OAK HILL —
City of Mount Hope, meet the Village of Cimarron, N.M.
The two towns may be almost 1,500 miles apart, but they have one big neighbor in common — the Boy Scouts of America.
Cimarron, pop. 1,021, is home to the Philmont Scout Ranch, a 137,000-acre tract of wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where, on any given summer day, several hundred Boy Scouts are unloading from buses and preparing for a 12-day backpacking adventure.
Mindy Cahill, clerk administrator for the Village of Cimarron, sums up her town’s relationship with the Boy Scouts of America this way.
“Without them, we probably wouldn’t exist,” she says. “They are one of our biggest industries here.”
Cimarron is 4 miles from one of three BSA “High Adventure Bases” in the country. The BSA has proposed the same designation for The Summit, their new development near Mount Hope. The other uses for The Summit include a permanent Jamboree site, National Scout Summer Camp and Center for Leadership and Excellence. All but the Jamboree are still several years away.
Never before has the BSA operated one permanent facility for all these activities, so what it will mean for the economy of the region and how it will impact local life in Fayette County is still a bit of a guessing game. And many of the small towns near BSA sites don’t track the dollars or numbers of people flowing through their community because of the Scouts.
But Cimarron now has 75 years of experience playing host to a tcotal of 950,000 Boy Scout adventurers, and locals there — especially business people — aren’t shy about sharing the lessons they’ve learned over the years and the advice they would offer up to The Summit’s new neighbors.
“First of all, know and love the Boy Scouts,” says Valerie Kutz, owner of Cimarron Art Gallery. “In the summertime, it’s our job to cater to them.”
“Welcome them with open arms,” says Cahill.
“There are little things the community can do to make the Scouts feel welcome,” says Cimarron Inn co-owner Deb Saunders.
Like collecting and displaying patches, the ultimate Boy Scout eye-catcher. The vast collection at Kutz’s soda fountain is a tourist attraction in and of itself. The boys frequent her business, in part, to connect with Scouting and the Cimarron community at the same time.
“Have a walkable town with good signage where (Scouts) can get lost in whatever history you have,” suggests Tim O’Neill, a local real estate broker.
The town recently built a walking path from Philmont to Cimarron so the Scouts would have a safe hike into town. Located on a branch of the Santa Fe Trail, it’s the allure of the Old West that ties together marketing, architecture and signage in the community.
Cooperation among local business people helps, too. A strong community spirit in Cimarron means that business people often work together, calling back and forth to find a way to meet a visitor’s needs if their own business can’t, says Kutz.
O’Neill says the way locals interact with their visitors ultimately has an impact on his business, O’Neill Land.
“The people charm them, and that makes for a stronger urge to purchase property,” he says.
Boy Scouts come to Philmont in crews of seven to 12 people with two adult leaders. They arrive by some combination of plane, rail, chartered bus, Greyhound and special Philmont shuttle bus. Scout leaders sometimes arrange special side trips for the boys before or after the Philmont experience at local and regional attractions.
Families do not generally accompany their Scouts to Philmont, meaning the 23,000 summer visitors to Philmont are the Scouts themselves.
When their treks end, the Scouts often spend a free evening in Cimarron eating pizza, blissing out on scoops of ice cream and “buying gifts for auntie,” says Kutz.
It’s that evening that injects so many thousands of dollars into the local economy. For those who don’t want to make the 4-mile trek, a privately operated shuttle bus offers another option for Scouts who want to travel the pizza and presents junket.
Ranching, coal mining and gold mining have all, at one time or another, contributed significantly to the area’s economy. Until the 1990s, a lumber mill constituted an important employment base.
Now, though, Cimarron would be “seriously struggling” without Philmont, says Saunders.
Retail, food and accommodation made up about 30 percent of the $646,253 total gross receipts tax revenues for the town in 2008.
“The revenues we get for the individual businesses and what they bring in lodging taxes and gross receipts tax for our village has a huge, huge impact,” she says. “We’re a little village without deep pockets.”
Along with the school system, Philmont is the town’s major employer, says Cahill.
Philmont employs 80 full-time staff members and 1,100 summer workers — college students, teachers and retired folks who live on the ranch and help with summer programming.
Some of those full-time Philmont staff members live in Cimarron (the “higher-ups,” says Cahill, live on the ranch itself), and locals acknowledge that finding housing is a challenge for those employees. The town is “land-locked” because it’s surrounded on all sides by thousands of acres of privately held ranch land.
Another challenge for Cimarron is extending the busy summer tourist season over a longer period, just as summer recreation-oriented businesses in Fayette County have struggled to do for years.
Half of Kutz’s annual income at the Cimarron Art Gallery rolls in from June 1 through the third week in August, but she has learned to make her business work despite its seasonal nature.
“We’ve learned to grow it in the other months,” she says. Innkeeper Deb Saunders, too, has been surprised by the amount of year-round business she gets.
“For many years, I think people thought of Cimarron as a seasonal place,” she says. “But we have seen it in the last 10 years evolve into a place where businesses can stay open year round.”
At this point, the town has promoted other tourist activities for long enough that fall colors, hunting, skiing and spring break round out the low season. Four nearby ski resorts and a vast National Rifle Association shooting range support these activities.
In addition, about 4,000 adult Scout leaders come to Philmont during the off-season to take part in conferences and leadership training activities. They often bring a spouse.
“One of the things your chamber of commerce can do, in coordination with the Scout base, is activities for the spouses to take them on a tour of the shops and stuff and arrange a nice lunch or going to look at the gorge,” says Saunders. “These people are coming in with money.”
And often they leave with an appreciation of an area that they never would have encountered otherwise.
O’Neill, who runs the only real estate brokerage with an office in Cimarron, advertises for his business in the Scouting newspaper and alumni magazine. Philmont has tremendous buy-in from its alumni and former staff.
“Philmont sure introduces a lot of people to this part of northeastern New Mexico,” he says. “They might not be buyers today as 14-year-olds, but it may sow the seed for them to get a place out here in their future.”
He says he enjoys seeing Philmont employees move into town, especially those with children.
“In a balanced community, you’ve got to have them to keep the schools going,” he says.
A handful of the boys who worked at the ranch in their late teens have now established businesses in Cimarron. The town’s police chief was a Philmont Scout in his youth.
It has taken the BSA 75 years to carve out a “legacy Scouting experience” at Philmont, built on generations of young men’s connections with the wilderness experience.
It has also taken 75 years for Cimarron’s businesses to learn how to capitalize on that connection. Their population and revenues haven’t exploded, but they are also more remote than many Fayette County communities.
By catering to the tastes of Scouts, working together, and promoting other area attractions to build off-season revenue streams, they are carving out a modest but sustainable local economy, as long as the BSA stays put.
“It would be very quiet without them, and we would miss them extremely,” says Cahill.
To learn more about Cimarron and its economy, you can download the town’s comprehensive plan at http://www.villageofcimarron.net/commdevelop.html.
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Notes from Cimarron: When the scouts come to town
Knives, knives, knives
Valerie Kutz runs Cimarron Art Gallery, a popular combination soda fountain, gift shop, coffee bar, and art cooperative near Philmont Scout Ranch. The former drug store’s iconic soda fountain was installed in 1937, a year before the Philmont land was donated to the Boy Scouts of America.
“It’s a good example of something that was here before the Scouts and yet has served I don’t know how many millions of Scouts over the years,” says Tim O’Neill, a local real estate broker.
Kutz and her husband settled in Cimarron 20 years ago after attending the Philmont Scout Ranch Training Center. The area charmed them, and they also sensed a good business opportunity.
They capitalize on the things that boys love, namely, ice cream and “knives, knives, knives,” she says.
Other popular items for sale in Cimarron’s gift shops include sling shots, ponchos, hats, and arts and crafts — small items the Scouts can carry home in a suitcase for mom.
Philmont’s on-site Scout shop, Tooth of Time Traders, does a booming business supplying the Scouts with equipment, clothing and souvenirs. But often the boys are looking for opportunities to “become engaged in the Cimarron experience and take a piece home,” as the village’s comprehensive plan states.
And for that, they will turn to shops like Kutz’s that advertise authentic collectibles from the area, with a dash of local charm.
“The business community will have to build a support around what they are selling at camp,” says local business woman Deb Saunders of the possible retail opportunities near The Summit, which will also have an on-site store.
“Coordinate with the Scouts on what they are selling and what the boys are allowed to have (at Philmont),” she advises.
“I think your town would see people wanting to have an antique store, curio shop or Dairy Queen — businesses that would benefit from the traffic you’re going to see through your village,” says the town’s clerk administrator, Mindy Cahill.
The village’s small grocery store also does extremely well.
And Russell Sundries, a five and dime “everything” store — formerly a Ben Franklin retail chain — supplies groups with last-minute backpacking odds and ends like bandages, razors, and hangers.
“It’s the ‘Oh my gosh I forgot that’ store,” says Cahill.
Saunders warns that the village has seen seasonal, fly-by-night businesses crop up that have tried to fleece the boys.
“You may have some of that,” she says. “How your business leaders choose to deal with it is going to be up to your community. Here, you have to have a business license so you’re paying gross receipts tax and can’t just set up on the side of the road.
“If you give the Scouts a good product for a fair price and you’re not gouging them, they will tell other Scout troops about it.”
For Cimarron, it’s paying off.
In 2008, retail generated nearly $5 million in gross receipts, double what accommodations and food brought in combined. It is consistently their highest-dollar sector.
The town’s share of the taxes on retail sales was about $100,000.
Pizza, ice cream and soda pops
“If you have a pizza place, tell them to get ready,” says Cimarron Clerk Administrator Mindy Cahill. “The Scouts seem to love that pizza. And hamburgers.”
“They come to town and it’s hamburgers, pizza and ice cream,” says Valerie Kutz, whose Cimarron Art Gallery contains an old-fashioned soda fountain popular among Scouts.
The junk food, she says, is a refreshing change from what they’ve been eating.
“They’ve been on the trail for 10 days eating dehydrated food.”
It has become something of a rite of passage for Scouts to make a meal of pizza in Cimarron after their rigorous hike at Philmont is over.
Simple Simon’s Pizza is their go-to dinner spot. A franchise with locations across the southern Midwest, Simple Simon’s sells the usual pizza, calzones, wings and sandwiches in “a fun-filled, family atmosphere.”
They are also open year-round, which locals appreciate during the winter months when crowds dwindle.
“We have everything from fine dining to fast food,” says local innkeeper Deb Saunders of Cimarron’s restaurant landscape, but she admits there aren’t a ton of options.
She has capitalized on the situation by partnering with a local restaurant, The Porch, to offer catered meals and sack lunches to the Scouts who stay at her inn.
Offering “some kind of food that’s native to your area” near The Summit would be smart, she says.
Given Cimarron’s southwest flavor, perhaps it’s no surprise that Burrito Banquet is another popular place for local meals.
Its owner sells burritos during lunch hours from a food truck for three summer months out of the year and makes enough cash to help support her life as a potter the rest of the time.
Beds and bunks
Often the first opportunity for Scouts to impact Cimarron’s local economy is their choice of where to bed down for the night before they check in at Philmont.
Sometimes they arrive one or even four days before their backpacking expedition begins, in which case they stay at the ranch or at a local accommodation.
During the summer, Cimarron’s lodging businesses stay very busy.
RV parks, tent camping areas and hotels do their best to meet customers’ needs, which includes offering a variety of set-ups at a variety of price points.
“They have a range of budgets,” says Deb Saunders of The Cimarron Inn. “Some can afford to sleep two Scouts to a room, and others are looking for a bunkhouse situation.”
She says her inn bends over backward to cater to the Boy Scouts, who most often come in groups of 12. After her first year in business, she realized that in addition to regular lodging, there was a need for a bunkhouse.
So she built The Casita — which sleeps 12 and offers a full kitchen for $20 a head — specifically for Scouts, though it is also used for family reunions and groups of hunters.
“A lot of the things you do will translate to being available for other guests, too,” she says.
A huge piece of the puzzle is promoting what there is to see and do in the surrounding area, aside from a visit to Philmont.
When people make a trip this far out, they usually want to see other area attractions. Other regional draws include four ski resorts, a huge arts community in Taos and a vast National Rifle Association shooting range.
“If you have a Scout troop that decides there’s a lot more than they can see and do in one day, they will come in two days ahead of time,” says Saunders.
An initiative by the New River Gorge Regional Economic Development Authority aims to serve as “an inspiration guide for enhancing communities” prior to the arrival of the Boy Scouts of America.
The agency’s Beautification Toolkit encourages local communities to explore enhancement through beautification, storefronts, signage and design guidelines.
The toolkit offers ideas and recommendations to communities for improving the visual reception and image of their area by creating “curb appeal.”
It includes low-cost, high-impact ideas that community leaders, business owners and citizens can enact in their own neighborhoods.
-- Picking up litter
-- Washing building windows
-- Planting colorful flowers in urns in front of buildings
-- Repainting buildings
-- Repainting signposts
-- Setting up window displays or painting murals on vacant storefronts
-- Planting a gateway garden around the town entrance
-- Setting up recycling bins next to trash cans
-- Volunteering for community projects
-- Painting a mural on the side of a building
Implementation strategies are also included in the resource.
The entire toolkit is available at http://www.nrgrda.org/images/toolkit/.