Breckenridge historic sites see return to pre-pandemic visitor numbers, welcoming over 100,000 visitors in 2021 |

Breckenridge historic sites see return to pre-pandemic visitor numbers, welcoming over 100,000 visitors in 2021

The Barney Ford House Museum is one of a few museums operated by the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. Barney Ford escaped from slavery at the age of 26 and moved to Colorado where he lived in Breckenridge on and off through the late 1800s.
Breckenridge Heritage Alliance/Courtesy photo

Like other tourism hubs across the county, museums in Breckenridge saw visitor numbers begin to return to pre-pandemic normals this past year.

According to Breckenridge Heritage Alliance’s 2021 report, 114,133 people visited a historical site in Breckenridge, a 49.8% increase over the 76,152 visitors in 2020. The Alliance — which is rebranding to Breckenridge History in 2022 — manages sites that include six museums and exhibits, eight walking tours and six “other” attractions, including archival and special event spaces.

Last year, most of Breckenridge History’s visitors opted for outdoor spaces and exhibits, totalling 45% of trips, which is about 51,458 visitors. The Welcome Center Museum brought in another 40%, and the rest of the museums attracted 11% of visitors. Almost 4,000 visitors opted for tours and hikes, and 845 of them were considered visitors who came for “other” offerings, such as archives, geocaches or administrative office visits.

This chart represents the breakdown of where Breckenridge History's 114,133 visitors went over the course of 2021. Nearly half opted for outdoor exhibits.
Eliza Noe/Summit Daily News

Larissa O’Neil, executive director of Breckenridge History, said the strategy for bringing in visitors in 2021 was to not only prioritize safety for staff and visitors but to make sure that historical sites could run as close to normal as possible.

“We just tried to offer experiences that we felt would be the safest for our visitors, as well. We tried to do more outdoor-led tours. We had enhanced protocols at our sites like a lot of businesses. At the end of the day, we also have really committed staff members that were ready to work, and everyone stayed healthy, thankfully, for the most part. We just tried to offer as many experiences as we could to just keep the lights on as much as possible.”

O’Neil said that one of the goals for this year is to continue making history more accessible and inclusive. According to the report, more than 4,000 people used Breckenridge History’s online archives, which includes over 1,000 digitized photographs, oral histories, manuscripts and brochures as well as hundreds of historic reports and inventories.

“We’re doing that by not only broadening all of the free programming and low-cost programming that we have this year to hopefully be back to pre-pandemic levels, but we are also working on making things accessible via the internet,” O’Neill said. “For someone who can’t physically come to Breckenridge but is still interested in learning about the town, we have ways that he or she can still go and explore parts of our history and feel engaged.”

Going into 2022, part of the initiatives to increase inclusivity will happen through gathering primary sources regarding underrepresented communities. Because minority groups were not often represented or written about in newspapers at the time, primary sourcing on people of diverse backgrounds is limited for that time period.

One project that O’Neil said she hopes could begin this year is the preservation of Alice G. Milne Park. O’Neil said that about 25 years ago, Eleanor Milne gifted the park to the town of Breckenridge under the condition that it remain a community park. The park also features three historic buildings, and the project would include transitioning those buildings to not only serve the historical aspect of Breckenridge, but the community one, as well. In 2020, Breckenridge History completed an analysis of how to complete the preservation.

Currently, there is no set date as to when the project, or a first phase, will occur. O’Neil told the Breckenridge Town Council on Tuesday, March 22, that funding is the priority before moving forward with the preservation, which will cost a total of approximately $2.3 million.

“What we’re trying to do there is sort of activate that area. The three historic buildings are pretty underused, and the project that we’ve received approval for — at least in concept — is to transform two of those buildings into more of community spaces, that are certainly based in history, but also have meeting spaces. That includes a space for some of our historic museum collections, where our staff can be posted right in the heart of the historic district, to direct people to other sites and really just create more activity in that park.”


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