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Drop In Estes Park Tourism Could Have Statewide Economic Impact

Sprague Lake
National Parks Service
Sprague Lake

A new analysis from the Regional Economics Institute at Colorado State University says a decline in tourist activity in Estes Park could ripple through the rest of the state's economy.

More than 3 million tourists in 2011 spent an estimated $187 million in Estes Park, with more than half of visitors coming from outside Colorado.

The town was already reeling from September’s devastating floods, which damaged or destroyed the two main routes into Estes Park, U.S. 34 and 36. Then, the federal government shutdown Tuesday led to the closure of national parks across the country, including Rocky Mountain National Park.

"People can’t get there because of the roads... but now, even if they do go there, if they manage to get through -- the park’s closed," says the Institute’s director Martin Shields, who co-authored the report. "It’s a tragic economic situation for that community."

And the impact won’t be confined to Estes Park, says Shields, because many Rocky Mountain National Park vacations include side trips to other nearby Front Range areas, such as Boulder, Fort Collins or Steamboat Springs.

"The bottom line is that Colorado is going to be hard-hit – not just Estes Park, but the whole state's going feel an impact from this," says Shields. Repairing and rebuilding damaged roads is critical, he says, adding that prolonged inaccessibility could lead many potential visitors to reconsider their 2014 vacation plans.

The report [.pdf]  explores several scenarios, including the possibility that tourist visits could drop between 30 and 100 percent.  A 70 percent decline in visitors Estes Park could translate into a loss of more than 1,100 tourism-related jobs and a $90 million decrease in economic activity statewide.

Gov. John Hickenlooper says rebuilding roads and bridges is a top priority – and he’s using state funds to ensure that repair work begun by the Colorado National Guard won’t be affected by the government shutdown.

State officials say the damage to state highways totals roughly $430 million, with 200 miles of roads and 50 bridges destroyed.

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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