Steamboat Springs Steamboat Lake State Park manager Ken Brink stared despondently across the lake on the eve of one of the park's busiest weekends. There were no vehicles Friday afternoon on the Placer Cove boat ramp, where he is used to seeing 12 to 15 vehicles backing in boat trailers.
Although Brink said all the park's campsites, including those at Pearl Lake, are sold out for the weekend, he thought the lack of crowds was due to a sharp decrease in day visitors.
"My impression is that the Routt County crowd is going someplace else," Brink said.
The Rainbow Gathering, taking place farther north and east in the Routt National Forest near Big Red Park, has influenced park visitation from locals. The gathering is expected to attract up to 20,000 visitors next week.
Brink said that he has hired extra staffing to patrol the park and enforce park regulations. He has had no problems from Rainbow Gathering participants.
"I've received many calls from reserved campers concerned from what they've heard on the news, and I've had a few cancellations, but I've been telling them all the same thing -- the park's open, their camping is not going to be impacted and (Steamboat Lake State Park) is one of the safest places to visit and recreate in the state," Brink said.
Steamboat Lake Marina owner Karl Bunker said that during the past seven days, his marina is down 50 percent in gross revenue and 75 percent in boat rental bookings compared to the same week last year when his boats are normally completed booked.
"I've had people that have been coming up for family reunions for the past five or six years that are saying they've never seen it this slow at the lake," Bunker said. "I can only see one boat looking across the lake toward the Zirkels.
"(The Rainbow Gathering) is the only solution that makes any sense. I think locals want to avoid being around the group, but they don't realize it's 15 miles from here."
Although lessened day visitation has affected business at the state park, Steamboat Lake Outfitters manager Sue Applegate said that the Hahn's Peak restaurant, store and lodge has solid bookings for the next two weeks and has not experienced any negative effects from the gathering.
Jan Dierks, owner of the Columbine Cabins and General Store, also said it has been "business as usual." Dierks has marked off the driveway to the store, saying she can't meet increased crowd demand due to a lack of extra staff and supplies. Dierks said she called reserved guests to inform them of the gathering and dealt with a few cancellations, but has not dealt with decreased revenue.
"Maybe we overreacted," Dierks said. "So far, (the gathering) has not been a big deal. The occasional people that stop by have all been nice and very interesting."
Routt National Forest spokesperson Diann Ritschard said the forest service has fielded some calls from concerned off-highway vehicle users who had plans to use the well-maintained motorized trails in the Big Red Park area. She urges weekend campers to avoid the Rainbow Gathering area.
"The gathering area is a very small area, approximately 4,000 to 5,000 acres, considering there's 1.2 million acres available in the Routt National Forest," Ritschard said.
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