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Tourists flock to Durango ahead of Fourth of July holiday

City’s pandemic recovery on target
Local businesses are reporting strong tourism activity heading into the Fourth of July holiday, and a tourism official says Durango and La Plata County have almost made a full recovery from the pandemic. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Fourth of July is here, Durango is packed and the tourist season is right on target in its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Local businesses, hoteliers and tourism groups in Durango are all reporting the same thing: a busy tourism season and an even busier week leading up to the Fourth of July holiday. While Durango is on pace with its recovery, that’s not the forecast everywhere.

Destinations, globally and in the United States, are not anticipated to recover from the pandemic until late 2022, said Rachel Brown, executive director of Visit Durango.

“I would say that Durango and La Plata County are about at our recovery tipping point right now,” Brown said. “We’re way ahead of the game which is great.”

Hotels and motels in La Plata County were 92% occupied during the week of June 20. In 2020, the occupancy rate during the same week was 67.3%; in 2019, it was 84.9%, Brown said.

Durango’s lodgers tax collections rebounded to 2019 levels around March, she said.

“Conservatively, we can say we will at least match 2019 numbers,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we passed them.”

Downtown Durango was buzzing Friday. People crowded onto sidewalks and into businesses. Visitor traffic at Durango’s welcome center was high.

“The store has been very busy. We’ve had full days,” said Johnna Bronson, owner of Lively, a boutique on Main Avenue. “We’re getting a lot of visitors and a lot of locals shopping. It seems like there are new residents visiting here.”

It was the same for Durango Coffee Co., a cafe on Main Avenue, and Fur Trappers, a restaurant on East Second Avenue that opened in March.

“I think we’ve done some record days,” said McGill Prouty, a barista at the cafe. “I don’t know if it’s post-pandemic travel or if Durango just gets busier every year, but it’s definitely getting busier.”

A steady stream of vehicles passed through the city on Camino del Rio and Main Avenue – occasionally even getting backed up and blocking intersections. By one count, of 50 cars on Main Avenue, 21 had out-of-state license plates.

Traffic returned to 2019 levels in February, and as of Friday, volumes of traffic seem to have increased around the Durango area and along high-mountain corridors, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“Folks need to be aware of the weather. Significant afternoon rain showers can trigger mudslides and rock slides,” said Lisa Schwantes, CDOT spokeswoman. “It’s all about awareness. Know before you go.”

Typically, visitors tend to book hotel rooms two or three days before their arrival, said Chris Vivolo, owner of the Durango Hampton Inn and representative for the Durango Area Hospitality and Lodging Association.

Right now, they’re booking two to three weeks in advance, he said.

“It’s just really busy,” Vivolo said. “We’re pretty much sold out through the Fourth (of July). It slows down for one night, then it picks up again next week.”

Businesses were seeing the same thing, said Tim Walsworth with the Durango Business Improvement District and Jack Llewellyn with the Durango Chamber of Commerce.

“The tourists want to come,” Walsworth said. “They came during COVID, they want to come this year. It’s just nice we don’t have all the (public health) restrictions in place we needed to have in place before.”

Restaurants are not seeing the typical waves of customers around traditional eating times. Instead, it was a steady, constant flow, said Dave Woodruff, general manager at El Moro Spirits and Tavern and president of the Durango chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association.

“What we’re finding is there’s a lot of restaurants that can’t be open all day because they don’t have the workforce,” Woodruff said. “We’re just asking everyone to be patient. Some places are working with less staff and higher volume.”

Visitors and locals in La Plata County might not see fireworks this year because of severe drought conditions, but there is still plenty to do.

What to do
  • Durango is holding an annual picnic from noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Buckley Park and a Fourth of July Street Dance from 5 to 9:30 p.m. in the Transit Center parking lot.
  • Want a cooler option? Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours is holding a river parade on the Animas River from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sign-ups are divided into five time slots. For more information, call 247-4789.
  • Looking to get away from the crowds? “Downtown is awesome, it has tons of shops and restaurants,” Walsworth said. “But there are some great restaurants on north Main. They’ll be less crowded with more parking spots.”
  • Want to explore the area? The town of Silverton in San Juan County starts its Fourth of July parade at 10:30 a.m. on Greene Street followed by the fire department’s water fight.
  • Bayfield, east of Durango, starts its parade at noon on Mill Street and Bayfield Rotary Club will host a beer garden in Joe Stephenson Park from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Looking for fireworks? The city of Cortez is holding a Fourth of July fireworks show at 9:15 p.m. Sunday along with live music and a beer garden.
  • Tico Time River Resort will have a fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. after a series of live music performances from 1 to 10 p.m. Sunday.

What about after the holiday?

The Durango Hot Springs Resort and Spa hosts live music from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That’s in addition to live music around Durango, Vallecito Lake, Lake Nighthorse, camping, cookouts and outdoor recreation, Brown said.

“Listening to live music from the hot springs is a very Durango-esque experience that is kind of unique and fun,” she said.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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