By Jamie Leary

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4)– The Colorado tourism industry was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, the state lost a whopping $9.7 billion in travel spending, down 30% year-over-year not to mention what the loss did to jobs in the industry. Tourism is the state’s second-largest employer, but some of the largest private-sector job losses have been in leisure and hospitality during the pandemic.

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With demand for outdoor recreation higher than ever, the industry is expected to make a strong comeback and the Colorado Tourism Office is recognizing the frontline workers who worked to make sure Colorado’s favorite destinations could stay open.

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“Logan came to mind right away- he’s been a phenomenal employee for over 10 years but the last two years, with COVID and the development of Hanging Lake and a reservation system, he’s really shined, and it was a perfect opportunity to put him forward,” said Ken Murphy.

Murphy is the owner of Lakota Guides and the Glenwood Adventure Company. He’s been in the adventure business for more than a decade and says through the pandemic, his employees have had to be more flexible than ever. It’s why he nominated Logan Bartek for the state’s Frontline Tourism Award.

“Tourism has been one of Colorado’s hardest-hit industries and coming out of the pandemic, we are looking to recognize individuals who have gone the extra mile to make people feel accepted for who they are and who go above and beyond in providing guest and visitor service,” said Caitlin Johnson with the Colorado Tourism Office.

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Bartek is the General Manager for the Glenwood Adventure Company as well as the Hanging Lake Express, which means among other things, he manages the reservation system for Hanging Lake and Maroon Bells.

“A lot of math, a lot of thinking about time frames that people spend on the trail when they’re there when they’re not… arriving by car arriving by bike, parking scenarios,” said Murphy.

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Bartek also interfaces with guests. Some who can’t get a reservation, or simply don’t know it exists.

“The phone doesn’t stop ringing, ya know when we’re sold out on the weekends people call and ask what other options they have,” Bartek continued, “The forest service has put a cap at 615 per day and that’s to protect that resource and make sure we don’t overuse it and when you explain that to people, they understand.”

More than 33% of the available slots at Hanging Lake have been reserved for the season. Shuttle service for Maroon Bells opens in early June. Murphy says the reservation system is a good reflection of how busy the summer will be, and the two destinations are once again drawing international attention.

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“I think the biggest concern I have right now is, I think we’re seeing a pent-up demand to get outside and hopefully we’re there and able to provide enough recreation for all the people that are coming to our state because we’re seeing huge numbers… not a bad problem to have. Great relief after the last year and we’re so excited for the summer.”

Both Bartek and Murphy agree, while the reservation system requires work to manage, it may be the solution to the increasing demand.

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“You know I think people are going to have to patient and understand that it might be what’s coming just cause there are too many people trying to recreate in the same spot at the same time,” says Bartek.

Jamie Leary