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UPDATE: The Royal Gorge Bridge will not reopen in time for Labor Day weekend

By Emily Allen, Multimedia Journalist /Target 13 Investigator , emily.allen@krdo.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:15:24 AM CST
Updated On: Aug 26 2013 01:57:38 PM CDT

Work continues to repair fire damaged attraction, leaders say it won't be ready to re-open in time for Labor Day.

FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. -

More disappointment for businesses that were hoping to cash in on Labor Day weekend. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park says it will not be ready to reopen for the end-of-summer holiday as first hoped.

June's wildfire drove away tourists and burned a hole in businesses' pocket books. The Royal Gorge fire burned buildings in the gorge's park and shut down its bridge. The closures turned away tourists, some Fremont County businesses' most crucial customers. 

iLean Ride Co. sits along the road leading into Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Owner Lauri Saxton said it hasn't been an easy summer for her Segway touring company.

"We don't have the traffic passing our establishment so it has slowed down," said Saxton. "Walk-ins are a big part of our business because of our location.  We count on the traffic from the bridge."

She estimates her business is down 30 percent this summer compared to last summer. Her company's rakes in a majority of its profit from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Across Highway 50, River Runners has seen the same slump in numbers.

"With the gorge bridge being closed, there's not as many walk-ins. People aren't going to be bridge so they don't see the sign so we don't get the same walk-in numbers," said River Runners guide Molly Mernah.

The white water rafting company has been around since the 1970s.

"We've had to deal with a lot of issues that come with running a business so I think we'll be OK," said Mernah.

This summer's slow traffic has had a big impact on the company's employees. 

"With less customers, it means that some of the rookies don't get work. Both of our rookies left for the season just because they weren't getting enough work and it was hard for them to stay down here and not make any money," said Mernah.

Royal Gorge Helitours also estimates its profits are down 30 percent. Customers flocked to the company early in the season, but business slowed after the fire hit.

"After the fire, business drop off. We had some influx of locals just wanting to see the fire damage and that replaced some of the people who cancelled their vacations," said Royal Gorge Helitours pilot Eli Plavney.

Plavney and Saxton are optimist tourism will be back to normal next year.

"I hope next year is actually a really big year because of the grand reopening.  There is going to be some new stuff going on over there (at Royal Gorge Park) and all the people who didn't get to come out this will year will hopefully come back next year," said Plavney.

"I'm very optimistic about next year. If they're on track and plan to open by the first of summer then we are hoping for a booming year next year," said Saxton.

In the meantime, Plavney and Saxton's companies are two of many banking on big numbers over the holiday weekend to make-up for this summer's slump.

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