Canon City sees tourism drop since Royal Gorge Fire

CANON CITY, Colo. - With the destroyed buildings and rides and blackened landscape, the physical scars of the Royal Gorge Fire are easy to see.  The residual scars, however, are still being felt by Canon City. 

The city, which depends so much on tourism, has seen a sharp decline in tourism in the weeks since the Royal Gorge Fire. 

The owner of Pizza Madness, Beth Katchmar, says the effects were felt almost immediately. 

"The first week after the fire, it was almost like winter time.  It was so slow.  People weren't coming in general," Katchmar explains.  A typical summer lunch hour packs her Main Street restaurant.  This summer, however, tables sit empty. 

"During the summertime it's pretty significant," Katchmar said. "It's about 30 percent additional because of tourists."

The lodging community also feeling the brunt of the fire's affects within hours of the fire breaking out. 

The manager of Best Western Canon City,  Theresa Boman, believes fear was the main force behind the cancellations. 

"We saw a whole bunch of cancellations around that time, people just being scared to be around here.  Fears of the fire, and the health risks of smoke coming through here," said Boman.

Jen Paxton, who owns the coffee shop, Mugs, and a sports bar next door, feels the same way.

"I think a lot of people changed their vacation because Colorado was on fire," Paxton said.

Paxton explained a slower summer tourist season has ripple effects throughout the year. 

"It's only in these months," Paxton said. "This is when people count on some money coming in to float them through the winter." 

For Paxton's business, the locals are helping out in this down time. 

"They're just really die hard loyal," Paxton said. "So, when they know we're suffering, they step it up and shop local and support us." 

For Paxton, this sentiment is felt year-round. 

"We, as a rule, try to appeal to the locals anyway, because they are our bread and butter year round," Paxton explained.

The local Chamber of Commerce is also stepping up to help. 

Doug Shane, the Executive Director of the Canon City Chamber of Commerce says the fire's affects vary among businesses. 

"Some businesses are off by 65 percent," Shane said. But he was quick to point out that, overall, the business community is bonding together and working harder to attract business. 

The Chamber also launched new television ads to attract tourists.  They started airing within 2 weeks of the fire.  The goal of the ads was to turn the negativity surrounding the fire into a positive look at all that Canon City has to offer. 

"When the fire happened, as tragic as it was, people started realizing there is more to do here than just the big 3: rafting, train, and the bridge," Shane said.

Any local can tell you there are more than enough activities in Canon City to make for an exciting, adventurous vacation.  There's hiking, biking, rock climbing, 4-wheeling, shopping, museums, historical walking tours, ziplining, and helicopter rides -- just to name a few. 

"We got hit hard, but we will bounce back," predicted Shane. 

The tourism is already starting to return to this tight-knit community.  Boman said she's already taking reservations for next spring when the newly-redesigned and built Royal Gorge Park is expected to re-open.

Visitors and locals alike excited about the new park. 

"The re-opening of that bridge which has been around for so many years is going to be a new exciting thing for everybody to see and see how they changed things," Boman explained. 

For her, personally, it's a chance to make new memories with her family. 

"My two younger girls will start with new memories of the Royal Gorge.  It will be brand new," Boman said.

For the community as a whole, the new Royal Gorge Park will be an opportunity to boost Canon City's economy.

"It's supposed to be awesome.  It will get some new rides and I think it's going to be awesome for us," Paxton predicts. 

Over on Main Street at Pizza Madness, the feeling is the same. 

"I think next summer is going to be tremendous," Katchmar said.

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