpacking trip when I was maybe 7 or 8. We went up to North Crestone Peak, saw all this wildlife, we were so deep in nature, and then the stars that night were like nothing. These are the moments you will remember for the rest of your life. Just that feeling of total respect.

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