Business owners holding out hope

Impact of fire, drought, disease gets mixed reviews

Despite ongoing wildfires in the state, the current drought conditions and chronic wasting disease, local business owners say they don't expect to see a downturn in tourism commerce this year.

"I haven't seen tourism decline any," said David Hutton, owner of Craig Sports. "It has been about the same as last year. As a matter of fact, I've had quite a few people in already."

Ron Ringhand, owner of the Bear Valley Inn of Craig, said it is too early to tell what the possible affects of may be.

"We're running about average for this time of year," Ringhand said. "The summer tourism season won't start until the end of the month. Tourism, as whole, is supposed to be down this year regardless, as a result of the economy."

Cathy Vanatta, the executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, believes the wildfires could actually benefit the area.

"We want to tell everybody that we're not on fire," Vanatta said. "I think we're the greenest place in the state. We aren't having those problems and I think that will help us.

"With the fires all around us, we could actually have a better hunting season because a lot of areas where people hunt, they aren't going to be able to hunt there this year. It's also going to drive a lot of animals this direction too."

Wally Ralston, executive director of the Moffat County Economic Development Partnership Inc., is not as optimistic.

"As it stands right now, the state as a whole has been adversely affected by the fires," Ralston said. "There is a negative impact, but I believe that's to be expected."

Vanatta said two of Craig's biggest summer tourism draws are fishing and rafting, which current drought conditions could threaten.

"We've always got the possibility of drought," said Tony Stoffle, the sportsman information specialist at the Craig Chamber of Commerce. "It can be a factor in more than one way. Rivers and reservoirs are way down and it is hurting fishing. It is going to be a wait and see deal, just like it is every year."

"I don't think the drought will affect tourism, unless water levels continually drop with no rain," Hutton said. "It could affect fishing because once the river gets down so low, they can't do anything."

Vanatta also expressed concern about the drought situation.

"I hope it doesn't affect tourism," she said. "I am concerned that it will to a certain degree because the river is down and a lot of people come here to raft and fish."

Neither Hutton nor Vanatta said they currently see chronic wasting disease posing a major threat to tourism.

"I'm not real concerned about chronic wasting disease at this point," Hutton said.

"I don't believe it's a major deal right now that's going to affect tourism. As far as hunting season goes, that's going to be questionable. We'll have to see what happens between now and September. We need to learn more about it before we jump to any conclusions."

"I'm really not that concerned," Vanatta said about the disease's possible effect on the local economy. "We're not hearing from hunters that they're not coming. We just got a call the other day from a large group of hunters from Denver saying they're still coming.

"I think if we have accurate information here that we can give to hunters when they come to town or call, and our Web site has accurate information, I really don't think the hunters will be that concerned."

Hutton, however, did warn that a combination of factors could eventually have adverse affects.

"If we continue with no rain, I think that may even affect the hunting season," he said.

"Between that (drought) and if we do get any fires, I think we may have a few more people thinking about it and not coming out."

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