Editorial: Welcome to NW Colorado | CraigDailyPress.com

Editorial: Welcome to NW Colorado

The Colorado Welcome Center at Dinosaur was again thrust into the news after a meeting last week between the Colorado Tourism Office, area business leaders and individuals interested in and working in the tourism industry.

Though the meeting covered a variety of topics — including how the state tourism office can better serve the area and how best to increase tourism in the county — the crux of the gathering involved the embattled Welcome Center at Dinosaur, which the CTO — faced with flat budget numbers — is considering defunding.

On the surface, this proposal seems both sensible and pragmatic.

Of the state's 10 welcome centers, the Dinosaur facility carries the highest per-person cost due to its lower traffic numbers, therefore, it seemingly makes fiscal sense to gradually reduce funding for such centers and use the surplus funds to address other tourism needs.

As we acknowledged, on the surface, this proposal seems both pragmatic and fiscally sound. A deeper look, however, suggests it is shortsighted and counterproductive.

Assuming the Welcome Center at Dinosaur loses state funding, there are two possibilities: First, Moffat County takes over funding the facility in an arrangement similar to the local funding formula that bankrolls the Welcome Center at Alamosa, or second, the center is relocated to a higher-traffic area.

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The problem with the first possiblity is that we can't afford it. Self-funding of welcome centers might be a viable — and even desirable — option in wealthier regions of the state, but here in Moffat County — where the budget is already stretched so thin that the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Moffat County Libraries are on the potential chopping block — how can we possibly be expected to fund anything else, particularly an entity that bears the state's name and conducts visitors not only to Moffat County attractions, but also to attractions throughout Colorado?

Moreover, Moffat County already contributes significantly to the continued operation of the Colorado Welcome Center at Dinosaur. The center has only three paid staff members, and none are considered full-time, year-round employees. Furthermore, Moffat County already contributes significant in-kind labor to maintain the center's grounds and parking lot, and the bulk of the staffing duties are handled by volunteers.

These facts in mind, we submit that Moffat County — despite its budgetary challenges — is already paying its share to keep the center open in Dinosaur.

As to the second possiblity — relocating the welcome center to some other town, where it would ostensibly see greater traffic numbers — we echo Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck, who wondered during the CTO meeting where the best place for the welcome center might be, if not Dinosaur.

Beck's questions answers itself; the welcome center is already located in the best possible place: Dinosaur, Colorado. In addition to boasting a world-class tourist attraction in Dinosaur National Monument, the town of Dinosaur also serves as a kind of pivot-point for visitors entering the state from its northwestern corner. If we relocate the center to any other possible location, we risk missing visitors who enter the state, then turn either north or south.

The CTO budget is approximately $20 million per year. Operating the Welcome Center at Dinosaur costs about $71,000 per year — 0.35 percent of the overall budget. That works out to less than four cents of every dollar spent.

In our view — and when one considers that the Welcome Center at Dinosaur promotes tourist attractions throughout the state — this a small investment for a big return.

Following the CTO meeting, the Club 20 Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee expressed a similar view in its unanimous approval of a resolution encouraging the CTO Board of Directors to fully fund operations at the Welcome Center at Dinosaur.

As noted in the beginning, part of the CTO's purpose in calling the recent meeting was to brainstorm ways the office can better serve our area. One way of doing that is to ensure the welcome center stays where it belongs — in Dinosaur.

Editorial Board

Renee Campbell, publisher

Jim Patterson, editor

Sheli Steele, advertising director

Tom Kleinschnitz, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at editor@CraigDailyPress.com.