In late 2016, I applied for a gig at the Colorado Tourism Office called CHAMP. It’s all about connecting travel trade professionals with promising new rural tourism initiatives here in the Centennial State. Since I’d just moved back to my hometown and I knew I’d be sticking around for awhile, it sounded like a great opportunity to get involved with grassroots tourism development in my own backyard.
From the CHAMP Mentor Handbook:
Welcome to the Colorado Heritage Agritourism Mentor Program (CHAMP)! We are excited to have you as a partner in raising awareness of and appreciation for cultural, heritage and agricultural assets statewide. As a mentor, your role is critical to the success of this program. Thank you for your participation!
CHAMP exists to stimulate the development of high-quality cultural, heritage and agricultural tourism experiences for travelers in Colorado. In existence since 2014, the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) has underwritten nine projects and ten projects are underway. This translates into 1,000 hours of consulting that has been made available at no cost to projects throughout the state of Colorado. Projects have included wineries, alpaca farms, museum associations, festivals, creative districts, and bed & breakfasts.
They had me at ‘alpaca farms’. I submitted my application right away.
From my CHAMP application:
I’m a specialist in the field of ecotourism, where a huge emphasis is placed on small-scale, high-value tourism that appreciates the cultural and environmental assets of a destination.
I have four year of experience in customized trip design and sales, both for Southwind Adventures and Abeba Tours Ethiopia. This has given me great insight on working directly with the international travel market and matching consumers to the specialty experiences that they seek.
I have over five years of experience in travel marketing and communications, largely on a freelance basis. Most recently, I’ve worked with Elevate Destinations on developing a brand deck and customer persona, web copywriting, and nomination for several prestigious awards related to responsible/sustainable tourism. I’ve worked with CLazyU, a luxury dude ranch in Colorado, their blog and communications, through their marketing supplier Fruition.
I also submitted a tourism-development-professional-looking photo of myself:
I didn’t hear back for awhile and all but forgot about CHAMP. The year flew by as a whirlwind collection of jobs. I started a new full-time in-house position as marketing manager for a cannabis tour company (yes, that’s a thing), built an audio tour by bicycle, helped out with personal care for my brother, taught an online class, and experimented with what I call “extreme Airbnb hosting.”
For most of 2017, my plate was full. My only real travels were a few different escapes to Utah and some mountain adventures here in Colorado.
Then, in November, I got an email from the CHAMP coordinators that they had a project for me to mentor. They had matched my skills with an all-new tipi village in Southeastern Colorado called Indigenous Roots, founded by Pam Good Wind. I was intrigued.
From Pam’s application:
Indigenous Roots is a Native American living history immersion experience. We endeavor to provide participates with an understanding of Native American culture through a personal encounter with the past. Extensive educational programming consists of living in a tipi village for either a 4 or 7 day immersion experience. Its purpose is history education, sustainability practices, human geography, and cultural anthropology — all from a Native American perspective.
To present, preserve, and perpetuate the history and cultural heritage of Native Americans in a way that promotes accuracy, sensitivity, and respect.
Indigenous Roots believes in not only historically correct, but also culturally correct content in its programming. Participants can expect to learn and participate in authentic Native American traditional cultural ways of being/thinking that are ancient. The ways of being/thinking can be applied to modern society living for a more sustainable lifestyle. The most valuable outcome is preserving the ecological practices of Native Americans so that future generations may learn from the culture and history in order to create a more sustainable lifestyle and attitude.
Indigenous Roots is remote and secluded, off the grid, on the original lands of the Ute tribe used in the summer months. In the area of the historic Santa Fe Trail, near the North Fork of the Purgatoire River which has historical significance, in a county with the world’s second largest elk herd and home to numerous wildlife species. This is a remote outdoor setting on 35 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The altitude ranges from 7,700′ to 8,000′.
Proof of Concept:
I just opened it summer of 2017. I had 7 visitors, two separate families, who each booked a program. Feedback from one of the pilot program visitors:
“By day 3 the world left behind has ebbed away and I am only here, fully and completely, with these people in this place. The family being immersed in such a natural space with fellow travelers, working side by side and experiencing the same moments is like a prolonged embrace.”
Enjoy locally sourced organic and gluten free meals including traditional foods such as Buffalo and wojapi. Sip soup from a gourd bowl. Dip a buffalo horn ladle into refreshing filtered water. Sit in an authentic tipi chair. Wrap yourself in a Buffalo robe to feel the medicine of this sacred Animal.
Step back in time as you learn about Native American historic ways of thinking, being, and doing. Connect deeply to nature as you participate in traditional ways of meal preparation, quill work, bow and arrow shooting, spear throwing with an atlatl, create a sample Winter Count using earth paints, yucca rope making, and make yucca shampoo.
Indigenous Roots fees will be per person. The program fee is all inclusive and includes lodging,
use of solar lights/head lamps/snake gaiters/solar shower/sleeping cot, all meals, drinks and
snacks, activities, a Contigo brand insulated cup with Indigenous Roots logo sticker and smudge bowl with sweetgrass braid to keep, and classes. It does not include transportation to and from the facility.
Tipi Size /capacity: 14ft / 1-3 people
Program Fee: 4 day program
$774.00 per person
($194.00 per day per person)
A CHAMP Match
I got the match email from CHAMP coordinators in early November of 2017, and by late December the mentorship was approved. By then, Pam and I had gotten on a phone call to work out a scope of work, which outlined the tasks at hand:
Cynthia will research and create a marketing strategic partnership plan that outlines the different platforms and channels that will help distribute information about the tours, specifically those that offer free partnerships where the project can list trips and departures. This will include local, regional, and national travel sites.
The Site Visit
Part of the mentorship is a site visit to experience the project firsthand. Indigenous Roots is a summer destination, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as I made the four-hour drive toward Trinidad, Colorado on a Sunday in mid-February. The sky was blue and the snow was freshly fallen when I arrived on site.
I met Pam and her dog, who were both lively and at ease in their off-grid habitat. She fired up the campstove and heated a savory homemade lunch of locally-sourced buffalo stew. Her way with local ingredients is central to her programs.
After lunch, we strolled up the hill to the circle of tipis. Even with their canvases rolled up and stowed away for the winter, the ring of tipi structures stood tall and prominent against the snow.
We walked to an overlook and talked about all sorts of things — from new business strategy and marketing to black bears and wildfires to life and aspirations for the future. A seasoned educator, Pam wove tales and lessons from indigenous wisdom into her narratives. This is her vision: to impart her cultural heritage to others in an authentic, immersive setting.
As the day wound down, I drove back brainstorming ways to help point visitors her way.
Early Seeds Sprouting
As with any remote, grassroots, small-scale bootstrapping tourism project, progress is slow and hard-won — especially in the beginning. With a focus on finding no-cost and low-cost marketing opportunities, we’ve managed to claim business listings on the highest-priority relevant sites.
- Indigenous Roots on Google Businesses
- Indigenous Roots on TripAdvisor
- Indigenous Roots on Atlas Obscura
- Indigenous Roots on Facebook
- Events listings on Colorado.com
- Events listings on EventsinColorado.com
- Events listings on Puebloevents.net
We have more listings and media projects in the works. If you’re interested in the Indigenous Roots experience, get in touch!
If you have a heritage or agricultural tourism project in Colorado that could benefit from CTO resources such as consulting hours and grant funding, the program has been renamed from CHAMP to CRAFT. Find out more.