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Boosting the tourist trade

It is obvious that Pagosa Country has a dominant industry: tourism. It is anyone’s guess what percent of incoming money is generated by tourism now that the economic decline has hit other local sectors. Sixty percent? Seventy percent?

Tourism committees are working to boost our core industry; the area is being promoted in as many ways as possible, given the funds available. Tourist traffic to Pagosa Country this summer is encouraging. One of the major players in the flow of tourist traffic to Pagosa Country, if not the major player, is Wyndham Vacation Ownership. According to a Wyndham spokesman, this season has been strong, all things considered, with the company on line to have an average 450 families per week coming here between May and October. These people eat here, they recreate here. Add to these the other tourists who venture to Pagosa Country and the effect is profound. May and June Lodger’s Tax revenues were up substantially over 2008 numbers. The allure of this place is clear.

Local events bring people to town — the Folk ’N Bluegrass Festival, the Fourth of July activities, Music in the Mountains, to name a few so far this year. The Four Corners Folk Festival comes at the end of the summer holiday and it has traditionally generated traffic to the area.

The question is, What, can be done by government to boost the appeal of the area to those who wish to come here, enjoy themselves, spend their money and return home, hopefully with plans to return? Local government diverts funds to tourism committees. What else can be done?

If anything is certain to boost our biggest industry it is the rejuvenation and enhancement of downtown Pagosa Springs, which should be the economic and activity center of the community.

Whether temporary incentives will stimulate quality commercial growth, and the creation of nightlife opportunities, restaurants and retail businesses that will prosper with tourist trade is not known. Whether commercial construction of any consequence will take place in the near future, given the abundance of empty commercial spaces is difficult to predict.

What can be seen, though, on a short walk through the downtown area, is the need for funds to be invested in basic infrastructure and amenities. We have noted here in the past the need for the Riverwalk circuit to be completed, with sections that have fallen into disrepair fixed. The number of people using the existing Riverwalk is impressive and more would take advantage were the amenity complete.

Also obvious this season has been the dramatically increased use of the San Juan River downtown — in particular by people (many of them tourists) wading and swimming, floating the river on tubes, rafts, inflatable kayaks —rented from local businesses. This past weekend’s Cruise-a-Thong gives testimony to the value of the river as a recreational option. A second river improvement phase waits in the wings. It shouldn’t wait long.

Parks and athletic fields, there to host tournaments and other types of events, also serve to make the downtown attractive, as would a planned skate park and improvements on Reservoir Hill.

The Focus feature this week deals with mountain biking in the area and pays particular attention to the trails atop Reservoir Hill — a magnet for tourists interested in alternative outdoor activities. A completed trail system from the Pagosa Lakes area (where the PLPOA is moving ahead on its trail project) to Pagosa Springs could increase the flow of outdoor enthusiasts — bikers, walkers, runners — between the two most densely populated sections of our community.

All this leads us to conclude that one of the best things government can do to encourage economic development is to tend to and improve the recreational infrastructure that makes this place a desirable place to visit and to live. Karl Isberg