Southern Teller Tourism Hits Mini-Jackpot in 2023 Season With the Help of “Rita”

Local Events Experience High Attendance Numbers; Defy Early Doomsday Reports

Trevor Phipps

With the Pikes Peak area getting riddled with 30-plus days of rain in May, attraction operators and event organizers were ready to pull the red alarm bell, often commenting, “Here we go again.”

Projections escalated about another bust season, with the weather serving as the wild card, as the region was taking a long time to warm up and national headlines were proclaiming a record amount of rain for the Colorado Springs area.  Combine Mother Nature with rising gas prices and a slowing economy, many thought that the “Perfect Storm” of a potential slowdown was brewing for local tourism.

But fret not, the cynics were wrong.

According to local tourism leaders, the numbers have been pretty decent even though they may have not been as high as the year directly following the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.

Cripple Creek for instance has seen an increase in traffic from last summer. But other areas have not seen a big jump in traffic from previous years.

According to Cripple Creek Special Projects Director Jeff Mosher, the early rainy weather had little impact on tourism in southern Teller County because most of their events occurred later in the summer this year.

Mosher said that the tourism numbers were up from 2022, but they were not quite as high as they were in the immediately post-pandemic year of 2021. He did say that the Butte Theater attendance numbers were up and other small businesses reported receiving good amounts of traffic.

“We had small businesses hit record numbers during Ice Fest and then hit records again,’ Mosher said. “We had one small business that has been in town for almost 15 years and they had their best day ever during the Mustang rally.”

He said the Cripple Creek District Museum has hosted a number of live music events, called Music at the Depot. They did pretty well, according to the special project director. He also said that recently a Dodge Viper convention in Colorado Springs brought a large amount of traffic to the Cripple Creek area.

He also said he has noticed many people coming to the area to see the new Rita the Rock Planter Troll statue,  recently built near Victor, under the direction of Danish artist Thomas Dambo, who did an earlier creation in Breckenridge. “The troll has been a huge hit,” Mosher said. “Every weekend has been packed since the grand opening of the troll.”

Cripple Creek Heritage Tourism Director Michelle Rozell, who is in charge of the Cripple Creek Heritage Center and the jail and fire department museums, agreed that visitation numbers have been up and that the addition of the troll sculpture to the area has helped. “Especially the week after the troll was built, a large percentage of the people that stopped at the heritage center were asking where to go to see the troll,” Rozell said. “It has brought a lot of people up here. In a meeting with the Gold Belt Byway, people who are representing Victor said it is crazy how many people have been coming up here because of Rita.”

Rozell said that a number of people that have attractions in other parts of Colorado reported so-so numbers, indicating they were not as high as they had expected. But she said that the amount of traffic for Cripple Creek was higher than last year during all of the summer months,  except for August.

She also said that the traffic at the jail museum has increased greatly over previous years. She noted that many people stopping at the heritage center were waiting to see other attractions in the city, such as the Cripple Creek-Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Molly Kathleen Mine.

Mosher said that he anticipates that the traffic will increase even more during the fall “leaf peeper” season, which will soon kick into  high gear. Plus, the city is planning on putting on their Fall Fest during the first weekend in October.

Soon the city’s Mother Nature hotline will be up and running that will tell people when the leaves are expected to change.  Earlier reports indicate it could be a good fall season.

Other Areas in Teller Experience Higher Revenue Numbers;  But Smaller Traffic Counts

According to Greater Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Miller, it is still early to tell exactly how good or bad the tourist season was as sales tax and lodging numbers for July and August have not yet been reported. But she did say that the numbers for June looked about the same as they did last year.

She said that even though the numbers are slightly higher, the costs of lodging and other factors have also increased. She also much of the traffic was down from previous years.

“Anecdotally, I didn’t really see a lot of increase in traffic this year,” Miller said. “I know there will be people that debate that with me, but when I think about what we saw during the summer of 2020 and 2021, we didn’t compare to those years at all.”

She said that some of the local attractions saw a decrease from previous years. She said that numbers were higher in previous years because people flooded to national forest areas during the pandemic and immediately after.

According to Miller, the 2022 year found more people traveling around the country, and that international travel really opened up. “When you look at the data about the amount of people who renewed or applied for a passport this year was significant,” Miller said. “So, what I am hearing within the travel industry is that there was a lot of international travel happening this year.”

But Miller did say she believes that trend will change in the future, and that tourism will increase locally once again.