TELLURIDE – How do you explain to a child that Popcorn Alley got its name from the sound of doors slamming shut at all hours of the day and night behind male visitors as they left the “female boarding houses” on Pacific Street?
Which is why there’s no trace of it in the new Southwest Colorado Heritage Activity Book for kids available at the Visitor’s Information Center and the Telluride Historical Museum.
Despite the buildings’ colorful exteriors and even more colorful history, the true nature of Popcorn Alley is assuredly not appropriate material for the Crayola crowd, according to Nina Kothe, an administrator for San Miguel County, and the driver behind the coloring and puzzle book featuring the people, places and things most representative of the history of southwest Colorado. But there is plenty more to make up for it.
“Our recreational opportunities, scenic beauty and heritage are our greatest assets. Our region is amazing,” said Kothe.
The activity book and its adult companion, the Southwest Colorado Journeys Passport, are the result of a regional effort to entice tourists of a different ilk to this red rock and peak-laden part of the state. Unlike their sports enthusiast counterparts, rather than seeking ski slopes or river rides, these visitors travel “to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the people of the past and present,” as the National Trust for Historic Preservation defines so-called heritage tourism.
They are on the lookout for the historic, cultural and natural resources that make a place unique and, containing five designated National Historic Landmarks, southwest Colorado is full of them.
The Southwest Colorado Journeys Passport features seven itineraries built around destinations along the San Juan Skyway. The five- to nine-day trips are themed, focusing on archaeology, transportation and even the “shady” side of the Southwest.
“We have one of the richest areas in the state,” said Kothe, who has always been interested in the local history that forms the basis for this increasingly popular travel genre.
Both booklets come to Telluride as the result of a grant awarded in 2006 by the Colorado Tourism Office and the State Historical Fund. The grant went to fund four regional pilot entities charged with developing new tourism programs that would make better use of the state’s cultural heritage.
Although Telluride originally intended to try to tap into that grant on its own, after learning that the Southwest Travel Region also planned to apply, it rethought the idea and decided to join forces with it instead, Kothe explained.
As a result, the Southwest Travel Region funded the activity book from a $150,000 grant is received from the state.
“I’m thrilled that the state of Colorado is recognizing the need to spend more on heritage tourism,” said Lauren Bloemsma of the Telluride Historical Museum, which is featured in both the activity book and passport.
Rather than flying in to ski, summertime visitors to Telluride are more likely to drive here in search of cultural and historical visits, she said.
Yet despite the escalating cost of gasoline, the museum, which is featured in both the activity book and the passport, does not appear to have been adversely affected – leading Bloemsma to believe that heritage tourism is going strong.
“It doesn’t seem like [fuel cost] has affected museum visitation in a negative way,” said Bloermsma. “In fact visitation might be up, if anything.”
The idea for the activity book came to Kothe as she considered the family nature of heritage tourism. Although it seemed an easy enough undertaking, in the end it took
Kothe two-and-a-half years to complete – a much longer timeframe and considerably more work than she had anticipated, she said.
“Oh a coloring book, how fun,” she said, describing her initial thoughts. “Who would have thought?”
Research took up a large portion of that time as the various historic and cultural assets throughout the region were considered. One requirement for inclusion was whether the image could successfully be translated into the line drawings with which Ridgway-based artist Meredith Nemirov would later illustrate the book.
“Who would have thought you could do a line drawing of [Chimney Rock] and have it be so beautiful?” Kothe said.