Tourism officials offer assurances as Colo. battles wildfires

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As crews continued to battle the wildfires in Colorado last week, the state's tourism office launched proactive measures to battle the misconception that the fires are affecting vacation plans statewide and to reassure visitors that the active fires represent a very small piece of Colorado.

The Colorado Tourism Office offers an online travel resource for tourism-related fire updates at www.colorado.com/articles/colorado-wildfire-updates-travelers.

"We do not know to what extent our summer tourism season will be impacted by the fires, but we want to create the best vacation experience possible for those who are planning trips to Colorado," said Al White, state tourism director. "The destinations that are affected are doing an excellent job of managing the visitor experience by providing updates and alternative options when needed."

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said the 10 fires burning last week affected less than 1% of the 23 million acres of open public land in the state.

"Forty state parks and 334 wildlife areas are open, and many of the popular visitor sites and attractions are far from the sites of the current fires," he said.

At the resort town of Vail, northwest of Colorado Springs, a spokesman said, "All attractions are open. However, the area is under fire restrictions, which means that people need to take precautions and be more vigilant in town and when exploring the national forest."

Debbie Braun, CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, reported that "all roads are open and the airport continues to operate without disruption."

Late last week, thousands of firefighters continued to battle major wildfires near Durango, Boulder and Fort Collins. The Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs doubled in size overnight and leaped mountain ridges to torch several neighborhoods in the western part of the city.

That fire alone had consumed more than 18,500 acres as of June 28.

Although the Colorado Springs Airport remained open, several popular tourist attractions were closed, including Pike's Peak, its cog railway, the Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds.

One of the casualties of the Waldo Canyon fire was the Flying W Ranch, a family-owned attraction that featured chuckwagon suppers and Western-style entertainment.

Owner Russ Wolfe reported that the Flying W had burned to the ground. "If you have made an online reservation or a deposit, your money will be refunded at a later date when we have had a chance to gather our thoughts," he posted on the ranch website.

Available hotel and motel rooms were hard to find, even in Pueblo, 44 miles south of Colorado Springs.

"We're pretty full with people from Colorado Springs," said a front-desk agent at the Quality Inn & Suites.

The Best Value Inn & Suites in Colorado Springs was fully booked, "but rooms open up when residents are told they can return to their neighborhoods," a spokesman said.

Many tourists ended up in emergency evacuation shelters set up by the Red Cross, including high school gymnasiums.

The fires also impacted whitewater raft companies and campground managers.

Several river raft companies near Fort Collins turned over their equipment to firefighters who rafted in on the Poudre River to reach some isolated hotspots.

Elsewhere, one of several wildfires in Utah prompted the closure of a canyon area known as the Kolob section in Zion National Park late last week. The Utah Office of Tourism launched an information site at www.utahfireinfo.gov to keep travelers and residents up to date on fire locations.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead banned overnight camping, campfires and use of charcoal grills on all state lands.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.

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