Pushing the past
BRECKENRIDGE Ski towns across the West are looking to leverage every built-in advantage they have to draw the elusive “destination visitor” to their towns. More and more, that means marketing an area’s history and heritage to lure travelers keen to make a connection to the past.In Breckenridge an historic town flush with museums, mining relics and a host of preserved historical connections town officials and staff want to maximize that built-in back story, and lure “heritage tourists” to town. Step one in that effort was creating the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, a group of civic-minded folks charged with the task of developing a consolidated and focused vision for marketing the town’s rich history.That group now has an executive director leading the way, as Minnesota transplant Patrick Christopherson was named to the crucial post earlier in February.”Heritage tourism combines so many different assets. When people say ‘heritage’ most people automatically think history. But, culture, the arts, music, recreation – all that fun stuff we’re lucky enough to have here. It’s an overall concept of what Breckenridge’s heritage really is,” Christopherson said.”It’s what makes the town special. Sure, mining is a big part of that, but things like skiing and the associated culture and history, and the arts – it all kind of comes together to make for unique heritage appeal.”Since taking on the job last month, Christopherson has been busy putting plans into action – making strides in creating an inventory of the dozens of historical “assets” around town, tracking the activity at all of the sites, and figuring what it takes to keep the town’s historical attractions operational. Next, he’ll be plotting ways to increase visitorship at the sites, and how to get additional exposure for all of the assets and the Alliance in general.
Finding a way to integrate all the town’s history into an already well-established marketing machine is just one challenge Christopherson faces.”We’re trying to find our place in the community. There’s so much equity built in in terms of exposure of Breckenridge that just to see where we fit right now is a challenge,” he said. “When you think of Breckenridge, we want to find out how we’ll fit in to that overall image.”The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, funded by the Town to the tune of $360,000, is governed by a volunteer board of directors that includes Neide Cooley, Larry Crispell, Rick Hague, Bonnie Kirschenbaum, John Warner and Wendy Wolfe. Christopherson reports directly to that board, and they’ve set some pretty specific goals for him, as laid out by the Breckenridge Town Council.”The one thing that the town council has been very clear on, is that they put their trust and their investment into the Alliance to get some kind of immediate impact with these sites, which have been operating for years, but without any real consistent tracking,” Christopherson said.So what changes are we likely to see?”We’ll be trying to see how we can form some kind of seamless integration between eight to 10 key sites in Breckenridge,” Christopherson said. At first blush, he recognizes the value of museums like The Barney Ford House and the Edwin Carter Museum.”Barney Ford is absolutely, positively the cornerstone to whatever program we come up with. The walking tours have always been a great success, and very, very popular. I think, in a perfect world, if we can establish some kind of theme through the walking tours to get folks out to all of these sites – sort of in one big package deal – I think that’s ideal,” he said.
Looking ahead, Christopherson said he’s anxious to create compelling walking tours which in the past have been big tourist draws as well as look at the possibility of bike-based tours around town. He also said that a package that incorporates the Summit Stage transit system could be a big draw as well.The town has also embarked on an ambitious program to expand the downtown Arts District, and Christopherson sees a natural connection between the arts and the town’s history.”If you look back on the history of Breckenridge, the arts play a big part in that. It’s just a matter of presenting that as part of your past, while still being progressive,” he said.In the immediate future, however, Christopherson is charged with directing and organizing the efforts of the new Alliance. The group’s office is up and running in the old OK Gaymon cabin along Main Street on the north end of town, and they’re busy setting up the launch of the group’s new website http://www.breckheritage.com. Christopherson said the site should be up and running in about a month and a half.Bob Berwyn contributed to this story.
Duffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-4621 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.Cashing in on Colorado history a statewide effortThe 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 spendingHeritage visitors spend 22 percent more money per stay than the average overnight visitorNationally, heritage tourism is up 45 percent since 1996
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