Thursday, June 2, at the Koshare Kiva, the Colorado Tourism Office made La Junta its second stop on a statewide tour.

Thursday at the Koshare Kiva, the Colorado Tourism Office made La Junta its second stop on a statewide tour. The presenters included Kathy Ritter, new director of Colorado Tourism, Mitch Nichols, president of Nichols Tourism Group and David S. Radcliffe of Radcliffe Company, Destination Solutions. An eager group of local officials, tourism and economic development workers from La Junta, Ordway and Las Animas, plus representatives of Canyons and Plains - the six-county heritage, economic development and tourism organization covering Baca, Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero and Prowers - took part in the discussion of promoting our six-county region of the state.

The idea behind the tour is to put together ideas from each of the regions with data collected by the state and make some coordinated and perhaps innovative moves to promote the economy of each of the regions of the state through tourism. After an introduction by Kathy Ritter, Nichols outlined the plan: 1. establish statewide tourism strategy and three-year action plan; 2. identify critical market opportunities; 3. identify critical product development issues; 4. identify critical tourism infrastructure requirements; 5. unify Colorado's state tourism industry.

To accomplish these tasks, the first issue presented to the audience, divided into three groups, was to identify the target group of visitors. The answers varied from table to table, with Boggsville seeing mainly young adults and the Comanche National Grassland (dinosaur tracks, hiking and camping) and Bent's Old Fort (national parks live re-enactment) seeing more youngsters and elderly. Bicyclists and bike events bring a large number of tourists to the area, as do sports playoffs.

What brings tourists to our area? Authenticity of experience is a top attraction. We offer wide open spaces, dark skies where you can actually see the Milky Way, water sports (especially this year), birding, a true view of what pioneer life was like, friendly people and attractive cost. Where else could you witness a tarantula march? Many in the groups felt we could expand services for hunting and fishing.

Colleen Oquist of Comanche National Grasslands said we have a pressing need for car rental services, especially four wheel drive vehicles capable of doing the road to the dinosaur tracks. La Junta Economic Director Ryan Stevens said we are expecting the opening of local car rental service in about a month. The Southwest Chief brings tourists through our area, but we need the means to get them off the train.

Gillian Hoggard of Ordway, speaking up for tourism entrepreneurs, said we need to coordinate our efforts and support each other. Oquist has developed a list of restaurants and motels to aid visitors and is willing to supply it to anyone who needs it. Canyons and Plains is the regional organization for promoting tourism, and can act as a coordinating agency. The economic development services of La Junta and Otero County (Stevens and Otero County Economic Development Coordinator Danelle Berg), acting with the Southeast Business Retention, Expansion and Attraction, have developed a brochure on recurring events such as Early Settlers Day and seasonal happenings such as farmers' markets occurring along highways 50, 196 and 71. It is displayed in regional visitor centers throughout the state and is also available to anyone by calling Stevens or Berg (719-671-9499 or 384-6977).

The consensus was that better cooperation and communication need to be established. Educational programs for those coming in contact with the traveling public is a key piece to improving our tourism dollars. State help is under way and may be helpful in supplying some matching grant money to supply critical infrastructure needs.