Western Colorado tourism dodges hit to tourism income as Congress averts a federal shutdown

Picture is courtesy of Rimrock Adventures

When Congress approved a measure to keep the federal government operating beyond Friday, the owner of a Grand Valley river rafting company probably breathed a sigh of relief.

As of midday Friday, April 8, the feds had informed companies that they would be barred from rafting public rivers if a federal closure happened Saturday morning.

“It’s scary how things can happen, but it’s here,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, owner of Adventure Bound River Expeditions, during an interview with The Business Times.

On the verge of the important tourist season in Mesa County, Kleinschnitz joined others Friday in wondering whether he would be able to collect checks from tourists eager to run the Colorado and Green Rivers during what’s expected to be a blockbuster water year in the river basins. He feared the uncertainty over whether they could complete their reserved trips would cause people to cancel their rafting expeditions. Adventure Bound, like many tourism-related companies, counts on business from May through September to compensate for the slow winter period. And without such business in the warm months, the companies would be unable to buy the huge rafts needed to navigate Class 5 rapids in Cataract Canyon in Utah. They also wouldn’t be able to buy the million of dollars worth of insurance coverage needed to operate a commercial enterprise.

Kleinschnitz’s fate under a federal closure would likely be the tip of the iceberg in western Colorado. Colorado National Monument and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park would close, turning away tourists and laying off park employees. And if tourists don’t come to western Colorado to tour parks or raft rivers, they might not be here to pay camping fees, book hotel rooms, eat in restaurants or shop at local stores.

In Mesa County, tourism was identified as the local economy’s number one industry in the late 1990s. Tourism officials believe it’s still one of the major economic drivers. Predictions that the annual number of tourists will increase in the coming years led to the construction of two more hotels in Grand Junction this year. One is the Springhill Suites by Marriott, set to open on Main Street by the summer. The other is the Candlewood Suites on 24 Road, north of the new City Market at 24 and Patterson Roads.

Nearby Moab, Utah was also sweating out the proceedings occurring in Congress on Friday. The closure of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks would be devastating to the small town that runs primary on tourism.

The agreement reached by Congress keeps the government operating through the end of September. And tourism-related companies in western Colorado hope there won’t be another threat of a shutdown as they make plans for the spring season of 2012.