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Will they come? Locals optimistic

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Laura Knight works behind the bar at the newly renovated Derailed Pour House. Owner Todd Gibson hopes the more social atmosphere of the bar and eatery at 725 Main Ave. will translate into increased business.

By Jordyn Dahl Herald staff writer

This summer could be the year Durango pulls itself out of the recession, local tourism officials say.

The city has made small increases in previous summers, but businesses are expecting to see a big boom this year as the economy continues to improve and tourists become more confident in the market.

“We’re hopeful this year will be the year for Durango and all of us,” said Andrea Seid, spokeswoman for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Ridership was up more than 10 percent from January through March, despite winter traditionally not being a strong season for the train, Seid said. Last summer’s ridership numbers were about the same as 2011.

The train launched a new exhibit last year – the Dinosaur Train – and is extending it to two weekends this summer because of its popularity.

Todd Gibson, owner of the now-dubbed Derailed Pour House at 725 Main Ave., did an extensive remodel of the bar to become more of a social gathering place and in the hopes of alluring more tourists.

Gibson said the bar’s sales increased last year, but he’s hoping to double his business this summer.

Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours has seen a 15 to 20 percent increase in reservations so far this year, said owner Molly Mickel.

“We’re seeing good reservations for multi-day trips, which shows the economy is loosening up,” she said. “People have more money to spend and time to go on vacation.”

Durango’s two new hotels also are a sign that the city is on the upswing, said Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce.

The Homewood Suites hotel is being built in Bodo Industrial Park and is scheduled to open in July.

The Holiday Inn & Suites on U.S. Highway 160 west of downtown opened Feb. 14 and has seen strong reservations so far.

Its occupancy rates on the weekends have been about 80 percent with 40 to 50 percent occupancy on an average night, said general manager Shara Smith-Williams.

The hotel already is almost completely booked in June, when two bike rides will come through town: the Death Ride Tour and Ride the Rockies.

Kirk Komick, owner of the Rochester Hotel and Leland House, said he’s anticipating an “incredible summer” and welcomes the new hotels.

“I think we’ve had a need for some new properties for quite some time in Durango,” he said.

Durango Mountain Resort’s winter season was on par with last year, but the resort is optimistic this summer will bring in more tourists, said spokesperson Kim Oyler.

The resort will be launching several new summer attractions, including the “water runners,” where people can walk, run and jump on water in a transparent bubble, and a family ropes course that will be set up in the plaza.

The resort also is bringing back the Muck and Mire, an outdoor obstacle-course event similar to the Tough Mudder series.

Mesa Verde National Park will introduce new backcountry hikes to visitors.

One will be a 6-mile hike into upper Navajo Canyon. Another will take hikers to Spring House, the largest unexcavated cliff dwelling in the park.

Tourism numbers dropped off some in 2012 because of the wildfires around the state, including the Weber Fire near Mesa Verde in Montezuma County that burned 10,000 acres and caused more than $5 million in damage.

“It was apocalyptic for a little while toward the end of June. We still made it work,” said Matt Wilson, owner of 4 Corners Whitewater Rafting.

Rafting companies are waiting to see snowpack numbers in May before determining what this fire season’s outlook is expected to be.

jdahl@durangoherald.com

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