Ritter: Heritage tourism is 'a great economic opportunity'

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Economic development happens on more than the Front Range.

So said Gov. Bill Ritter Saturday to an audience of an estimated 60 people at the Craig Holiday Inn, during the regional meeting of the Northwest Colorado Cultural and Heritage Tourism Regional In-itiative.

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Because economic development happens across Colorado, "we're traveling the state," Ritter said, "and this is a great opportunity to put an exclamation point on that because Heritage Tourism is one part of economic development for places like Moffat County."

Ritter, in his first appearance in Moffat County since being elected, talked about opportunities in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties in regard to heritage tourism -- a branch of tourism oriented toward the historical or cultural heritage of the tourism location.

Since tourism is the second biggest industry in Colorado, "you have to invest in tourism in order for us to make full use of it as a state and for economic development opportunities," he said.

Last year, the state of Colorado invested an additional $15 million into tourism efforts, which Ritter said could result in a 10-to-1 return.

"Out of all the things happening in the state," he said, "heritage tourism is one of the most interesting, and we think, one of the most exciting things for the state, because we have such deep roots, deep heritage and deep culture, and to make maximum use of that, we're doing all that we can to invest into that as a state, and invest to different areas of the state that can really market that heritage tourism efforts.

"It really is a great economic opportunity."

As part of the regional meeting, Ritter presented two $10,000 checks to the Rio Blanco Historical Society -- the fiscal agent of a joint Moffat/Rio Blanco project to establish interpretive pullouts along Yellowjacket Pass and make improvements to the Milk Creek battle site; a project Doctor Dave Steinman and Steve Wix gave a presentation on earlier in the meeting.

The project is estimated to cost $200,000, and the $20,000 donated Saturday will be used as leverage to acquire future grant money, Moffat County Tourism Association Director Shelly Flannery said.

Exxon Mobile and the Rio Blanco Lodging Tax Board donated the money.

Other topics addressed at the regional meeting included opportunities in agricultural tourism, presented by CJ Mucklow of the Routt County CSU Cooperative Extension; and Colorado's heritage tourism outlook, presented by Scott Campbell, program manager of State Heritage Tourism.

J.B. Chapman gave presentation on Hunting in Tourism, known as HIT. He also had a message for the governor.

"Gov. Ritter, it is great seeing you here in Craig again for this event, and I hope you know that you're welcome here and have our commitment as a community in directing all of the activities that go on in Denver," he joked. "All you need to do is give us a call and let us know how we can help. We'll be happy to give you all the advice you need."

The Northwest Colorado Cultural and Heritage Tourism Regional Initiative has been in place for three years and is tasked with identifying and developing heritage tourism assets in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties and marketing them on a state level.

Ten communities within the three counties take part in the CHT.

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