What is Sustainable Tourism? — Ted Turner Reserves
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What is Sustainable Tourism?

by Deann McBride


Travel is powerful. So is nature.

Photo by Sean Fitzgerald

We want to harness that power and use it for the good of our planet, our communities, and the other species who live here. By immersing guests in nature and providing authentic, meaningful experiences, we hope to inspire them to join us in our efforts. That is the heart of sustainable tourism at Ted Turner Reserves.

In practice, it encompasses even more. It’s about being a good neighbor, helping out in the community, and sharing our knowledge and resources with others. These goals are the thing that makes us so passionate about working with Ted Turner and his family in their quest to “Save Everything”.

It’s going green:
reducing waste, conserving energy and water. 

We all need to do our part to conserve our natural resources, using energy-efficient appliances and low-flow toilets and showerheads, reducing, or better yet, eliminating our plastic and other waste products, and recycling what we can’t eliminate. At Ted Turner Reserves we are doing these things, and we are privileged to be able to do so much more.

We are thrilled to be able to have guests stay in our awe-inspiring high-country Costilla Fishing Lodge, a certified LEED Silver, solar-powered guest accommodation, where we constantly monitor energy usage. Costilla ran on 100% renewable solar power for 11 months in 2018, with generator backup only used during a handful of the darkest winter days.

In addition, with partners, we’ve built a 30-megawatt solar field on our land which produces far more electricity than is consumed in all Vermejo facilities combined, generating enough electricity to power 9,000 homes, making Vermejo a 100% renewable carbon positive property.

One of our favorite ways to conserve water is through our natural resources. Bison and wildlife grazing and forest management prioritize the protection of watersheds. Ongoing conservation projects on the ranch are directed at the regeneration of healthy riparian areas, abating erosion, improving water quality and maintaining sustainable groundwater tables.

It’s restoring wildlife and habitats,
and protecting them for future generations. 

Every day, we are grateful to work in this beautiful, healthy environment! We are committed to not only reducing but reversing negative human impacts on the land. The Ponderosa forest management plan at Vermejo has created healthy stands of trees for maximizing carbon sequestration.

We are proud to have helped bring back endangered species like the American bison and Rio Grande Cutthroat trout, from the verge of extinction.  In a world facing so much uncertainty about the future of our natural resources, it gives us hope to be actively working to help other species like the Black-footed ferret, Mexican grey wolf, Bolson tortoise, and Chiricahua leopard frog. Our biologists, foresters, and geologists study our ecosystems daily to give us the information we need to maintain healthy wildlife populations.

One of our ongoing projects is bringing back our riverbanks from the damage done in the past by overgrazing of cattle and elk. We’ve built 10 half-mile long exclosures of riparian areas to restore overgrazed riverbanks and ensure healthy waterways and fish populations. It’s exciting to see the progress as these areas grow more and more healthy each year.

It’s purchasing fair-trade and locally made products.

In the past two years, we’ve re-energized our on-site greenhouse and more than doubled its production. Our Greenhouse Specialist, Jess Bolger, loves showing off her hard work in the greenhouse to guests, and even more, she loves serving her home-grown veggies and herbs, seeing people delight in knowing they’re eating healthy garden-to-table produce. In addition to the health and flavor benefits, this is one way we reduce our carbon footprint.

Buying locally does lots of good, both supporting our neighbor’s businesses and reducing travel miles for our products. We love working with our friends at Foghino Farms and with other local growers to purchase produce, eggs, and dairy products.

Our guest amenities, like shampoo and lotion in all rooms, spas and gift shops are made locally and presented in larger, refillable containers to minimize waste.

It’s hiring locally and giving back to our communities. 

Purchasing and hiring locally go hand in hand. Although Vermejo is extremely remote and our closest towns have very small populations, we make extensive efforts to hire locally by attending local schools’ career fairs and actively recruiting through local workforce connections and chambers of commerce. We offer some of the highest wages in the area and excellent benefits. Employees often grow from entry-level positions to skilled or management positions through training programs.

One staff member, Brian Palmer, started at Vermejo over 22 years ago working in lawn maintenance. He then moved up to a position in our “Fish House” and has risen through the ranks in our activities department to be one of our most respected and requested private guides.

 We also encourage our employees to volunteer in local projects by providing them with eight hours of volunteer paid time off each year to encourage them to contribute community service in areas that spark their own passions and interest.

 Some of the most fun times on Ted Turner Reserves are they days when we have students and teachers visiting our properties. We love giving back to schools and community organizations through donations, field trips, and educational opportunities. Through the Turner Ranches Community Youth Development Initiative, we provide grant funding to local non-profit organizations that help youth build leadership skills focused on healthy rural communities emphasizing the environment, agriculture, and rural community sustainability.

We’re very proud to support local small business owners, bring in local musicians for events, build relationships with local embroiderers and handicraft makers, and work with local maintenance, construction, and furniture companies.

Partnering with our local communities in these ways just feels good!

Photo by Megan Young

It’s supporting our authentic natural and cultural heritage and sharing it with our guests.

 The combination of being immersed in abundant natural landscapes joined with authentic experiences in our cultural heritage, is the magic of the Ted Turner Reserves experience. On tours through more than 550,000 acres of spectacular habitats, spotting elk, deer, bobcats, bears and rare bird species, we provide experiences unlike anywhere else in the West. Guests can stop along a rushing verdant stream and catch native fish that only exist due to our stewardship of the largest Rio Grande Cutthroat trout (RGCTT) project in the world.

Guests might also see wild horses wandering through the historic mining town or Koehler, or hike through land containing the remnants of early Native American or western historic settlements. They get to learn about early settlers like those from the town of Catskill, who established a vibrant community, but unknowingly over-logged and over-grazed the land, which lead to fires and flooding that destroyed their homes and livelihoods.

Our guides and staff love sharing stories of indigenous peoples, Spanish influence on early settlements, old-West culture, and Ted’s conservation work today. Guests taste the spirit of the Southwest at many touchpoints including “fun facts” on in-room housekeeping cards, brochures explaining conservation projects, the flavor of freshly roasted chilis in cuisine, staff pride in working the land, and humble “Yes ma’am” or “Yes sir” responses to requests. Visitors experience a small community of people who genuinely love to serve, in a setting that embraces local culture, authenticity, and sustainability. Guests go home knowing that whether they live in a neighboring town or across an ocean, they are now a part of our story and inspired by Ted’s efforts to “Save Everything”.