Tourism promotion in Delta County treads a narrow path that winds between the goals of bringing tourism dollars to the local economy while striving to preserve the very things visitors find desirable — open space and agriculture, natural history and heritage, individual lifestyle choices, and outdoor recreation.
The goal of local tourism promotion is finding and connecting with the right market niche that will attract that specific tourist segment to come here, experience and respect what Delta County has to offer.
An example of the tourist promotion work that takes place was a half-day float trip on the Gunnison River last October, provided by the Delta County Tourism Cabinet, for two freelance writers — Andrea Granaham of Sonoma County, Calif, and Christie Aschwanden who lives near Cedaredge. The goal is that the writers will be successful in placing articles about their experience in regional or national publications.
The trip was a uniquely relaxing and fun adventure on eight miles of the Gunnison from Pleasure Park to Gunnison River Farms.
The river guide was Al DeGrange of Gunnison River Expeditions who manned the oars of the sturdy river craft and entertained his guests with lots of information on local history, culture, recreation, and more.
The river float concluded with a light meal hosted by DeGrange and his associate Mary Shea, and which included a wine pairing featuring Delta County’s own vintages provided by Bill Musgnung of Bethlehem Wine Cellars of Paonia.
The day couldn’t have been better for a river float. The October sky was clear, the sun was warm, and water was the right temperature for river outing togs of shorts and sandals.
A brief side trip at Lawhead Gulch Overlook gave the writers a chance to visit a BLM archaeological “dig in progress.” There, tucked neatly in under a sandstone overhang, Native Americans centuries ago had made a south-facing shelter and scribed some of the sandstone walls with petroglyphs, which are open for visitors to view from a safe distance behind a split rail fence.
The trip ended with a meal and fine wines served in the gracious and relaxing setting of an open-air pavilion at Gunnison River Farms. The event was hosted by Rick Dudginski of Black Canyon Anglers.
Now a recreation/resort facility located on the river at the end of Shea Road, Gunnison River Farms was long a working agriculture and orcharding enterprise begun by local pioneers. Orchards and vineyards are still producing fruit there, and the guests were invited to enjoy a fresh, tree-picked ripe peach before heading back to their laptops for some expert wordsmithing about the delights of Delta County.
The ultimate goal of tourism promotion is, of course, to bring tourism business to the area. The dollars spent by visitors are important to this economy. The ideal scenario for tourism-based industry is for visitors to spend the maximum amount of money in the community on their visits while creating the minimum amount of demand on expensive public services.
Kelli Hepler, who organized the freelance writers’ float trip for the tourism cabinet, explained, “We are really interested in attracting the traveler who likes heritage, culture, soft outdoor recreation, and also those who will protect these resources while they enjoy them. In other words, we’re looking for folks who want to use the river and will pick up after themselves; people who want to have a cup of coffee with the local ranchers and enjoy the conversation; people who want to see rock art and respect it; and people who enjoy our locals and the lifestyle we have here.”
And, Hepler added, “Certainly we want to have the welcome mat out and be welcoming and friendly. But putting graciousness aside for just a moment, tourism promotions are really intended to sell visitors a little more than just a cup of coffee.”
There are plenty of opportunities for visitors to come visit Delta County, enjoy themselves while boosting the local economy by spending some money, staying a couple of nights in local lodging, and then going back home. But getting them to come here is the goal of tourism promotion.
The various street festivals and community celebrations generate mainly local economic activity. They can generate some out-of-area tourism business too, but to be really successful they must compete with similar fairs and festivals that take place in virtually every other community in the state on every weekend from May through October.
The Delta Trap Club brings in competitive trap shooters by the dozens and hundreds for two big shooting sports events it hosts – the annual State Shoot and the club’s Labor Day Shoot.
Hunting season, motorcycle rallies, classic car events, Ride the Rockies and other bicycle tours contribute.
Outdoor recreation is definitely a draw, and enthusiasts coming to Delta County spend money. But people who camp and cook out in the wilds aren’t always doing a lot for the businesses on Main Street.
Attracting money-spending, short-stay visitors here to help boost the local economy is the goal of tourism promotion efforts like the Gunnison River float trip last October. These efforts resulted in dozens of articles about Delta County tourism opportunities appearing in state, regional and national publications during 2009 alone.
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