Guest Editorial: Four Corners tourism: We will survive

Farmington Daily Times
The confluence of the San Juan River is pictured Aug. 8, 2015 after the Gold King Mine spill. At left is the contaminated Animas River, and at right is the San Juan River.

When a large portion of your economy is based on tourism, there are a lot of terrifying scenarios of how it can get knocked off course.

A devastating wildfire is one. But there are others that we have weathered in Southwest Colorado — lack of winter snow, mountain passes closed by slides and roads washed out by flash floods.

Nature has a lot of control over the towns of our region - that's one of the reasons we love it here. The flip side is that it can bring turmoil.

The drought and the 416 and Burro fires have done just that, and they may continue to impact the region for years. We won't know the full scope of that until the fires are contained and extinguished, of course, but history does provide some insight.

Foremost, our communities will be OK. Consider this example from Durango: Two months after nearly 3 million gallons of toxic waste spilled into the Animas River, sales tax revenues, including the city's lodger's tax, were rising dramatically.

Tourists were still coming in October, despite international coverage of the mustard-yellow river. Sure, they were calling and asking months and years after the August 2015 spill if the river was still yellow. But when assured things had returned to normal, they booked their rafting or fishing trips.

This is not meant to minimize the losses some businesses suffer during and after a disaster. It can be tough for a small business to hold on when no one is walking through the door.

The recent multi-day closure of the San Juan National Forest was no doubt a blow to local business. And the suspension of train service between Durango and Silverton likely led to cancellation of plans by some summer visitors to visit Mesa Verde as well.
The communities of the region are trying to help - residents from all parts of our region are suggesting day trips to Silverton, for example.

Across the Four Corners, there's also a loud drumbeat for supporting local businesses in all our communities. Now that the San Juan National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands are open, it is likely to get louder.

And that might be the best thing that can happen, according to tourism experts. At the recent SoCo Tourism Summit, held in Pueblo, state and local tourism experts repeatedly sent the message: Promoting each other helps everyone, because we're all in this together.

The Cortez Journal, June 25

Traffic controls are in place when Highway 55 is opened temporarily for traffic. This undated photo is part of a gallery posted on Facebook by the #416 Fire Team, It can be viewed at

416 Fire facts:

As of June 27

Location: 13 miles north of Durango, Colorado 

Start Date: June 1, 2018 

Cause: Under investigation

Size: 35,196 acres 

Percent Contained: 36

Total Personnel: 389

Source: 416 Fire team