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Originally published Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 7:04 AM

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After the deluge: Colorado tourism fighting back

Rocky Mountain National Park, a major destination, hit by the fall floods and federal shutdown.

The New York Times

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Colorado’s tourism industry has suffered a one-two punch this fall. After floods and landslides that began Sept. 11 inundated the area near Rocky Mountain National Park, the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, forced it to close.

In response, the state adopted temporary measures to give tourists access to its forests before the aspen — turning spectacular shades of yellow and gold this month — go bare.

On Oct. 12, Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado and the Interior Department reopened Rocky Mountain National Park. The state agreed to pay $40,300 a day to furloughed National Park Service employees to operate the park.

The reopening brought relief to towns like Estes Park, a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park that had seen fewer visitors since the shutdown began, compounding financial losses it suffered since the flooding.

Most of Rocky Mountain National Park has been reopened, although areas on the east side, including the Twin Sisters Trail, Aspenglen Campground and Longs Peak Campground, remain closed because of flood damage. Trail Ridge Road, a stretch that reaches an elevation of 12,183 feet, will be plowed so it can reopen for what remains of the fall tourist season.

Already Hickenlooper had diverted state funds to keep the National Guard on the job of cleaning up and reconstructing roads, including Routes 36 and 34, the two main arteries to Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park. They have remain closed because of extensive flood damage, although the more circuitous State Highway 7 is open and provides access.

Amy Ford, communications director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, said Routes 36 and 34 were expected to reopen Dec. 1, but she warned that conditions would not be as good as before the flood. “It will be safe, passable, plowable,” said Ford, “but it may be one line in each direction.”

Tourists need not wait until December, though, to see some of the region’s most impressive sights by car. Peak to Peak Highway along State Highways 7 and 72, the best place to view fall foliage, is open, as is Boulder Canyon Drive along Highway 119 from Nederland to Boulder.

Mary Ann Mahoney, director of the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Boulder had quickly recovered from the flash floods that struck it last month. With damage mostly limited to the city’s eastern side, she said, Boulder’s downtown area along the pedestrian Pearl Street Mall remained largely untouched.

While the Royal Arch Trail remains closed because of flood damage, hiking trails of comparable beauty, including Mount Sanitas, Red Rocks Loop at Settlers’ Park and Sunshine Canyon, are open. The Boulder Creek Path, a bike trail through the city, is open with the exception of a few muddy underpasses.

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