Before Saturday’s grand opening of the Moffat County Tourism Association’s new visitor center at Centennial Mall, Craig resident Rick Ellifritz loaned the agency a collection of rocks, fossils and copper ore he found while exploring the county.
“The community involvement has been the best part of this whole project,” MCTA Director Melody Villard said. “People come in and talk about things they’ve found and ask if they can share it with us.”
More than 200 local residents and visitors attended Saturday’s grand opening, which featured children’s activities, a ribbon cutting with members of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, and a reception to thank residents, like Ellifritz, who helped make the new location possible.
MCTA received more than $27,000 in funds and in-kind donations from the community, Villard said.
“We couldn’t have done this without the generous support of our donors,” she said. “So many people came together to help us make this visitor center possible.”
The new location officially opened in December 2011 with the intention of increasing foot traffic and to boost tourism by highlighting the numerous sights and activities in Moffat County.
MCTA was previously housed at the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
Although feedback from Saturday’s grand opening was overwhelmingly positive, Villard concedes the move from the museum to the mall had its bumpy moments.
“I think you get a little bit of that, ‘What are they doing?’ ‘Why are they doing that?’” Villard said. “But when they come in they say, ‘Oh, I get it.’ It’s a good feeling when people come in and have nice things to say.”
Villard is a lifelong Moffat County resident and has relatives who homesteaded in the county.
But Villard said it wasn’t until beginning the process of moving offices that she realized how much of the county she has left to explore.
“People are so amazed by where Craig is and how much county there is west of town,” Villard said. “My family has homesteaded north, south, east and west and there are still some places in Moffat County that I haven’t explored.
“It’s been a fun experience to hear people’s stories about the places I haven’t been to.”
One of those storytellers was Robert Hemmerich.
Hemmerich, a resident of Blue Mountain, is an avid fisherman. He pointed out some of his favorite places on the map of Moffat County.
“The Little Yampa Canyon holds small mouth bass weighing up to five pounds,” Hemmerich said. “If you know anything about sport fishing, the small mouth is pound for pound the best fighter out there.”
Hemmerich also shared a little known ranch access road located on the southeastern side of Cross Mountain that provides access to one of his favorite places in the county.
“You can get to within 200 yards of Cross Mountain Canyon,” Hemmerich said. “If you hike the rest of the way you’ll find yourself standing on the (southern wall) 1,500 feet above the river. It’s really quite a sight.”
In addition to Saturday’s festivities, Villard said MCTA is asking the community to help name the numerous animals on display at the new visitor center.
A list is available at the MCTA office and people have until 5 p.m. April 2 to submit their suggestions.
The names will then be voted on by the MCTA Board during its regular monthly meeting April 4, with an announcement of the names to follow April 6.
For more information, call MCTA at 824-2335.
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