Colorado Tourism Office

Luke Runyon / KUNC

It’s clear that residents and visitors love Colorado’s incredible outdoor spaces. Recreation is great for the state’s economy, but it can be a double-edged sword when too many people come to enjoy Colorado’s most cherished places.


KUNC News explored the challenges of keeping places open and encouraging visitation while at the same time protecting the fragile beauty of our favorite spots in the series Loved To Death.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Nearly 78 million visitors hit popular spots in Colorado in 2015. They pumped more than $19 billion into the economy, according to the state’s tourism office, but that money comes with a dark side for wild places.

Once-hidden hot springs now overflow with people. Formerly pristine ecosystems are being damaged by people who don’t understand how fragile they are. And parking lots nearby are often packed before the sun comes up.

So how did we get to this point?

Stacy Nick / KUNC

As tourists amble down the halls of La Conte’s Clone Bar and Dispensary in Denver, it’s clear this isn’t your typical tour.

The buzz of fluorescent grow lights is as constant as the strong herbal scent coming from each of the plant-filled rooms. The tour group is a wide mix of ages, races and backgrounds.

They’ve all been brought together by one common thing: legal marijuana.

Andrew Cooper / SMPSP

When Colorado Film Commissioner Donald Zuckerman hears about new television shows being set in Colorado, he typically doesn’t bat an eye.

He knows that being “set” in Colorado – at least on the small screen – rarely equates to being “filmed” in Colorado. Like the new Chuck Lorre sitcom. The Big Bang Theory creator’s yet-to-be-named new show, along with Parks & Rec star Adam Scott’s new project Buds, will be set in a Colorado marijuana shop.

“They didn’t even call us,” Zuckerman said. “And the reason is, shows like this are done in a studio… They’re set up for it in LA, and they’re set up for it in New York. It’s more cost effective for them to do it there, even if there is a (tax) incentive.”

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Those visiting Colorado typically cite the state's natural beauty and abundant outdoor activities as their main motivators. But a new crop of tourist just might be making the trek for a completely different reason – legal marijuana.

How the state markets – or doesn't – to that particular traveler is a challenge. One that Cathy Ritter, the state's new director of tourism, says will take time. As 2016 marks the start of the third year of legal marijuana sales in Colorado, there's still a lot that isn't know about its potential impact.

"I can't say that we have a strategy around it," Ritter said. "I think it's something we need to talk about. There's a lot we don't know about the impact of that traveler."

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Colorado already draws thousands of visitors each year for skiing, hiking, beer drinking and, most recently, marijuana sampling. In 2012, those visitors spent more than $16 billion in the state. Tourism officials want more and they’re looking to do it by bringing well-educated “traveling foodies” to the state.

Napa / Wikimedia Commons

Tourism officials from across Colorado are meeting with lawmakers at the state capitol Tuesday. Governor John Hickenlooper has endorsed expanding the Colorado tourism budget to $15 million which would amount to a $2 million increase in funding this year.

Senator Michael Bennet's Office

President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation creating a national monument at Chimney Rock. The dramatic rock formation in southwestern Colorado is on a site that was home to the ancestors of modern Pueblo Indians a thousand years ago.

Napa / Wikimedia Commons

Image is everything. And this past week the national image of Colorado has been one of dark plumes of smoke and bright red and orange flames leaping into the air from the High Park Fire.

Matt Inde / Weaver Multimedia Group

As The Tour de France continues, Colorado is trying to put more of a spotlight on upcoming cycling events and opportunities.