Cautious Optimism Echoing Across High Country For Summer of 2023

Engage in Area Festivals and Support Local Businesses


Rick Langenberg

Summer fever has finally arrived and with the sudden heat surge comes one resounding theme for the upcoming season: Cautious optimism.


That’s the attitude of local leaders, casino operators, long-time residents and tourism  proponents,  and one the folks at TMJ share.


But we urge area residents to do their share in helping to make the 2023 season a success:  Attend as many festivals, shows and musical events as you can and share your experience with visitors. Indulge yourself at a local restaurant, casino; and take in a trail or history tour or recreation outing; hack around the county’s prime scenic links at a charity gathering.  Moreover, give local and state politics a break, as a successful tourist season could go a lot further in making positive things happen.


The word of mouth can go far in the brutally competitive tourism terrain.  Just check your goggle account, and you will probably see daily stories of the best communities in the Rockies for various titles, and usually we rank quite high in these rankings.


The area has much to offer. The coming weekend and July 4 break is the real starting point of the summer season, with the celebrations planned in Woodland Park and Cripple Creek, and the kick off for the Green Box Arts Festival, with some 80-plus events (see related story).  Cripple Creek’s fireworks show rates as probably the best Independence Day celebration in southern Colorado, and then there is the Symphony Above the Clouds, which still ranks as one of the region’s best events.


The early prognosis for the year looks good and has already  gotten off to a solid start, despite the wet spring. The Cripple Creek District Museum crossed a milestone with their 70th-year anniversary celebration, and is poised to start its Summer Concert series. Bill Burcaw, the personable director, is bullishly optimistic and hopeful, and wants to see the city take a more aggressive attitude in promoting special events. We agree and definitely favor the conversion of the Welcome Center rail car over to their reign. It’s a crime not to use that facility more.


The signs of the Coronavirus epidemic recurring have dissipated, but the memories are still lingering, and the fear of what could happen with another pandemic. The wildfire season appears under control this year; just hope we don’t incur a bad bash of monsoon rains.


For a change, Cripple  Creek looks ever closer in trying to attain their elusive “destination area” dream; that in the past often just turned into a catch phrase


Expansion fever is alive and well, with the new nine-story Chamonix resort gearing up for a Dec. 26 opening and the District Kitchen and Saloon preparing to welcome customers this summer.


The Wildwood is  moving ahead with their rebranding efforts, part of the acquisition by  Tilman Fertitta, and the conversion to a Golden Nugget casino..


Improvements are planned at  number of other properties, with talk of more lodging ventures.


Nope, as the town celebrates its 31st  summer of gaming, things are definitely different than they were three decades ago. The town doesn’t have 30-plus casinos ringing slots as what happened in the summer of 1991.  This explosive trend then led to the infamous casino crash and resulting conglomeration and the “big taking over the small.”


Many yearn the loss of the small casinos, such as the old Black Diamond and the Wild, Wild West.

At the same time, it’s funny how the same issues still resonate,  like signs, infrastructure and housing. It was refreshing to see town leaders engage recently in a casino sign debate that evoked memories of the good old days.


Historic preservation is still a hot topic in Cripple Creek, even though this subject is basically ignored in Black Hawk, the perennial champ of Colorado gaming.


Only this time, these feuds don’t  result in fist fights. I never forget one meeting in the past in the 1990s over an American flag display that literally ended in an all-out brawl, with journalistic observers often hanging in the back of the room to avoid stray punches. The losers of this fight then retaliated against the city by painting a 100-foot-tall flag pole pink in the middle of the night, and covering their establishment with the American flag. Yes, the good old days


Frank Salvato, the city administrator of  Cripple Creek remains optimistic, and is moving quite rapidly in the city’s quest for $10 million in infrastructure.  The loan packages with the state are almost a regular occurrence at council meetings.


This year will become another big mover in the housing arena, but probably won’t be a ground-breaker in the form of actual dirt work for big projects.  But the amount of projects on the table are eye-popping.  And a new recently-approved community action plan regarding recreational opportunities could help the town’s tourism push. But to make this plan work, the city council will have to make some big decisions on what projects they want to prioritize.


Also, 2023 could determine the planning turf for Cripple Creek’s new experiment with opening the door for retail marijuana.  We are placing are bets on actual brick and mortar retail outlets  not opening until 2024, but hope we are wrong.


Warning Signs Still In Place

Not all the signs are positive, though. Cripple Creek, according to the most recent count, only sports 2,809 betting devices and games, which is down from close to 6,000 at its peak


Then, in  Woodland Park, the restaurant and entertainment surge is quite impressive. Woodland Station, after years of idle action and talk, could actually become a reality. Facility improvement also are transpiring at the county’s sole links, Shining Mountain, and WP appears interested in pursuing more special events.


Opinions vary on how the 2023 season will fare, based on what report you believe.


All in all, we believe it should be a great season, but one that needs the help of local residents. Don’t be afraid to attend a local music gathering, such as the intimate Friday night gatherings at The  Painted  Bear in Green Mountain Falls. Last week, an inspiring duet performance was done by Silver Wood, who play with the Woodland Park Wind Symphony, and did unique renditions of songs from Billy Joel, Grace Slick, Kenny G, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin. The forthcoming Concert Series, sponsored by the Ute Pass Chamber of Commerce at the Gazebo island, is just right around the corner.


Many aren’t quite aware of these smaller events in our own backyard.


If you are longing for entertainment, this could be the magic summer in the Teller/Ute Pass High Country.