Our lives move so fast anymore, even something as traumatic as natural disasters in our midst can fade quickly into the background, unless it’s right in front of us.
Unless you drive regularly into Mountain Shadows or out to Black Forest, you probably have forgotten already about how much the historic wildfires of 2012 and 2013 impacted the Colorado Springs area. And if you haven’t ventured up Cañon Avenue in Manitou Springs, you wouldn’t have an inkling of how much flood damage took place there this past summer.
Certainly, no tourists (or area residents, for that matter) have taken the drive to Royal Gorge west of Cañon City since that separate fire back in June, which decimated almost every aspect of the iconic attraction except for the bridge itself. It’s closed now to the public until rebuilding is complete.
We’re bombarded every week, sometimes more often, with stories about disasters striking other places. So it doesn’t take long for us to shed the emotions that have so engulfed our region in the past 18 months.
Fortunately, for all involved, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau chose to make sure we don’t totally forget — especially when so many people and businesses around us are still dealing with the aftermath of those fires and floods, every day.
So when the CVB put on its annual dinner the night of Nov. 7 at the Hotel Eleganté Event and Conference Center, the organization took an unusual direction with its awards, called Champions for Tourism. In fact, the Colorado Springs CVB recognized three entities, all with focal points outside the city limits, for their role in dealing with and recovering from those disasters.
First, the CVB honored El Paso County and the all-volunteer Black Forest Together for their handling of the Black Forest fire in June, from the commissioners and Sheriff Terry Maketa to El Paso County Public Health. The next recognition went to Manitou Springs’ city government, chamber and economic development operations, led by Mayor Marc Snyder, who refused to go along with recommendations to shut down the town for several days after the destructive flooding of Aug. 9. Instead, helped by hundreds of volunteers, Manitou stayed open during its peak tourism season to salvage as much of it as possible.
Finally, it was Royal Gorge’s turn. That fire caused no human injuries but instantly closed the primary source of tourism for Cañon City and Fremont County. Royal Gorge general manager Mike Bandera said his staff had done surveys, and at least 50 percent of visitors had stayed in Colorado Springs, which explains why our CVB has embraced it. This honor resulted from the relentless ongoing effort to rebuild enough of the attraction’s facilities that the bridge can reopen sometime next summer.
But just as so many Black Forest families still are putting their lives back together and Manitou Springs does its best to hopefully minimize future floods, Royal Gorge and Cañon City are determined to bounce back quickly and regain their stature in the area tourism industry.
All of those efforts qualify as heroic, and it’s admirable that the CVB honored that spirit.