Moffat County is being invaded.
But the men and women in uniform are friendly and they are here to enjoy camaraderie, education and patriotism during the 79th Ladies Auxiliary Convention June 11-14 hosted by VFW Post 4265 and the local Ladies Auxiliary.
The four-day event will offer a variety of activities for veterans including a golf tournament, barbecues, commemorative dances, military balls and a variety of business sessions. Although the local parade is the only event that is open to the public, local armed services veterans are encouraged to register and attend all phases of the convention.
The parade will take place at 3 p.m. June 14 in conjunction with Flag Day and the Army's 227th birthday, and local organizations and individuals are encouraged to register and participate. There is no charge. Anyone interested should contact the Craig Lions Club.
The Gold Wing convention kicked off what is shaping up to be a busy June for Moffat County, but the arrival of an expected 500 VFW convention attendees should produce a spike in lodging and sales tax.
"We are sold out Tuesday through Saturday because of the VFW convention," said Mikki O'Brien, general manager of the Holiday Inn of Craig. "If the rest of the town is not sold out yet, they will be."
O'Brien said she thinks that travelers will have a difficult time booking hotel rooms next week as the more than 415 available rooms are going fast. Even regular guests at the Holiday Inn are looking elsewhere for accommodations.
"The Moffat County Tourism Association has sent out an email to area hotels requesting information on availability so that the chamber of commerce can direct people," O'Brien said.
The Holiday Inn typically begins its busy summer season in June, but O'Brien estimates that where a normal first part of June might see the hotel at 70 percent of capacity, all 152 rooms will be booked through the second week in June.
"We are expecting to be at capacity in our restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner and our banquet rooms are booked. Normally, we would not be full," she said.
Overall, this June looks to be a healthy boost to the local economy.
"It's a heck of a windfall for us," said O'Brien.
Things look good for many area lodging establishments already because of the number of out-of-town workers currently renting accommodations. But some local businesses are filling their last remaining beds with unexpected travelers.
"This time last year, we didn't have to turn our 'no-vacancy' sign on, but we will this year," said Tawnya McAskill, manager of the Craig Motel located on Yampa Ave.
The Craig downtown businesses also hope that the parade and other events will boost their revenues in June.
"I have a little bit of everything," said Mary Kay Sherman, owner of the Giving Tree located on Yampa Ave. "I spend a lot of time researching items that are affordable. A lot of stuff is cool, but the average person can't afford it. I always keep that in mind when I'm shopping."
Other local summer events will add to the number of people in town during the month of June. Whittle Da Wood Wandezvous, which takes place on June 21, Triple Crown and a host of other summer events will add to the already above-average numbers.
"We could have as many as 1,000 more people in town than we probably would otherwise," said Cathy Vanatta, Craig chamber director. "Those numbers don't include families, which could boost numbers even higher."
According to Vanatta, every average family of four that stays in the area brings in an additional $70 per person, per day.
Vanatta said she thinks that the overflow of travelers who need lodging also will see unusual trends this summer.
"It's kind of nice to say that our overflow is going to Steamboat, instead of the other way around."
But Vanatta points out that the height of summer tourism is also perhaps the time of the year that there are the least number of available beds in Moffat County.
"We normally don't have four conventions in one month and we are short one motel this year, so that kind of hurts us, too," she said.
The Bear Valley Inn at the east end of Craig is temporarily closed.
A boost for the economy and something new for Craig is exactly what prompted local VFW Post 4265 Commander Charley Watkins to submit a bid to get the event more than 18 months ago.
"I wanted to do it to help bring some business to Craig, and it's good for the community," he said. "A lot of people come for the camaraderie and don't attend the seminars, and a lot of the ladies come to shop, sight see and visit a part of the state they have never seen."
Different activities for the conference attendees take place at various venues around Craig throughout the week.
"It takes in a pretty good gamut of the town from the Holiday Inn to the Golf Course to the Pavilions," Watkins said.
The event is a monumental undertaking for Watkins and the small number of volunteers that he does have. The local post is in charge of organizing and planning the entire function.
"You don't very often get anybody who donates anything when you are looking for bands and music and people to help with activities," he said. "John Ponikvar and his wife are donating their equipment and time to DJ a commemorative World War II dance just because he wants to do something for the World War II veterans."
The VFW week will also be a time for local veterans to have an affordable opportunity to enjoy their fellow veterans.
"A lot of our veterans here can't afford to go out of town to attend conventions, so this gives them the opportunity to enjoy the events," Watkins said.
To keep all of the summer tourists in check, the Craig Police Department plans to have a busy, but not unusual summer.
"We aren't really doing anything different that normal," said Sgt. Bill Leonard of the Craig Police Department. "Our two school resource officers return to regular patrol once school is out, so we will have two extra officers," he said.
In addition, Leonard said that some grant money will be used to fund extra patrols at specific hours of the day and night to supplement regular patrols. Civilians may see officers on bikes or other special circumstances depending upon each specific event.
In addition to the increased tourism in June, the police department has already seen a busier than usual year.
"Our May was the second busiest May ever recorded for our department. We are already at record stats for the year right now," Leonard said.
"We're having a busy year and it looks to get busier as the summer goes on."