Tourism businesses off to strong start this season

Cañon City, the owner of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, is rebuilding the attraction’s visitor center and other buildings after last year’s fire.

Cañon City, the owner of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, is rebuilding the attraction’s visitor center and other buildings after last year’s fire.

Just try getting a ride these days on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. You may score a seat on the earliest train, leaving the station at 8 a.m., or perhaps a week or so hence.

You can attempt to ride stand-by, but that’s not recommended. Your best bet is to make reservations, according to Traffic Manager Whitney Hedgpeth. 

“The trains are all sold out,” Hedgpeth said. “This time of the year, coming up on the Fourth of July weekend, it’s pretty common.”

The Cog Railway is seeing better business this year, “definitely due to the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires in 2012 and 2013,” Hedgpeth said. 

That’s not the only area tourist attraction seeing an increase this season so far. 

“I have a huge line and I’m busier than heck! It is busy. It is so busy,” said Jeremiah Gallagher, who works at the entrance gate to Pikes Peak — America’s Mountain. 

“Year-to-date through May, we’re up slightly compared to that time last year,” said Sandy Elliott, parks operations manager. “Still, we’re up 10 percent over last year.” 

Adult admissions for the highway cost $12, and children are $5. A carload up to five is $40. There is no limit to the number of cars allowed up the highway at any given time, she said. 

“I have a huge line and I’m busier than heck! It is busy. It is so busy.” 

– Jeremiah Gallagher,
Pikes Peak Highway

Elliott said she prefers the highway over the Cog Railway because “on the highway, you can take your time.”

People also can enjoy three fishing reservoirs on the North Slope Recreation Area: North Catamount, South Catamount and Crystal reservoirs. 

Farther south, this year’s season for the Royal Gorge Park and Bridge was hampered by last year’s wildfire.

The Royal Gorge fire destroyed most of the buildings but left the bridge intact. Construction has begun on a new visitor center, and the park is allowing a limited number of weekend guests for guided tours, said Peggy Gare, public relations director. Guided tours, so far averaging 900 to 1,000 per weekend, are available on a first-come, first-serve basis from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

“We hope to be opening on a daily basis closer to Labor Day,” Gare said. “At that point, it will be the visitor center, the bridge, the sky coaster, the mini-train and golf cart rentals.”

The sky coaster is open on weekends now, she added. During the Fourth of July holiday weekend, the park will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Farther to the north, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Larkspur is doing well, said founder Ian Steyn. The 100-acre park is seeing “significantly stronger — double digits” more visitors this year, Steyn said. Reservations also are  up significantly, he added.

“Most of our guests are from the Front Range, by far,” he said. “We have people here again for a week that live two miles from us.”

The resort has camping, cabins, a swimming pool, a pond, a ranger station, disc golf, RV sites and a herd of goats to keep the weeds in check.

“We do a lot for families,” Steyn said. “It’s common to find three generations here — parents, grandparents and children.”

In addition to running Jellystone Park, Steyn also sits on the board of the Colorado Tourism Office.

Privately held, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are also seeing more visitors, said General Manager Michele Hefner. 

“We’re excited about this summer,” Hefner said. “As long as the weather and the world events behave themselves, we hope to have a good season.” 

The ruins were relocated from the Four Corners region of Colorado in 1904 and preserved with cement mortar. Usually, the Manitou site attracts 100,000 to 120,000 patrons annually. So far this year, it’s already had 50,000; its busiest month is July.

“The year 2012 was on track until Waldo Canyon,” she said. “Even the fires from last June, Cañon City and Black Forest, affected us. People hear ‘road closure,’ and they don’t realize it was closed for only a half-hour. They don’t hear that the road is back open. For months on end, you get — is the road still closed?”

Cliff Dwellings admission is $9.50 for adults and $7.50 for children.

“We’ve held that cost for a long time,” Hefner said. “People value every penny they have. That’s one of the advantages of being privately owned.” nCSBJ