Fires and Forest Closure Impact Tourist Towns

Local News

The raging 416 wildfire combined with the complete closure of the San Juan National Forest due to fire conditions is taking its toll on tourist towns that cater to outdoor recreation in southwestern Colorado.

The 416 and other fires burning south of Silverton has cut off access from Highway 550 and the Narrow Gauge Railroad.  Both the railroad and highway provide access for the majority of their tourism industry.

“Silverton and San Juan County is primarily a tourism based economy. With having Highway 550 closed is very concerning and alarming for not only getting in and out of our community but for travel,” said San Juan County spokesperson Deanne Gallegos. 

The Narrow Gauge Railroad has suspended travel until June 30th, and the highway isn’t expected to open until the fire is contained.

Many businesses have felt the impact of the fire, mostly cafes and restaurants.

 “In a typical year we’re starting in May, we didn’t open until Memorial Day Weekend and three times we would be filled up,” said Thee Pitts Again Restaurant owner Roger Wagner. “The train would come in, we’d fill up. Forty-five minutes later, another train would come in and we’d fill up. It was like that every day and we did that up until the fire.”

Thee Pitts Again is a family owned and operated restaurant,  and the family has had to take on more roles from server, to host, to cook, as their business has become much slower due to the fire, and they have had to lay off other employees. 

San Juan County is currently undergoing Stage 2 Fire Restrictions and the San Juan National Forest has been shut down under a Stage 3 Fire Closure until the fire is contained.

 “We just really want to express the importance of understanding what State 2 Fire Restriction means and how to appropriately recreate within our back country,” county spokesperson Gallegos said. 

And while the small mining town is experiencing some financial difficulties due to the fire, they want people to know they’re still open for business and rely on their visits. Town officials say that Silverton is a town that will stare boldly back at any challenges it faces, just like they have as a mining town in the past.

Town officials also want people to know that access south of town is still possible on Highway 145 to reach Durango and the southern states, but it’s likely to add an extra two hours in driving time.

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