Mining Breck’s rich history
BRECKENRIDGE – The competition for the tourist dollar is heating up among ski resorts across the West, and often, a town’s character – real or perceived – is a deciding factor for travelers.Breckenridge is one town that can boast a built-in advantage.”We have differentiation from other communities,” said outgoing town council member Larry Crispell, also a bit of history buff in his own right.”(Our history) is the critical differentiation. We should be out shouting it from the roof tops – we are an historic community. We are a real town,” he said.Turning the town’s history into dollars is a challenge unique in its own right, though. And town officials are anxious to come up with a specific plan that will leverage the town’s rich history into increased tourist dollars.Gaining a fresh perspective about the town’s many historical assets is the first step that the town’s taken. They’ve spent $30,000 to hire two consultants who are charged with analyzing historic sites around town, and then devising a strategy that will lure tourists specifically interested in checking out the history and heritage that makes up the town’s back story.The so-called “heritage master plan,” based on input from the two hired guns, is expected later this year, after they’ve taken a hard look at the many disparate but plentiful historic sites and attractions in the area. The heritage master plan will, in theory, pull many of those pieces together, and make it easier for the town to market packages based on Breck’s history to inquisitive tourists from around the globe.”We’ve been doing (historic preservation and promotion) kind of piecemeal,” said Breckenridge town manager Tim Gagen. “Now we felt it was time to figure out what’s the best model to move forward with in trying to pull all of those pieces together.”As Crispell explains, the town has taken an active role in the last few years “to acquire, partner, protect, preserve and restore” sites in and around Breckenridge that are worth preserving for their historical value. In just the past couple of years, the town has made strides in purchasing a number of historic mining properties, most notably the B&B Mine – at the heart of the Golden Horseshoe area set to welcome hikers and bikers to its wild environs in the near future.Breck has also recently acquired rustic dredge boat properties, and is set to restore and interpret those areas as historic markers as well.Just a few years ago, folks created a society to preserve where the legendary Barney Ford once lived. Ford was an escaped slave, who fled the Confederate South and stuck it rich mining in Breckenridge.
“Nobody else has that kind of story,” Crispell said.The town’s also made a concerted effort to maintain a Main Street that remains true to the town’s historic character. They’ve limited the number of national retailers and encouraged locally owned businesses, to draw visitors searching for a “real town” experience.That foresight is bound to pay off when the town develops a comprehensive marketing push highlighting the town’s complex, precious history.”Right now, we’re working with a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, to figure out what pieces go where,” said Tom Gallaher, of Heritage Directions LLC, one of the consultants hired to contribute to the town’s heritage master plan.The increasingly valued ‘heritage tourist’In the tourism industry of late, “heritage tourism” is quite the catch-phrase. By definition, a heritage tourist “travels to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.” Simply, heritage tourists travel to specific locations to connect with that place’s history and culture.Gallaher says the heritage tourist spends more than the average visitor, stays longer, has a higher median income, higher educational attainment, travels in larger groups, and tends to stay in hotels or motels as opposed to with friends or relatives. They also are willing to visit during slow, shoulder seasons, when many ski towns basically shut down.All that, of course, translates into more tourist dollars for the local economy.Many resort towns fall into the trap of simply being a ski mountain in winter, and a hiking and biking destination the summer, said Elaine Carmichael, with a company called Economic Stewardship. She is the other consultant hired by the town to look at heritage tourism.
“One of Colorado’s strengths as a whole is that it offers different kinds of skiing destinations. But Breckenridge is unique within that set,” she said.”Breck is a real town, with a real history – it’s a real place that also has a ski resort. That’s a pretty rare combination,” she added.Also, families increasingly are traveling together, Carmichael said, and more and more you’re seeing the desire of different members of the family to do activities other than skiing or riding. Mom needs days off from the mountain; spouses might not ski or bike – they want to be with the family but they’re not a part of the main activity.”You have to make sure that you have a destination that’s got something of interest to them,” Carmichael said.What the heritage master plan might includeThough both Gallaher and Carmichael are far from making any concrete recommendations to the town (their report is due later this summer), there are some natural synergies between historic areas that are likely to be part of their suggestions.Connecting town museums like the Barney Ford House, the Edwin Carter Museum, and the new Welcome Center seems natural for walking visitors around town.Breck’s burgeoning Arts District promises to have a historic bent to many of the workshops and galleries.Crispell says that he’s been told the hydraulic mining site at Iowa Hill “is the best one in the world” and could become a new destination.Along French Gulch, the area is littered with mining ruins, dredge properties and former working mines – all could be connected and integrated with the hiking and biking that already goes on up there. Crispell, who’s anxious to see a restored short-line, narrow gauge railway in operation somewhere around town, thinks the area could be a possible location for that.
In all, Gallaher said he came up with more than 55 different assets of historic importance that could be integrated into the town’s heritage master plan.”We have this golden opportunity to leverage what we really are. Breckenridge doesn’t need to worry about what it will be when it grows up. We’ve already got it,” Crispell said.”All we have to do is just preserve, interpret, restore and manage what we have in the right way, and we will bring people here. There’s no doubt about it.”Duffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13611, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.Colorado anxious to cash in on historyThe state of Colorado recently finished their “Strategic Plan for Heritage Tourism.” Among the findings:- Trips including heritage activities accounted for 38 percent of overnight travel in Colorado in 2003. Though just 38 percent of all pleasure trips, they accounted for 45 percent of all visitor spending- Heritage visitors spend 22 percent more money per stay than the average overnight visitor- Nationally, heritage tourism is up 45 percent since 1996
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