Tourism industry catching heat from Waldo Canyon fire

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The Waldo Canyon fire has forced 10 of Colorado Springs most popular attractions to close today – bad news for the local tourism industry.

The wildfire started Saturday afternoon and is about 10 miles west of Colorado Springs.

“We know for a fact that during the Hayman fire of 10 years ago, and that was not nearly as close, business was down 15 percent,” said Michele Carvell, executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions, where the phone was ringing off the hook Monday morning with nervous tourists wondering whether they should press on with plans to visit the region.

“The message we are giving is, yes, there are attractions closed, but there are others that are open,” Carvell said.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings, the Cog Railway and Garden of the Gods Park are among the attractions that are closed.

Gray swirls of smoke could be seen from across Colorado Springs and thick smoke washed over Manitou Springs. Pikes Peak Highway is closed.

The Cripple Creek and Canon City areas are not affected by the fire.

“We are encouraging people not to abandon their plans to visit in our area,” Carvell said.

Summer months are the busiest for Colorado Springs attractions. For a fourth year, Pikes Peak Country Attraction is selling online Pikes Peak Plus Passes, one ticket price for multiple locations. Pass sales were up 30 percent last summer compared to the year before, Carvell said.

The Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau website has tips for travelers and current information about closures: Pikes Peak Highway, parts of Rampart Range Road, Miramont Castle, Barr Trail, the Manitou Incline, Cave of the Winds, Pikes Peak, North Pole – Santa’s Workshop, Glen Eyrie Castle and Flying W Ranch.

Westbound Highway 24  is closed at the west exit for Manitou Springs and eastbound lanes are closed beginning in Crystal Park. Several areas have been evacuated, including Green Mountain Falls and Cascade. Manitou Springs’ evacuation order was lifted at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

The Green Mountain Falls Green Box Arts Festival, which was scheduled for June 23-July 1, is postponed. Green Mountain Falls town trustee Howard Price said the downtown square was abandoned by Sunday morning.

“It was eerie,” he said. “I drove in the business area; it was closed. Usually on Sunday morning, it’s jumping with activity.”

Officials from the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb have not met with officials involved in the staging of the race, which runs up Pikes Peak Highway. PPIHC officials are waiting for direction from the Forest Service, the City, Teller County and El Paso County officials about whether the race will go on as scheduled, with race week beginning July 3 and race day July 8.

“We, like all residents and officials in Colorado Springs, are watching the efforts being made by many agencies and the brave firefighters and responders who are protecting homes and structures throughout the fire zone, and our thoughts and concerns are for their safety, and our citizens,” said Mike Moran, spokesman for the Sports Corp, which works with the PPIHC board of directors to organize the event.

Several hotels are offering discounts to those displaced by the fire. Participating hotels include The Mining Exchange, the Colorado Springs Marriott, Cheyenne Mountain Resort and the Crowne Plaza, according to the CVB website.

For local tourism venues, the toughest times might come after the fire is extinguished.

“We’ll have to let people know we are still here and we are open for business,” Carvell said.