Grand County Tourism Revitalization Project receives federal grant
Summer has arrived in Grand County, offering bluebird skies, scenic trails and epic mountains to explore. In addition to outdoor recreation in beautiful scenery, Grand County offers plenty of festivals, concerts, rodeos, and other events during the summer. It’s no wonder that Grand becomes a mecca for tourists during these balmy months. Tourism drives the economy, but it can also create challenges during the busiest seasons.
To create a more balanced tourism economy for businesses and locals, The Grand County Colorado Tourism Board and Grand County Economic Development have partnered together to start the Grand County Tourism Revitalization Project this year.
In May, Grand County received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help fund their Revitalization Project. The grant requires a $100,000 match, which is being provided by the Tourism Board.
“This grant positions Grand County to take advantage of opportunities that help diversify our economy in a thoughtful, sustainable way,” said Grand County Economic Development Director DiAnn Butler. “We will be developing critical tools to highlight and encourage engagement with our off-season opportunities in all of our six communities.”
The project consists of four main tasks: kickoff and data collection, prioritization strategy, development of a visitor toolkit, final presentation, and adoption.
“We plan to go through data collection and analysis first, then develop strategies,” said Ron Ellis, president of the tourism board.
The project is now in the kickoff stage, and Ellis predicts the entire timeline will take about two years to complete.
“This is the first collaboration between the county’s Economic Development group and the Tourism Board. … DiAnn Butler and her Economic Development department did the lion’s share of the work to get this opportunity for us,” said Ellis.
Funded through the federal American Rescue Plan, the project will support Grand County’s tourism and outdoor recreation economy by extending tourism throughout the year, rather than concentrating on the dominant summer and winter seasons. This will create more stable, year-round jobs, business opportunities and a healthier tourism economy.
The influx of visitors during certain months, and their inevitable retreat during shoulder seasons, causes stress to residents, businesses and the environment. In an all-or-nothing tourist economy, businesses sometimes cut employees’ hours or even conduct lay-offs in low season, leaving seasonal workers high and dry.
“Businesses have to deal with staffing up, then un-staffing, then restaffing. It’s difficult for them, and for the employees,” Ellis said. “It’s not inexpensive to run a business up here. When you make a large portion of your money in small seasons, it makes it difficult for small businesses to thrive.”
On the natural resource side of the spectrum, busy months mean that the most popular tourist destinations in Grand — such as Grand Lake, Devil’s Thumb and Rocky Mountain National Park — become congested with visitors. Traffic jams and overcrowded trails are par for the course in Grand’s most well-known spots.
“This (project) will begin to tackle some of these issues, like how to spread tourists throughout the county more,” said Ellis. “We have a lot of overused assets in terms of certain trails, and we have a lot of under-used ones as well. … This will generate some tools to help tourists find alternate, less busy, less used resources in the county.”
For example, wayfinding signs placed throughout the county can point tourists to other recreational areas they might not know about, which are just as beautiful as the popular tourist attractions.
The Grand County Colorado Tourism Board and Grand County Economic Development also plan to create a GIS Storymap, which is an online map that “would provide resources for people to find around the county, like activities or hikes or different (places) they can recreate at,” Ellis said.
Ellis added that the COVID-19 pandemic and devastating wildfires over the past 2 years have intensified the challenges the environment and the tourism industry already faces.
“Times have changed, the economy’s changed, and we don’t really know what that holds for the future,” he said. “So it’s really important to have a resilient tourist economy and employment to weather whatever economic or natural storms come our way.”
Ellis said that the Revitalization Project builds on some of the projects the board is already doing, such as their Sustainable Tourism Study. On May 27, residents answered a survey on what healthy tourism means to them, and the board is now reviewing the results of the survey to help guide their plan for sustainable tourism.
“We’re in the early stages now of trying to collect everybody’s priorities of what sustainable tourism looks like — what the balance is in Grand County of protecting our assets, having tourism and also having a good quality of life for residents,” Ellis said.
The Grand County Colorado Tourism Board will unveil their plan for sustainable tourism this fall, while simultaneously concentrating on the Revitalization Project with Grand County Economic Development.
“We can make some progress for both the employment situation for people in the county, for businesses, and … the overarching goal of where tourism best fits with our resources and economic requirements. So this all wraps together,” Ellis said.
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