Every spring, male sage grouse strut their stuff in an entertaining mating ritual.
The spectacle, which takes place in inconspicuous meadows, or leks, near Hayden and other parts of Northwest Colorado, attracts between 200 and 300 bird enthusiasts each year to the region, said Jim Haskins, district manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The grouse is among the many stories that make up the history and identity of West Routt County and Northwest Colorado.
Residents hoping to tie together those stories for visitors embarked on a daylong tour of Routt County on Friday.
A lek in California Park was the first stop in the tour, which highlighted historical and scenic sites in Hayden, South Routt and Steamboat Springs.
The tour, which involved representatives from communities in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, is part of a regional effort exploring cultural heritage tourism and the growing number of visitors who connect with places through history and culture.
"Everyone was impressed," said Donna Hellyer, who is a co-chairwoman of the Hayden cultural heritage tourism committee with Pat Holderness. "It was just a very special tour."
Bird watching is an ideal opportunity for cultural heritage tourism in Hayden because so many people already visit West Routt to view birds at the Carpenter Ranch and other areas, she said.
The challenge is keeping them near Hayden long enough so that businesses may benefit from birdwatchers' dollars.
"People are already doing this, but Hayden is not capturing the economic benefit," said Winnie DelliQuadri, who is coordinating tourism effort.
Cultural heritage travelers -- who tend to be older, wealthier and more educated than other tourists -- want guided tours, nice accommodations, restaurants and shops to buy memorabilia of their experience.
"We're not talking about mass tourism," DelliQuadri said. "We're talking about making things more accessible to folks and capturing the benefit of people already coming to the community for a particular thing."
Encouraging tourists to stay in Hayden will require partnerships among community leaders, businesses and organizations, Hellyer said.
"We will be able to get a lot done, if everybody works together as a unit," she said.
Private landowners, for example, if interested, could benefit financially from cultural heritage tourism by allowing tourists to view birds, elk and other animals on their land.
Another stop on the tour was Walnut Street, which was the historical focal point in Hayden. Hellyer and others are getting historical designation for the street.
The exterior of many of the buildings would need to be restored, and historical information would be posted outside.
All business owners on the street must be willing to go forward with the process. Most are interested, but more education will be needed to address their questions and misconceptions about the requirements and benefits of historical designation, Hellyer said.
In addition to receiving history lessons from Holderness, the tour group also visited the historic Hayden Inn on Poplar Street and the twin cement houses on Washington Avenue.
On the way to Oak Creek and Yampa, the group learned about old homesteads and mining towns such as White City and Pinnacle.
The tour shed light on tidbits of Routt County history new to even seasoned residents such as Hellyer, who enjoyed learning the streets in Yampa were made wide for horse racing, which still takes place, she said.
In Steamboat Springs, the group visited the Tread of Pioneers Museum and historic buildings built by Carl Howelsen.
Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties have applied for an Energy and Mineral Impact grant to help formalize a regional cultural heritage tourism program with staff and marketing tools, such as maps, brochures and a Web site that will help tie together the stories and themes of the region, DelliQuadri said.
The counties also plan to apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office and the Colorado Tourism Office, which is working to develop a CHT program for the state.
In the meantime, the CHT process will continue with a two-day bus tour of Craig, Rangely, Meeker, Dinosaur and Maybell on May 20 and 21. Some seats may be available. The cost is $10.
For more information, call DelliQuadri at 871-8257 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Christina M. Currie of the Craig Daily Press contributed to this story.