EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Tourism in southern Colorado declined after the 2002 Hayman wildfire, and to a lesser extent after last summer's Waldo Canyon wildfire. Yet tourism industry leaders say the same thing shouldn't happen because of an increased risk of flash flooding.
That risk was created by the Waldo Canyon fire after it burned more than 18,000 acres. Several flash floods occurred in the weeks immediately after the fire, closing roads and causing damage.
Mary Morrison of the Manitou Springs Visitors Bureau said tourism there "decreased considerably after the fire."
Chelsy Murphy of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau said the city predicted a 3 percent drop in tourism, but the actual decrease was less than 1 percent. She said the bureau used $200,000 from its reserves and the same amount from a federal grant in a "Welcome Back" campaign to promote tourism and ease visitors' fears about flooding.
"That was the most difficult thing for us to communicate -- that our whole city hadn't burned down," said Murphy.
Murphy said local leaders are working with business owners and residents to ensure that the community is prepared for a flash flood. That preparation should reassure visitors, she said.
"I don't think that preparing for an event deters tourism negatively," said Murphy. "In fact, I would hope that it makes people feel more comfortable."
Bill Fee owns Nature of Things in Manitou Springs, where he uses a chainsaw to carve wood sculptures. He has been open 18 years and says tourists are 85 percent of his business. He's not worried, either, about visitors being scared away by flash floods.
"It might be a slight concern for the creekside residents and the motels," said Fee. "But I don't foresee it being huge. Definitely not to the degree that the fires did."
Tourists Phil and Sharon Hatter, visiting Pikes Peak from their home state, Indiana, also aren't concerned about the flash flood risk.
"I still would have come," said Sharon Hatter. "We'll tell our friends to do likewise."
There's as much at stake for the local economy as there is for tourism. The area industry employs more than 14,000 people, and brings around 5 million visitors who spend at least one night here in an average summer.