Government closures redirect tourists
The closure of national parks has redirected tourism in Southwest Colorado. And tourism offices have been a major resource for those seeking alternate plans.
Durango Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Llewellyn said many tourists are now unsure of their options in the area because of the closure of Mesa Verde National Park.
“We were inundated with people coming into the office (after the shutdown), asking what else there was for them to do in the area,” Llewellyn said. “One day, I remember walking out of my office and seeing 12 to 14 people waiting in line to talk to someone,” he said.
Heather Hughes of the Cortez-based Mesa Verde Country tourism office said she has experienced a similar phenomenon since the shutdown began Oct. 1.
Hughes said the office has received hundreds of visitors and calls trying to find alternative activities while they are in town.
Hughes said tourists are being directed to the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center west of Cortez and the Ute Mountain Tribal Park south of Cortez, as well as the Southern Ute Cultural Center in Ignacio as alternatives to Mesa Verde.
Despite the immediate impact in Cortez, Hughes does not anticipate long-term impact on the tourism industry.
Colorado has 11 national parks and monuments — including Mesa Verde and Chimney Rock National Monument in Southwest Colorado — that currently are closed because of the furlough of government employees.
Mesa Verde draws international and domestic tourists to Southwest Colorado.
The Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum has seen a quick and dramatic increase in visitors because of the referrals, said Beth Lamberson, the museum’s fundraising program director.
“We saw an immediate impact with the Durango Welcome Center and the visitors center sending folks our way,” she said. “The phone has been ringing steadily, and our museum attendance numbers have more than doubled for this time of year since Oct. 2 ... and I’m sure we’ll see even more visitation growth as the shutdown drags on.”
Suzanne Gaber is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.