Officials are not blaming tourist slump on proposal
The Daily Record News Group
controversy surrounding the proposal to bring radioactive soil from
New Jersey to be stored south of Cañon City, it might be
tempting for managers of Cañon City area tourist attractions
to use it as a scapegoat for this summer's visitor slowdown.
- though they don't agree on what impact the soil shipments might
have on them if allowed to go ahead - they agree on one thing: The
wildfire season and drought this summer and Gov. Bill Owens' comments
to a nationwide audience in June that made it sound as if all of
Colorado was on fire have hurt them much more than publicity about
the Cotter Corp. proposal.
has been a complete disaster, the worst year this park has ever
had, probably that tourism in Colorado has ever had," according
to Mike Bandera, manager of the Royal Gorge Bridge, a suspension
bridge that spans the Royal Gorge 1,053 feet above the Arkansas
River and offers visitors scenic views and trails, an incline railway
to the bottom of the canyon and an aerial tram.
around the state are down 15 percent to 50 percent, Bandera noted.
The bridge itself has been down about 19 percent all summer.
bridge, which has averaged about 500,000 visitors a year for the
past 20 years, probably will get only about 400,000 by the end of
2002, he said.
said his business was fine until the first wildfire broke out in
early June and the negative publicity started nationwide. "The
cancellations started. People were making decisions about where
to go on vacation and they chose to go other places," Bandera
had hoped for a rebound in July after the Iron Mountain fire southwest
of Cañon City was out and the 138,000-acre Hayman fire southwest
of Denver had died down, but it never came. "It's not recovering.
We're not going to recover this year."
Greska, who owns the Royal Gorge Route, said business at the scenic
train ride was up 35 percent in May and with the bookings he already
had at that point he was poised for a record year. He had expected
to end the summer with a 25 percent increase in business. But after
the wildfires started business dropped off and has been down 12
percent to 15 percent all summer, he said.
train business started in 1998 with 75,000 visitors the first year.
"We were hoping to carry about 100,000 people (this year).
That's not going to happen," Greska said. He had been considering
expanding to operate daily in the off-season, but now is waiting
to see what happens to the proposal to bring the radioactive soil
to Cotter Corp. He said he may have to cut back operations to just
six days a week next summer if visitation declines.
said the drought has caused low water levels in area rivers, impacting
one of the main tourist industries in the area - rafting companies.
Rafting businesses have told him they are seeing customer decreases
ranging between 30 percent and 40 percent this summer. And because
rafting draws visitors to the Royal Gorge area, loss of rafting
customers affects the other area businesses as well, he said.
Keenan, owner of Whitewater Adventure Outfitters, said his rafting
business is down 30 percent this year. He said the fires and publicity
about them, as well as the governor's comments about the severity
of the wildfires, have been detrimental to tourism throughout the
state, not just in Cañon City.
said his business opened for the season in late April and he noticed
his first drop in business after the Iron Mountain fire. Reservations
had been about equal to last year at that point. But after that
fire, followed by the Hayman fire and the governor's comments, business
spiked downward, Keenan said.
low water levels also have hurt, he said. "Water conditions
have kept a lot of people away, particularly Colorado people."
Turner, executive director of the Cañon City Chamber of Commerce,
reported tourism in the area is down about 20 percent overall this
year, and he attributes the decline mostly to the drought and fires.
is very important to the Cañon City economy and is the second-largest
employer, after the prisons, he noted.
Gov. Owens criticized
attractions owners and managers place much of the blame for the
summer's slowdown on the media and on Gov. Owens.
said his business felt the impact after Owens made a public statement
during the early days of the Hayman fire that the entire state was
wildfires were burning on only about 1 percent of the state. But
with the perception that fire was everywhere, groups began canceling
their reservations, Greska said.
publicity was much worse than the fires were," Bandera said.
"Ninety-nine percent of the state was not on fire."
increased advertising for the Royal Gorge Bridge, hoping to counter
the impact, and area attractions also have been working with the
state to try to counteract the wildfire publicity with a public
relations campaign, he said.
from what they feel is a slowdown in business due in part to bad
publicity, area tourist businesses now face possible publicity about
the Cotter Co. proposal to bring radioactive soil through town to
be stored at the company's property south of town.
on what that will mean for tourism are mixed.
think it will end up devastating the tourism economy, not just for
Cañon City but for all of southern Colorado," Greska
opposes the plan to accept shipments of contaminated soil from New
Jersey, and said he wants people to look at what the long-range
impact on tourism could be.
will be harder to attract visitors if people begin to associate
Cañon City with nuclear-contaminated soil, he predicted.
said he thinks publicity about the shipments of soil from the Maywood
Superfund Site in New Jersey could draw attention to the existing
Superfund site at Lincoln Park and scare visitors away. And he's
not convinced the soil from New Jersey is any less toxic than the
material currently stored at Cotter.
this stuff is so benign, why don't they leave it there?" he
City already has successfully overcome an image some tourist towns
might shrink from - that of a prison town, home to federal and state
stigma has been overcome," Greska said. On his train route,
guides point the prisons out, people are interested in it, he said.
"The prison poses no threat," he noted. "The prison
is a boon to the economy."
said visitors tend to be curious about the prisons, but not alarmed
by their presence.
isn't sure what the impact of bringing in the soil might be, but
thinks it will depend on how much publicity it gets if the shipments
said he had never heard about the Cotter Superfund site until he
began looking for a home when he moved to the community about a
year and a half ago, when his real estate agent mentioned it. It
was definitely not on the chamber of commerce Web page or relocation
packet, he said, noting he thinks it's not something of which visitors
would generally be aware.
Rose, executive director of the Main Street U.S.A., Cañon
City Inc. program that promotes historic restoration and economic
development downtown, said that although it's a local issue that's
hot, he doesn't see it as a tourism issue.
try to put myself in the place of a tourist. If I go somewhere the
last thing I would think about is radioactive waste," he said.
who was mayor of Cañon City during another controversial
period in Cotter's relationship with the community in the late 1970s,
said he has heard comments that the soil shipments could have an
adverse impact on tourism.
we become known as a nuclear waste dump, I suspect that would have
an impact on our tourism." He said he wasn't sure how the chamber
of commerce would respond if that happened, but he likely would
start by contacting Cotter officials to talk to them about it, as
he did in 1979.
there have been recent community meetings held on the issue, "they
were more riots than meetings," Turner said. "I came away
terribly embarrassed as a resident of Cañon City. I don't
like to see that kind of hysteria."
said he found in the late 1970s that calm and logical community
discussion of the issues helped, and he believes it would now too.
is a real possibility we're going to lose a major employer in this
community and I think that's unfortunate because I think they have
been a responsible industrial neighbor," he said.
they contaminated the area and there's no question about that,"
he said. But he blames the lack of adequate regulations in the early
days of the nuclear industry for the contamination. "There
wasn't enough knowledge about the contamination and the rules were
inadequate," he said.
said he believes today the rules are adequate to make sure the company
will control material brought to the site.
ahead to how they can overcome this year's low visitor counts and
rebound, some area attractions hope to do more advertising next
year, but others will do less.
said he will increase his efforts to draw visitors to the area.
already is planning his biggest ad campaign ever, and also will
work with Pikes Peak Country Attractions, Royal Gorge Destinations
and Action 22 to market the region and to address the image that
may have been left in visitors' minds by this summer's wildfires.
said he hasn't made any decisions about advertising next year.
we're going to be back next year," he said, but because he
took in less money this summer he may not be in a financial situation
to increase marketing.
said he thinks the Chamber of Commerce and Cañon City should
be more proactive at promoting the area as a destination.
whole tourist industry around here should be promoted a lot better,"
said he will do less advertising if the Maywood soil is accepted.
said since he opened the train ride four years ago, he has concentrated
his efforts on it. But if the soil is accepted he will see it as
a sign that local and state officials don't understand the importance
of tourism, and he said he doesn't want to spend his money countering
the effects of their decisions. "I'll pull back because it's
not worth it. It takes the pleasure out of promoting a clean attraction,
a clean area, which is what Cañon City is."
Greska said he will switch his focus to his other railroad attraction
in Colorado, promoting the Georgetown loop.
they plan to advertise more or less, those in the tourism industry
hope wildfire danger will subside next year.
all be praying for rain and snow this winter. We need a lot of that
too so there's no more fires," Bandera said.
agreed snow would be the best thing the Cañon City area could
get, for alleviating the drought and the fire danger, and for bringing
people to Colorado for skiing this winter and for rafting when that
season starts again next spring.
Bandera could get out one message now, it would be that autumn in
the Cañon City area has warm days with lots of sunshine and
cool nights. "We're all open for business. It's a great time