“Rita and Ice Castles” Could Generate Huge, Record Crowds
Teller County has experienced an influx of current and forthcoming iconic attractions, capped by Rita the Rock Planter, the troll sculpture near Victor crafted by a world-famous Danish artist; and now the new Ice Castles, a winter fantasy land in Cripple Creek, expected to start around Christmas time.
Business operators and many civic leaders heavily support these developments, saying it provides more year-round visitors and a needed boost for regional tourism. Presentations regarding these attractions have been greeted by thumbs-up endorsements at local meetings, with few dissenters, if any.
Both Rita and the Ice Castles have commanded much media attention, with regular television and newspaper accounts and favorable reports on social media. Part of this popularity is due to the fact that these attractions have been pioneered previously at Colorado’s ski resorts, and achieved much success there.
But with this influx of visitors comes a spree of question marks. More notably, does the region have the services and manpower to handle the thousands of extra people and the extra pressure on infrastructure? For example, the Ice Castles alone could generate an influx of 100,000 more visitors over a several month period, based on company estimates.
Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell recently waved the red flag over the pending impacts regarding these developments. He told the commissioners at a recent meeting about the possible strain on public services due to these tourist activities and associated events. More specifically, he raised a red flag about the impacts on a limited staff, especially during the winter months. The sheriff told the county commissioners that they recently conducted a study to see how much traffic is coming into the county from outside the area.
The sheriff said that the county has averaged about 140,000 visitors per year. This year the addition of the troll structure near Victor has brought about 1,000 people up to the county every weekend, according to his estimates.
Mikesell said that the ice festival earlier this year bought about 600 extra people per hour onto the Teller County roadways. The Ice Castles, planned to be created by the end of December, could bring another 500 cars into the county per day.
“Services are going to be greatly impact by this,” Mikesell said. “It does have an impact on citizens. The county’s first responders are already stressed.”
Normally, the area sees an increase in traffic during the summer months, but once the weather starts to cool down during the winter the traffic slows down. But, according to Mikesell, the slowdown during the winter months may not really happen this year with the events and activities that are planned.
As a result, manpower levels, which are usually lower in the wintertime, could get challenged.
He said that the county only has about 8 to 10 ambulances that serve the entire 586 square-mile county. And he said that during any shift, there are only about 10 to 12 law enforcement officers between all of the agencies within the county.
He also said that the Ice Castles company plans to use eight million gallons of water during the three months they planning on being in Cripple Creek. The water that melts from the ice castles will then make its way into the creek running down Shelf Road to Canon City.
The sheriff said that even though the water coming from the Ice Castles is just a drip, the excess water running down the creek could cause some issues with roads.
The sheriff’s comments mainly run parallel to his ongoing concerns over the growing impacts his agency and other law enforcement agencies are now confronting due to manpower shortages and an explosion in crime and incident reports.
Mikesell has lobbied hard for the need to increase pay to enhance their recruitment efforts. Plus, he has cited a lack of trained officers within the state.
His agency hasn’t objected to the new attractions and the associated activities and events. In fact, some of the initial photos submitted to the media regarding Rita, the Rock Planter, featuring much praise, came from the sheriff’s department.
One of Mikesell’s main concerns deals with the big increase in people recreating within the county, which now adds another 5,000 to 10,000 per day. This, coupled with a population of 30,000, residents has put big strains on the department. “Our crime isn’t as localized as it used to be,” said Mikesell, in an earlier interview with TMJ. “A lot of our crime is coming from Colorado Springs, Pueblo and the Denver area because they are coming through the county and recreating….Where we were as a sheriff’s office 20 years ago, just doesn’t work anymore. We just don’t have the officers.”