In western Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods draws hikers, bicyclists and outdoor enthusiasts from throughout the country.
In western Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods draws hikers, bicyclists and outdoor enthusiasts from throughout the country.

If early-season LART tax collections are any measurement, the Pikes Peak region is in for a red hot tourist season.

Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax figures show collections year-to-date from this year are 14.46 percent higher than last year, according to the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The most recent Rocky Mountain Lodging Report is the highest occupancy rate in May since 1997,” said Chelsy Offutt, spokeswoman for the CVB. Lower gas prices and consumer confidence are driving the increase, she surmised. “We’re hopeful these record numbers continue to climb well into the summer season.”

The LART is assessed on hotel and motel rooms,  as well as vehicle rentals. The 14.46 percent figure came from April’s tax collections which were reported in May and received by the CVB in June.

The Rocky Mountain Lodging Report showed a 3 percent increase in occupancy rates for all levels of hotels in the region. The occupancy for May this year was 72.2 percent, compared with 70.1 percent for May 2014.

“We won’t see the numbers for the full season until October,” Offutt said. “If this is any indication, we’re extremely excited.”

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“Overall, we have seen an increase in tourism foot-traffic downtown. We saw that last year, and it’s continued this year,” said Laurel Prud’homme, director of communications and events for the Downtown Partnership.

Prud’homme said the feedback she’s received has been “all across the board. With all the rain in May, some said it was horrible, but some have said it was great.”

Tourism at the newly reopened Royal Gorge Park and Bridge is between 8 and 12 percent ahead of 2012, prior to a wildfire, which closed the attraction, said Public Relations Director Peggy Gare.

“It’s going fantastic. We are ahead of what we were projecting,” Gare said.

The fire did no damage to the bridge, but demolished dozens of buildings. Using $30 million, the park rebuilt the attractions.

Since 1947, Cañon City has owned the park, which is operated by a private concessionaire, The Royal Gorge Company of Colorado.

“Things are looking up all around the region. We’ve had no drought, no fire warnings and the river has been up,” she said.

“It has been a good year because of the rain and no drought. People are traveling.”

Rafting

River rafting got off to a slow start, because of 60-degree rainy days in May, said Arkansas River Tours owner Bob Hamel. Now, the snow pack runoff is past peak flow, but spring rains have improved the river flows.

“We’re still high [water], but high is fun,” Hamel said. “[Business has] really warmed up since the weather has improved. The runoff coupled with the rains give us optimal flows. We expect July to do much better. Now people are traveling a lot more.”

News of private boating accidents around Colorado adversely affect Hamel’s commercial operation, he said.

During high-water conditions, “you should either be experts or do an outfitted trip,” Hamel said.

Also, when the Arkansas River flows more than 3,200 cubic feet per second, the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife closes parts of the river to rafting. When that happens, Arkansas River Tours has plenty of whitewater to choose from elsewhere on the river, where the flows are less dangerous.

“It’s not like we have 10 miles of river. We still have Class 4 to 5 runs in Big Horn Sheep Canyon, and moving trips farther upstream can still provide trips for families,” Hamel said.

Farmers and rain

Rainy spring weather has been a mixed blessing for the area’s farmers markets.  It’s changed both attendance and the produce available, organizers said

“The rain has impacted us,” said Diane Jackson, who manages the Fountain farmer’s market at City Hall. “If it’s lightning, no one comes out. If it’s raining, people will come and get up under someone’s tent.”

Business is “a little slow this year,” she said.

But other organizers report strong numbers. The Old Colorado City farmers markets overall are equal to last year’s markets, said organizer Frank Schmidt.

“The misdeeds of mother nature,” including rain and hail, prevented some farmers from Florence and Rocky Ford from selling their wares at the markets, Schmidt said. “With as much rain as there has been, they can’t get in to the fields to work their crops.”