Grand Lakers eager for summer returns |

Grand Lakers eager for summer returns

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand Lake CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

Despite a rainy 2009 summer season, followed by a winter that lacked snow, Grand Lake business owners are feeling cautiously optimistic about the kick-off to summer this Memorial Weekend.

Lodging business owners are reporting solid early bookings over last year, an indication that in-state residents may be more willing to treat themselves to a weekend in the mountains this year.

“To me, what I’m seeing at my location, is that people are feeling more comfortable,” said Lisa Jenkins, owner of the Gateway Inn in Grand Lake. “I wouldn’t have twice the number of advanced reservations over last year right now if they weren’t feeling more comfortable…. Either that, or they’re sick and tired of sitting at home.”

The Gateway Inn is 60 percent pre-booked for the month of July, with August not far behind, according to Jenkins. Yet weekday bookings – often reserved by destination vacationers – are still slow to fill.

For the first time, the Jenkins are offering a summer discount to try and make up for sluggish weekday reservations.

“As with anything, people are wanting discounts and deals,” agreed Lisa Jonas, General Manager of The Western Riviera Lodge in Grand Lake, which is offering a “buy two nights, get third night free” special. “A lot of people are taking advantage of that,” she said.

Encouraged by early June bookings that are up from last year’s, Jonas said it will all depend on weather. “Most often if it’s super hot in Denver, we’re getting the crowd,” she said.

“If the weather is good this year, I think we’ll do well,” said Kevin Cox, owner of Grand Mountain Rentals, a property management company in Grand Lake. He too sees an increase in advanced reservations.

“Advanced reservations are an indicator of people planning vacations, staying in Colorado and thinking toward the future,” Cox said.

Grand Lake businesses certainly could use the boost.

Last year, marina operators – like Cox who also owns Boater’s Choice Marina on Grand Lake – experienced 45 rainy days during four months of the season.

To make matters worse, insufficient snow conditions over the winter caused snowmobile connector trails from Grand Lake to be shut down starting in January. Grand Mountain Rentals, for example, experienced a 7 percent loss in first-quarter revenue over a flat 2009 first quarter; the loss was blamed more on the weather than the economy.

“Wet summers and dry winters: it’s not the way Grand Lake’s economy is set up,” said Grand Lake Town Manager Shane Hale.

2010 first quarter sales tax collections for the town of Grand Lake were down nearly 16 percent from 2009, which includes the months of January, February and March.

The first quarter of 2009 was down 12 percent from 2008.

Lodging alone is down 60 percent from 2008 to 2010 in the first quarter.

“Some people are worried that if they don’t have a good summer, they might not be here next winter,” said Grand Lake Trustee Kathy Lewis, who works downtown.

Come April of this year, many Grand Lake business owners opted to shut their doors for the off-season, including The Gateway. Jenkins said they experimented for the first time shutting down in April, but have decided it may pay to stay open during the off-season next year.

Despite the fall in lodging revenue, Jonas, like Jenkins and Cox, remains positive.

“I think things are on the upswing,” she said.

Townspeople also are encouraged by several restaurants expanding or planning to expand their spaces, such as The Grand Lake Brewery, The Sagebrush, and O-A Bistro.

Reservations at the Winding River Resort are about 5 to 6 percent down from last year, according to Office Manager Kris Little.

But operators of the resort, which has 150 campsites plus cabins and lodge rooms near Rocky Mountain National Park, say that percentage is not worrisome. “We’ll survive this; we’ll get through the summer,” Little said.

To stave off huge losses impacted by a sluggish economy, resort owners cut staffing hours and put off projects last year. They plan to continue cutbacks into this summer.

Little said the loss of 9,000 beetle-kill trees on the resort’s 160 acres may have had some impact on business (they are now replanting), but mostly the resort’s slight two-year downturn could be attributed to the economy. Although it’s cheaper to camp than rent lodging, the investment in equipment could thwart some potential campers, Little said.

Meanwhile in Rocky Mountain National Park, campsite reservations are comparable to other years, said spokesperson Kyle Patterson. The Park usually sells out on sites every year with “more demand than supply,” she said.

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