The culinary delights offered at Taste of Durango may have come and gone, but Durango’s all-you-can-eat buffet of summer events is just getting started.
With a new Durango Welcome Center almost completed, tourism officials say there will finally be a one-stop shop where people can find out about Fort Lewis College, learn about the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and have access to information on nearly everything to do in town, from raft trips to restaurants.
Located at Main Avenue and Eighth Street, the Welcome Center is aiming for a soft opening in time for the 2012 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic this weekend, but organizers are waiting on counter tops, said Business Improvement District Communications Coordinator Indiana Reed.
“It’s kind of a moving target,” she said.
For local business owners and tourism experts there’s one exceptional event for the 2012 tourism season: the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which begins here on Aug. 20. While business owners and tourism officials attempted to highlight several longtime favorites and promising up-and-comers, none was much competition for the summer season’s No. 1 spot. The statewide professional bicycle race – kicking off with the Durango-to-Telluride stage via Mancos, Dolores and Rico – claimed the crown.
“Imagine a normal Durango event and multiply that by 100 and then televise it in 100 different countries, and that’s the (Pro Cycling) Challenge,” said John Cohen, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.
During the Pro Cycling Challenge, cyclists will ride from Durango to Denver, covering more than 600 miles and taking on nine mountain passes, while passing through 12 different host cities.
“One of the things that really makes Colorado unique is it’s not Aspen or Vail or Telluride or Durango or Steamboat or Crested Butte – it’s the sum of all of them, right?” Gov. John Hickenlooper said Sunday while attending Taste of Durango. “The sum of our parts is far greater than the individual addition.”
Not only will the event provide “100 percent occupancy” among hotels, campgrounds, and even at Fort Lewis College, but on a long-term scale it will also provide “millions and millions of dollars in what amounts to free media coverage all over the United States and in 100 countries around the world,” Cohen said.
“With the Pro Cycling Tour, just the number of people in town will certainly be a shot in the arm for sales tax,” he said.
Although this mammoth of an event might not be held annually in Durango, it is already spawning smaller side events that have potential staying power.
To kick off the tour, a volunteer organizing committee is planning an event it’s calling Tutus to Brews, in which locals and event-goers can celebrate by dressing up in goofy costumes and cycling from a park to the headquarters of Ska Brewing Co. The committee includes Bob Kunkel and Kristen Muraro. Muraro is Ska’s special events coordinator. Event details are still being ironed out, but it will likely begin at either Rotary Park or Buckley Park, Reed said.
Durango Railfest, which will take place just before the Pro Cycling Challenge from Aug. 17 to 19, Reed said, is usually a strong magnet event that generates a good share of tourism dollars.
Railroad enthusiasts often plan trips to Durango specifically to attend it, and many of those people bring along plenty of discretionary money, Reed said.
Cohen listed the annual Four Corners Biker Rally, held during Labor Day weekend, as another event that offers businesses a boost for similar reasons.
“We’re not getting the Hell’s Angels or L.A. Kings anymore, we’re getting professionals with expendable income,” Cohen said of the motorcycle rally.
For many locals, no summer event roster would be complete without plenty of music.
Music in the Mountains, Durango’s three-week classical music festival, will return for its 26th year from July 8 through July 29.
Alpine Bank and the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College teamed up to bring a more recent item to Durango’s summer calendar: live music at Buckley Park on Thursday nights throughout July, and on Aug. 2. Free concerts, primarily featuring local bands, will run from 5 to 7 p.m.
Big names including Michael Franti and Spearhead as well as bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs also will hit Durango venues this summer.
The D&SNG’s second-annual Blues Train, which will provide three hours of live blues on a passenger car on June 2, already is sold out, according to the event’s website.
Luckily for kids, parents can still book a seat on D&SNG’s Dinosaur Train, based on a popular PBS Kids television series. This will be the inaugural year for the Dinosaur Train, with trips running June 15-17.
There also will be plenty of art, food and beer events throughout the summer, with the Gem & Mineral Show on July 6-8, Art on the Animas July 13-15, Men Who Grill on June 2, and Durango Beer Week from Sept. 16-24, just to name a few.
The Durango Farmers Market, which Cohen said is a local favorite, already is up and running, and it will continue each Saturday through summer from 8 a.m. to noon in the parking lot of First National Bank of Durango.
Another local favorite, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, will take place this weekend with newcomers and old-timers sweating it out to beat the train to Silverton.
If the Taste of Durango offers any insight, this season should be as big or bigger than in recent years. This year, there was on one more booth at Taste of Durango – 37 compared with 36 last year – and the crowd came with an appetite.
Gazpacho’s New Mexican restaurant booth, which planned to serve about 1,000 people throughout the day, sold out of corn by 1:30 p.m., said owner Matt Arias.
It seems to be the first big event that all the locals come out for, he said. And while they might not immediately bring people into the restaurants, events like Taste of Durango are a major marketing and advertising tool for restaurants, Arias said.
Hydi Verduzco, co-owner of East by Southwest and vice president of the Durango Restaurant Association, agreed with Arias, while counting change after Taste of Durango on Sunday.
East by Southwest expanded marketing to Denver and other parts of the state this year in preparation for the event, and overall, the turnout seemed better this year than last year, she said. There were more crowds, the music was great, and everyone seemed happy.
This story has been corrected from its original version.