Downtown Colorado Springs

The issue: Colorado’s outdoors were exceptionally crowded last year.

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What we think: Businesses should prepare now for what could be a frantically busy summer.

Yikes! January was quite the year, wouldn’t you say? It’s not that it dragged on — it actually went by in a flash, but we’ve certainly gotten a year’s worth of events to sort through heading into February. And, if this is not your first rodeo, you know a short February becomes March, April... summer.

Long days and warm evenings are going to be here quicker than we think, and pent-up people from all over the country can’t wait to get back to Colorado’s outdoors. 

The Denver Post’s The Know Outdoors special section published a story with this headline in December: “The year Colorado’s public lands became more important — and crowded — than ever before,” which, of course, is referring to 2020.

John Mayer reports that Colorado Parks and Wildlife saw a 30 percent increase in visitation over 2019 through November, and in the department’s northeast region — areas east of the Continental Divide and north of Colorado Springs — the increase was more than 40 percent.

Mayer also reports that national forests in Colorado saw a 50 percent increase in usage last year and that Jeffco Open Space saw an estimated 130 percent increase in visitors in 2020 over 2017 based on toilet paper usage (there are no admission fees to track, so...).

Anyone who attempted last year to purchase a new bike or a kayak or some other piece of outdoor equipment knows supplies were short. People couldn’t stand being inside full time so they took to the outdoors.   

Three things to consider:

Colorado Springs needs a piece of that action. The multitudes who discovered outdoor recreation last summer are likely to return to the outdoors this year — even with the return of limited indoor activities. A more robust COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been promised. More and earlier vaccinations coupled with a year and a half of coronavirus fatigue could mean an incredibly busy tourism season. So anyone involved in the business of outdoor recreation should be planning now for an overflow of demand in the months to come.   

Second point: If we’re going to see an active spring and summer, and as our community grows, our resources will be taxed. When people head outdoors to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, the last thing they want is rush hour traffic and long lines. Destinations like Garden of the Gods already struggle with crowds, and once the Summit House is completed on top of Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain could face similar challenges. There may need to be a discussion about limiting traffic through permits, especially since locals want to enjoy those amenities too. 

Finally, businesses need to plan for the unexpected when it comes to public health. Cases of COVID-19 have dropped substantially in the county and along much of the Front Range. But the nation is experiencing more than 10,000 deaths per week and hundreds of thousands of new infections a day. New variants of the virus are spreading and the year to come is filled with unknowns. Safety still needs to be a consideration, even in the outdoors. 

Balancing the marketing of our natural playgrounds, controlling the size of crowds and planning to accommodate everyone safely may mean a red hot summer for businesses in the Rocky Mountains.