A wet winter in 2019 helped pack slopes at Purgatory Resort and made rapids busy on the Animas River, but Durango’s recovery from the 416 Fire hasn’t been uniform.
“We did rebound from ’18. ... We’re not all the way back to where we would like to be,” said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Business Improvement District.
Some Durango business owners noticed that crowds came in waves last summer, packing hotels to capacity at times and leaving them half empty at others, he said.
“We’re hearing from key businesses that things were spotty,” Walsworth said.
The most recent reports from the city of Durango show sales tax revenues were up from January through October by 3.4% compared with the same period in 2017 and up 2.4% compared with the same period in 2018, Walsworth said. The rise in sales tax collections reported by BID accounts for the tax increase that took effect in July, so the 2017 percentages are not overinflated, he said.
Despite the gains, seven of the 17 industry sectors BID tracks saw sales decline during the peak summer months of June, July and August compared with 2018, he said.
Some of the sectors that saw declines included liquor stores, gift shops and galleries, he said. Business sectors that saw gains included restaurants and the miscellaneous retail shop category, which includes more than 100 stores, such as bike shops, furniture stores, hair salons and clothing shops.
Railroad recoversOne of the main drivers of tourism in town, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, drew about 190,000 riders in 2019, which is slightly below the train’s yearly goal of 200,000 riders, said Kevin Martin, a spokesman for the railroad.
“Overall, we are pleased with the 2019 numbers compared to a down year in 2018,” Martin said, in an email to The Durango Herald. Train ridership was hurt in 2018 by the 416 Fire.
The number of 2019 riders came close to 2017 ridership, which was 193,000 passengers, according to data provided by a former train spokesman in an interview last year.
The train is not planning new events in 2020, but it is planning investments in train operations, marketing and other areas, Martin said.
River trips rise more than 30%
Strong snowpack helped rafting companies extend the 2019 season and bolstered commercial visits to the Animas River.
The number of paddlers and anglers visiting the Animas River on a commercially guided trip increased about 30%, from 28,495 in 2018 to 37,553 in 2019, said Cathy Metz, director of Durango Parks and Recreation.
The rafting industry saw the strong rise in visits despite some public fear about the high water early in the season, said David Moler, owner of Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours.
“We started to see people not come because they were fearful,” he said.
However, the good snowpack made for a thrilling season in the summer months and allowed some commercial companies, including Durango Rivertrippers, to operate through September, he said. The previous year, Rivertrippers stopped offering rafting trips Aug. 20, he said.
Moler said he would like to see more investment in advertising to help lure rafters to Durango. He would like to see river trip numbers restored to 2005 levels, when 55,000 people made the trip. Rafters, he said, typically buy lunch and a hotel stay.
“I would like to see the area marketing efforts double down on the Animas River, and that doesn’t mean rafting, that means all aspects the river,” he said.
Mesa Verde National Park Mesa Verde National Park saw its visitor numbers drop from 573,645 in 2018 to 566,286 in 2019, or about 1.2%, said spokeswoman Cristy Brown. Compared with 2017, that is a 9% drop, when 622,799 visitors made it to the park.
Visits were down last year, in part, as a result of a partial federal government shutdown and rockfalls that closed the park in January and February, Brown said.
The park’s visitation numbers were up in June, July and August during peak tourist season, she said.
Brown expects summer visitation rates to rise again this year as long as the area doesn’t experience fires or road closures.
“National Park Service sites across the country are seeing an increase in visitation, with many areas experiencing new record numbers,” she said.
Purgatory Resort has turn-around season
After a tough drought year for Purgatory Resort during the 2017-18 season, the resort had one of its best seasons on record with nearly 30 feet of snow, said Stacy Glaser, senior marketing director with Mountain Capital Partners, which owns Purgatory.
“Last year was perfectly timed to go from a really tough season where we were celebrating anytime it snowed even a few inches to having a season where we couldn’t stop talking about the snow,” Glaser said.
The heavy snow helped draw back skiers who had gone elsewhere in 2017-18, she said. The resort doesn’t release its skier visits, but it did say at the end of the 2018-19 season it had double-digit growth in skier visits compared with the previous year.
However, the resort is still “rebuilding” after 2017, she said.
“Our hope and our intention is always grow our skier visits,” she said.