The 200th anniversary of Zebulon Pike’s expedition in Colorado will bring new business opportunities and heritage tourists to Colorado Springs, as the region prepares to honor the exploits of the adventurer and Army soldier.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Dianne Perea, director of public relations and marketing for Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak, formerly the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
More than 700,000 visitors’ guides will highlight the yearlong celebration, and the city is planning several events throughout the year to mark Colorado Springs’ connection to the famous expedition.
“This is obviously a very significant year for the tourism industry,” Perea said. “We’re very optimistic that the bicentennial will bring more tourists to the area – and they will stay longer.”
The Colorado Springs tourism community has been planning events for the historical anniversary for months, she said. As more people become aware of Zebulon Pike and his achievements, more people will be interested in visiting the mountain.
“This event will bring heritage tourists to the area,” she said. “And historically, those are the tourists who stay longer and spend more money. Those are the people we’re trying to attract, and we believe they will be very interested in the events we have planned for the bicentennial.”
The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, owned and operated by the city, will take the lead in the bicentennial celebrations, with a series of lectures and other events to commemorate the expedition that brought Pike to the area, Perea said. The city is collaborating with the Santa Fe Trail Association, the organization charged with coordinating events in the states Pike visited in 1806 to1807.
“This is about community,” said Clive Siegle, association manager for the Santa Fe Trail Association. “It’s about partnerships and bringing people together. And without a doubt, Colorado is the most active Pike state, as well it should be – he spent more time here than anywhere else.”
A history professor from Dallas, Siegle visited Colorado Springs and Pueblo to encourage activities and events throughout the region that Pike visited, from small towns, such as Salida and Leadville, to the larger cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs. He compares the Pike bicentennial to last year’s Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration, a series of events that brought millions of dollars to places tourists are unlikely to visit without the historical connection.
“People literally spent days in places they would not normally go because of the Lewis and Clark connection,” he said. “I teach a continuing education class, and most of the adults took their families on vacation that summer, traveling to the same places Lewis and Clark traveled. It could be like that for Pike as well.”
The success of the bicentennial depends on communities cooperating, he said. For instance, Pueblo is putting together an auto-tour map of places of historic significance for Pike’s travels.
“People will be able to make day trips from Colorado Springs and Pueblo to other cities,” he said. “And once they get there, they’ll look around for what else there is to do there. It’s about getting them to come, and then making sure they stay as long as possible. Both cities are situated in a great place for heritage tourists.”
The Pike’s Peak region – Royal Gorge, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Leadville, South Park and Salida – could benefit from the bicentennial, he said. In addition to tourists’ dollars, the event represents business opportunities for souvenirs, clothing and other retail items.
“There has been some discussion about hiring a nationally known historical artist to create Pike art,” he said. “They did that with Lewis and Clark, and created collector’s prints. Hopefully, we can do the same thing with Pike. It’s just a matter of time before those types of souvenirs will be created for Pike. It represents a clear business opportunity, much as Pike’s travels represented a clear economic opportunity for the nation at the time.”
Pike’s mission is less popular than Lewis and Clark’s, Siegle noted, mostly because of bad luck during Pike’s expedition and the lack of a presidential mandate.
Gen. James Wilkerson charged Pike with his mission – to take several former Osage captives back to their villages, as well as accompany other Indians home from a diplomatic mission in Washington. He was told to find the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red rivers in order to set boundaries for the new territory purchased from France, and to create diplomatic relations with the Comanche Indians.
“Pike’s mission was humanitarian,” Siegle said. “They told him, ‘If you do nothing else, then make sure you get these former captives back to their people.’ It was a diplomatic mission to meet these Indian tribes and let them know that there was a new ‘great father’ in Washington.”
Pike’s adventures in Colorado continued after he sighted Pikes Peak while attempting to find the headwaters of the Arkansas River. He went as far as modern-day Canon City’s Royal Gorge before deciding the river – at a low water point in winter – ended at the gorge. He went north from there, following Indian tracks, discovering the South Platte River. He then went south, finding what he thought was the Red River, but was actually the Arkansas. He realized his mistake at the gorge, when he trekked up the sides of the gorge in the winter, without any mountaineering gear. After veering into Spanish territory at the Rio Grande River, he was taken into Spanish custody.
While many states are just beginning to plan events surrounding the Pike legacy, Colorado started preparing months ago. The state stands to gain the most in tourism dollars and business opportunities. Colorado Springs, Siegle said, is uniquely situated to benefit from the influx of tourists who are interested in learning more about Pike.
“You want to appeal to the average guy walking down the street,” he said. “You want to bring the community in, and you want to bring in the tourists. Colorado Springs and Pueblo have taken the lead in doing that, and I think this bicentennial will be as successful as the Lewis and Clark bicentennial events.”