State considering defunding Colorado Welcome Center in Dinosaur | CraigDailyPress.com

State considering defunding Colorado Welcome Center in Dinosaur

The Colorado Welcome Center in Dinosaur greets travelers entering Moffat County on U.S. Highway 40 from Utah.

DINOSAUR — Moffat County officials are concerned about the future of the Colorado Welcome Center in Dinosaur.

The Colorado Tourism Office funds the welcome center, and a study commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Board's visitor services task force found the Dinosaur Welcome Center has the highest operating cost per visitor of any center in the state.

Earlier this year, the task force presented a draft recommendation to the Colorado Tourism Board proposing reducing funding for the center over a three-year period, Colorado Tourism's Director of Visitor Services Taren Mulch wrote in an email.

"The Colorado Tourism Board requested more input prior to changing any funding, and the visitor services task force did not request any changes for funding in May," Mulch wrote. She added that, after discussion with the board, the task force decided to "put on hold" submitting a proposal for action on funding the center.

The center is fully funded through 2019, said Tom Kleinschnitz, director of the Moffat County Tourism Association, in a May 24 Moffat County Board of County Commissioners meeting.

"We're not in absolute jeopardy, but we're looking at the possibility of that being defunded and going away," Kleinschnitz said. “I think the county has got a huge investment out there, and I think that would be detrimental, not only to Moffat County, but (also to) Rio Blanco and all of Northwest Colorado and, actually, the whole state. I think that entrance in Dinosaur is incredibly important."

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"The Dinosaur Welcome Center is definitely an asset to Moffat County," Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck said during the meeting. "We need to hang on to that."

There are 10 welcome centers in Colorado. Some, like Dinosaur's, are state-funded, Kleinschnitz said. Others are jointly funded by state and local governments or entirely supported by local governments.

State welcome centers present information about attractions across the state, Kleinschnitz said, meaning visitors will find the same brochures in Dinosaur as at the Trinidad Welcome Center, 430 highway miles away. Dinosaur’s has one state-funded full-time staff member. The facility is open nine months of the year, closing in Dinosaur National Monument’s winter offseason.

Kleinschnitz is concerned that, without funding from the Colorado Tourism Office, the welcome center will close, and with Moffat County's budget becoming slimmer and slimmer, he said, it is unlikely the county would be able to support the center.

"Without question, the economy here in Moffat County needs a good dose of diversification and a look at what it takes to help tourism along," Kleinschnitz said. "Closing the Colorado Welcome Center here would be pretty devastating."

Kleinschnitz said that, though the Dinosaur Welcome Center has lower traffic than some other welcome centers in the state, it's placed in a strategically important location.

"It's a big dividing point," he said, adding that travelers entering the state on U.S. 40 near Dinosaur usually split, heading in two directions — south into Rio Blanco County and on to Grand Junction and the southern part of the Western Slope, or east into Steamboat Springs and the mountain corridor.

Moffat County owns and maintains the building and the land upon which it sits.

Representatives from the Tourism Office's Visitor Services Task Force are expected to visit the welcome center later this summer.

Contact Eleanor Hasenbeck at 970-875-1795. Follow her on Twitter, @elHasenbeck.