Restart Destinations Success Story: Custer County Tourism Board

The Custer County Tourism Board (CCTB) was approved to participate in the Restart Destinations Program by the Colorado Tourism Office in July 2021. Program objectives included: 

  • foster collaboration between Custer County tourism stakeholders
  • identify solutions to protect natural resources
  • Identify opportunities to develop and promote cultural heritage experiences

Located in the Pikes Peak Wonders, and nestled between the Sangre de Cristo and Wet Mountains, Custer County is becoming increasingly renowned as an International Dark-Sky Association destination. Also referred to as the Wet Mountain Valley, the county is home to the communities of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, and offers more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails and 50 alpine lakes. 

CCTB is a volunteer board that is responsible for developing, managing, and promoting tourism for the Wet Mountain Valley. The primary objective of the CCTB is to advance economic development by stimulating the growth of tourism throughout the county. Its secondary objectives are to assist local organizations by developing tourism-related activities and managing the Custer County Visitor Center.

CCTB was paired with Sarah-Jane Johnson and Beth Wright of RoadMap Consulting, a sustainable tourism consultancy with experience in rural tourism development, stakeholder engagement, destination stewardship and management, destination marketing, public relations, and communications, to develop a recovery assessment and facilitate a full-day community visioning and action planning workshop.
CCTB convened a core team of local tourism stakeholders to provide input throughout the design and delivery of the program. CCTB hosted three core team meetings to identify priority barriers and opportunities for advancing tourism, discuss the findings from the recovery assessment, and guide workshop design.

Recovery Assessment and Workshop Results 

CCTB supported the development of a recovery assessment consisting of background research, a visitor profile survey, insights from residents and tourism stakeholders, and input from the core team.

CCTB convened 18 tourism stakeholders on October, 18 2021 for a community visioning and action planning workshop to review the recovery assessment and align on priority actions for driving near-term recovery and long-term resilience. Workshop participants represented a wide range of tourism stakeholders, including public officials and representatives from trail organizations, accommodations, attractions, promotions, communications, creative arts, and events. 

Workshop participants engaged in a small group activity to align on the future changes they would like to see implemented that benefit the tourism industry in Custer County. Overlapping themes from these discussions included increasing tourism in the winter season, attracting more outdoor outfitters, accommodations and restaurants, coordinating nature and wildlife conservation efforts, actively promoting responsible visitation, increasing affordable housing for local workforce, and hosting more events for the arts and Dark Skies activities, while also maintaining the area’s mountain-town slow-pace feel.

As a result of the workshop discussions, participants aligned on key priorities and action items to inform the development of a recovery action plan. Key priorities include:

  • enhance visitor management through increased visitor education
  • champion the value of tourism within the local community
  • advance tourism workforce
  • diversify tourism experiences

CRAFT Mentor Project Results

Following the workshop, Custer County was paired with Beth Wright, a CRAFT Mentor from the Tourism Consulting Collaborative, with experience in rural destination planning and development, tourism industry research, project management, and stakeholder engagement, to deliver 75 hours of free consulting to conduct the activities listed below.

The purpose of this Restart Destinations Mentor project was to advance cultural heritage experiences and resources in Custer County, encourage visitors to explore cultural heritage sites, and re-energize community stakeholders around the county’s history and culture.

Project objectives included: 

  • update the “Custer County Then and Now Historic Walking Tour” booklet
  • provide updated content related to cultural heritage sites and experiences in Custer County for 

CCTB achieved the following results through the Restart Destinations Mentor project:

  • project work plan to guide the CCTB in completion of the booklet update that includes project timeline, intended outcomes, and a call to action for community member participation 
  • updated content for the booklet that includes a recommended content outline, updated points of interest abstracts, and a directory page 
  • booklet reference resources that include recommended cultural heritage abstract examples and inspirational content 
  • updated cultural heritage content for that includes a website audit, and draft cultural heritage website content for centennial ranches, Jones Theater, and movies filmed locally

"The Restart Destinations Team helped hone our commitment to our community." - Deb Adams, Custer County

CRAFT Recovery assistance for Tourism

About Restart Destinations Program

The Restart Destinations Program supports Colorado tourism destinations to drive faster recovery as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Awarded destinations receive a recovery assessment, a full-day recovery workshop, 75 hours of customized technical assistance, and $10,000 in direct marketing support from the Colorado Tourism Office. This program was made possible by a CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.