McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Look to the past for a future |

McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Look to the past for a future

Mike McKibbin
McKibbin’s Scribblin’s
Mike McKibbin
Staff Photo |

Back in the day, I seem to recall one high school class I paid more attention to than some others was history. And I still find history compelling.

I like reading about the struggles and lifestyles of our forbearers, what it was like living in a time when even running water and electricity were rare luxuries. I guess there’s always a certain romantic tint, if you will, to the good ol’ days.

I’ve been reminded of this once again over the last several weeks, as I started to read “Rifle Shots,” the story of our fair city from its founding through some of its growth. Since I wasn’t born and raised here, but do consider Rifle my home, it’s fun to read about how our community came to be and recognize a few names of founding families who’s future generations are still around today.

And, after talking to the new owners of The Gateway Lodge, formerly the Winchester Hotel, and the Budget Star Motel, formerly the Buckskin Inn, I wonder if our local history might help us in our current troubled economy. Both of them said they’ve been struggling to fill rooms, since the natural gas industry is in a shrinking instead of expanding mode.

What else could we turn to to get more people to visit and stay in Rifle?

Maybe the answer is our past.

How about heritage and agritourism? Sound like fancy marketing buzzwords, don’t they? But, as I started to research this, it made some sense, and I wouldn’t doubt others have had this same idea and probably know more about it than yours truly. But here’s what I found in my brief online research.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines heritage tourism as “traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past. Heritage tourism helps make historic preservation economically viable by using historic structures and landscapes to attract and serve travelers. Heritage tourism can be an attractive economic revitalization strategy, especially as studies have consistently shown that heritage travelers stay longer and spend more money than other kinds of travelers. As an added bonus, a good heritage tourism program improves the quality of life for residents as well as serving visitors.”

Sounds like this might just be up Rifle’s alley, right?

In a 2006 Colorado Heritage Tourism Enhancement executive summary, the study noted that “museums, cultural institutions, scenic byways, uninterrupted vistas, physical remnants of past communities—historic towns, ranches and farms, worksites where miners, railroaders and others toiled, and the silent remains of ancient societies—all offer ways for visitors to steep themselves in Colorado’s rich heritage. Tending these heritage resources reinforces Colorado’s distinctive character. Sharing them with visitors offers Centennial state residents and their communities real economic benefits.”

The summary also noted heritage travelers “make up a healthy share of Colorado’s visitors and represent some of the most desirable tourists available; by spending money in localities off the beaten track, heritage travelers help spread economic benefits to rural areas.”

The Colorado Tourism Office reported that in 2012, total visitor spending – not just heritage visitors, total visitors – in Colorado reached $16.7 billion, generating $918 million in state and local taxes and more than 141,000 jobs.

The office’s heritage and agritourism program, with more than $1.8 million in funds, works to promote Colorado’s heritage tourism assets. And, with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the office began an agritourism program to showcase Colorado’s agriculture roots and current opportunities for visitors to experience agriculture in the state.

“Rifle Shots” talks a lot about the farmers and ranchers who helped settle the area and how they made a living growing crops and raising livestock. Wouldn’t it make sense to let visitors get a sense of what that was like? Places like the Silt Historical Park, the Rifle Creek Museum, along with groups like the Rifle Historical Society, could help make this happen with their expertise and familiarity with local history.

I know this all comes down to money, of course. And in this down economy, there is no pile of coins at the rainbow, waiting to be used. But the heritage tourism program offers grants to help make regional projects a reality, although applicants have to come up with at least a quarter of the total project budget themselves. The Colorado Historical Fund, which distributes grants to historic preservation projects statewide, receives 22.4 percent of total statewide gaming tax revenues each year.

This would be a gradual thing, naturally. There are no overnight fixes to situations or problems like an economic slump. But don’t you think it would be a nice feather in Rifle’s cap if we could offer visitors a slice of old-time life in Colorado?

We just need to move forward, into our past.

Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.

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