Tourism spending sees high return

When Cathy Vanatta learned that a vintage car tour wanted to make a pit stop in Craig this summer, she knew it was something that would benefit the town.

It didn't promise thousands of tourists or guaranteed dollars. But Vanatta, the director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, thought it was a unique event that would bring people in from the outside, and provide a nice attraction for locals, too.

Impressions can be a lasting resource that builds tourism, she said.

"If we leave people with good thoughts or good memories of Craig, hopefully they'll be back, and they'll tell their friends and families," Vanatta said.

The car tour hasn't officially been booked yet, but it's on the table as one of the many tourism-related events the chamber and the Moffat County Tourism Association are pursuing.

The MCTA is funded by a statewide lodging tax. In 2003, the MCTA received a record $89,000 to continue promoting Craig and Moffat County, according to the chairman of the MCTA, Richard Blakley. The funds have been steadily increasing since 2000, when the MCTA received $69,000, Blakley said.

One of Blakley's highest priorities is to finish a book the MCTA has been working on. It's called, "What to do in Moffat County."

"We've been working on it for two years," Blakley said. "It's going to get done."

As always, the MCTA will promote local standards like Grand Olde West Days, Museum of Northwest Colorado and hunting. It also will try to branch out more and build on last summer's convention season, which brought five organizations to Craig for statewide events. Veterans of Foreign Wars, firefighters, Goldwing riders and the County Sheriffs of Colorado brought their conventions to town in 2003.

In 2004, Craig will host a district convention for the International Association of Lions Clubs. Several others are in the works, said Steve Miller, the MCTA's sales and marketing coordinator.

The MCTA and the chamber focus on a variety of events to bring people here. There isn't a single event that will bring tourists to Craig to fill the gaps before and after hunting season, Miller said.

Snowmobiling races boost tourism in the slow winter months. This weekend, an ice hockey tournament will draw crowds, Vanatta said. The Whittle the Wood Rendezvous has been a successful summer attraction.

Numerous such events land nonresidents in town, adding money to local coffers. Although residents enjoy the coziness or quietude of a small town, Vanatta said the impact of drawing people here shouldn't be overlooked.

"The way I explain it is that if we don't promote tourism, it affects our sales tax and we'll lose some of our services," Vanatta said.

Public services aside, when businesses suffer, it tends to have a trickle-down effect on everyone, Miller said.

During the hectic hunting season, when it may be tempting to grumble about congested parking lots and long lines, Miller reminds himself that "it's good to be busy."

In the interest of being busy at other times of the year, the MCTA helps advertise events that might bring visitors to spend at least one night in Craig.

There are plenty of reasons for people to come here, Miller said. It's just a matter of marketing.

"It seems like we're a hidden gem," Miller said. "Big things could happen."

Miller said he's optimistic about the expansion of Elkhead Reservoir for boating and other activities. He also looks to the continued growth of winter sports like hockey and snowmobiling.

Sightseeing at Echo Park, near Dinosaur, is another gem that could be exposed. The MCTA board will take a one-day trip to Dinosaur National Monument so they can see what they're missing out on, Blakley said.

The Wyman Living History Ranch, taking shape east of Craig, has Miller especially excited. It's Craig's chance at being a "destination place," Miller said.

"The nice thing is, Lou Wyman is doing it the right way," Miller said. "He's doing it methodically. Two years ago, he talked to me about it and he had all of his ducks in a row already."

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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