Colorado tourism officials try to douse doubt

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DENVER -- During the summer of 2002, Colorado state officials were dealing with the 138,000-acre Hayman Fire while trying to let potential tourists know the state was still open for business.

But just when visitors were set to come to Colorful Colorado, then-Governor Bill Owens made his infamous comment, “It looks as if all of Colorado is burning today.”

That comment all but short-circuited the state’s summer vacation season. This time around, the travel and tourism folks want potential visitors to know less than one-percent of public lands are impacted by wildland fires.

“We just hope people can see there are 26 ski areas and resorts, most of which are open during the summer, along with breathtaking scenic landscapes with hot springs and the headwaters of seven major rivers are unaffected as well,” said Kathy Green, with the State Economic Development Department. “The state has 10 national parks and monuments, and 58 mountain peaks that top 14-thousand feet.”

When Owens uttered his comments, Colorado had 24 million visitors which spent about $7 billion annually. Denver had 10 million visitors who spent about $2.3 billion.

In 2011, Colorado welcomed 58 million visitors who spent $10.7 billion. Denver checked in 13 million overnight visitors who dropped $3.3 billion.

Numbers that reflect how important tourism is to Colorado and why tourism leaders want the public to know Colorado is not burning from border to border.

“We are here so I can become a cadet at the Air Force Academy,” said Blake McCown, in from Denton, Texas. “The friends my family was going to stay with saw their house burn down last night, so we have been living in hotel rooms for the last few days.”

Another family from Philadelphia put off their trip to Garden of the Gods after the Waldo Canyon Fire forced the closure of the popular tourist spot.  Instead, we caught up with Billy Samu at the Denver Zoo.

“We just heard fire, fire, fire back east…we didn’t know if we should come or not,” said Samu. “Taking a chance we just thought we should come and we are glad we did.”

Visit Denver also notes that while the Front Range along the I-25 corridor is affected by the fires, most of the resorts along I-70 are not.

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