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Glenwood Springs worries what mudslide, I-70 closure will do to economy

The town of Glenwood Springs, which sits within the closure, was witnessing one of its best tourism summers in recent history before the closure.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — Just as businesses begin to recover from a devastating 2020 in Glenwood Springs, they fear the latest closure of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon could hinder the progress.

The highway remained closed Monday, as Gov. Jared Polis issued a state disaster declaration and called on the White House to declare a federal disaster in the area. New photos released by the state during a news conference Monday showed extensive damage to the highway caused by the slide last week and Polis said the full extent of damage won’t be known until all debris has been removed from the area.

The town of Glenwood Springs, which sits within the closure, was witnessing one of its best tourism summers in recent history before the closure.

“Across the board in Glenwood Springs we were 30-40 percent up in most of our tourism businesses,” said Lisa Langer, director of tourism promotion for Visit Glenwood Springs, the area’s tourism bureau. “We were having sellouts on weekdays and things were looking really, really great for this summer season.”

Langer said businesses were doing this well, even despite other closures of I-70 this summer for smaller mudslides and flash flood risks. But this closure concerns her.

“The governor says disaster, I understand it’s for funding reasons and it is a disaster…I’ve seen those photos it’s pretty bad… so I hope that won’t deter people from visiting because we’re open for business,” Langer said.

Her current focus is reminding people of the multiple detours they can take to get to the city. Travelers coming from the east could exit I-70 south and drive over Independence Pass and through Aspen to get to town or they could exit I-70 to the north and drive through Kremmling, Steamboat Springs and Craig.

“We can actually ask people to take these beautiful detours through parts of Colorado that they may not ever see unless they do the detour,” Langer said.

Down the street from the tourism bureau, Hotel Colorado had been enjoying one of the best years in its history even with sporadic closures on I-70, according to Christian Henny, the hotel’s general manager. This latest closure caused a few cancellations though.

“It’s been a sucker punch after last year’s ‘one-two’ of COVID and the Grizzly Creek fire,” Henny said. “So we’re a little apprehensive … is this gonna cause us to go the wrong direction. When we had to shut down for COVID laying off employees was horrible. Don’t want to have to go through that again.”

He said his guests aren’t the only ones impacted by the closures. Some of the hotel’s employees haven’t been able to make it to work because of long detours.

“I’ve got some employees that it’s just not practical for them to make a 3-4 hour drive to work,” Henny said. “We have people who live at the other side of the canyon that I mean we could throw a rock and almost hit them but they can’t get here.”

Henny is holding out hope that all of this will only be temporary.

“I’m going to stay positive and hope this was just a little blip and we’ll get back to business,” he said.

Contact 9News reporter Steve Staeger with tips about this or any other story by e-mailing steve@9news.com.

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