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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Focus on tourism hurts Cheyenne and its residents

Name me places that thrive on tourism …
Resorts, ski, sea, tropical, Disney.
Destinations? State parks, hot springs, trailheads?
Roadside attractions – Wall Drug, Chugwater, Wamsutter, Buford population of 1.
Let’s face it: Tourism as infrastructure isn’t a sustainable solution in our changing society. People save money to escape their real lives for short-lived fantasies of something else, and there are plenty of communities that cater to that idea. Locals saving
their own money for a potential week of escape from a place people flock to for another place that people flock to.
Meanwhile, the hard-working locals are ignoring their own back yard because everyone enjoys a change of pace and scenery. Besides, there is no adventure left when you realize your own hometown is focused on the acquisition of money from temporary visitors. You begin to notice businesses and services are
Tourists enjoy Native American dancing at Frontier Days.
fixated on catering to seasonal visitors, which portrays an attitude that commerce and governmental spending is not worried about local needs or desires.
It seems as though these days every little town with no vision would like to live off of tourism. That’s gross in a multitude of ways.
It doesn’t honor its residents. It makes them buy into unsustainable ideas based on a “legend” or “myth.” It supports a fable that is long due for transparency. And it capitalizes off its own residents on a multitude of energetic levels – a buy-in of sorts – via commerce.
Citizens rarely see viable returns in the long-term benefits. Revenue isn’t allocated the way citizens would agree to en mass. Options are limited to the public. Money speaks and they end up with a city that knows a cash cow when it sees it and has historically used the funds from it with no regard to the everyday person who volunteers to make this kind trap possible.
When I was in my early 20s, I moved to Keystone, Colo., with about $500 to my name. It was the summer season and there weren’t many people around. I got a job and a room in employee housing. I would be working at the Sport Shack and renting out bikes and paddle boats and alpaca tours in the summer.  
The pay was about $8 an hour. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. And I would have a free ski pass come winter – that was the benefit and reason I moved to the mountain resort town.
Here are some things you may not know about living at a ski resort. Everything, and I really mean everything, is inflated when it comes to cost. Keystone Resort is in the same big company as Vail and Breckenridge and other well-known, high-end ski destinations.  But Keystone was considered “the family resort” – it wasn’t as “high end” as a place like Vail. That didn’t matter. Everything was inflated.
All of these resort “towns” are filled with overpriced condos, restaurants and bougie boutique-type stores. Nothing an everyday person who works for the resort can afford or even want. There are maybe two reasonably priced eateries that are not fast food, and a couple of gritty pubs where the locals hang out and spend what they make.
For a young person, a resort town is just code word for “Work hard, play harder.”  But is it sustainable? No. 
I knew people well into their 50s and 60s who couldn’t hold a relationship and were forced to have roommates half their age in order to pay rent for houses they could never afford to own on the wages they made. If you weren’t in a management position with the potential of raises and moving up the corporate ladder, you couldn’t expect to see much inflation in your paycheck. Most people worked more than one job. Working at the mountain even part-time at least got you a ski pass, which was at least a $500 value.
When you live in a resort town, you realize you must be reliant on your pass/ID card.  If you don’t have it, you don’t get the employee discount. If you were like me and had to ride two gondolas to get to work, and you forgot to bring lunch and your pass card, you would pay $10.25 for a hamburger that cost $1.25 to make. Employee discounts brought the burger down to about $8, one hour of work on the low end.
I know this because I was dating a person who was a food purchaser for the resort.
When he told me this, I got angry – a not just for the employees, but for hard-working families who save all year for one weekend or week away to do something fun.
Resorts have their own taxes. I think at the time I was working it was around 9 percent on all purchases within the resort. To add insult to injury, the place didn’t even have two-ply toilet tissue in the restrooms. So you could eat an overpriced burger that wasn’t that good and would probably give you the runs, only to have to wipe with weak tissue paper.  This was even the case at Beaver Creek, one of the posher resorts in the Vail Kingdom.
I give this anecdote because it exemplifies the unsustainable nature these locations set as “normal” for the individuals. Employees do not make top dollar for what they do, but they still pay top dollar while they pour their life energy into making more money for people with empires and networks.
Every year the resort appeared to make more, but as they restructured corporate, benefits for the little guy continued to shrink. “Sure, we offer insurance, but we are dropping visual benefits next quarter, and you will be paying more for the standard health stuff because we are switching service providers, no out-of-network plans.” It looks like corporate criminal money laundering in collusion with the local government within these controlled environments where large sums of money are changing hands.
There aren’t a lot of positions to grow into when you live in a place like that unless you can make something for yourself – maybe start a tree-cutting business or become a builder. But be prepared to pay for a license and liability insurance that won’t be cheap.
On the flip side, the corporation, in cooperation with local government, has the benefit that every year there are hundreds of new, young, liberated people who want a good time in nature, the types who aren’t really keen on planning for the future. The type to move on to some other adventure and never even think about local politics and the amounts of currency being passed around them. 
They are the perfect little worker drones. They will be worked until they come to their senses and move away or keep at it until they die. You would be surprised how many young people die in these places. Drugs and alcohol are always easy to find, and you can tell there is deep depression being covered by an illusion of “fun.”
Honestly, I did have a great time when I was there, but I just love being in the mountains and this was an easy way to make it happen. But the people I knew during that time were train wrecks waiting to happen, and I wasn’t shocked about the deaths that occurred after I left.
I don’t miss paying rent in an overpriced run-down condo whose owner was probably making bank off of a property he or she would never live in nor appeared to have pride in. Rather, they are only being interested in owning investment properties while living in another state.
I realized I didn’t want to live in a tourist trap. I want to live in a place that genuinely cares for its citizens. A town that realizes that it wouldn’t even exist without all those individuals who may not make much money but who are the gears and wheels of industry and commerce.  A real place with real people that eschews big-chain retailers for small locally owned businesses with a vision of spreading wealth and opportunity.
It seems like a big dream because government and large corporations make small business ownership difficult and expensive. The system really has its bias on bigger is better. But is it?
My hometown spends all year petitioning small businesses for handouts for one very large weeklong event that happens in July. An event driven by volunteers who bring in millions of dollars in revenue. Yet only a few hands ever touch that revenue.
To the average person who doesn’t volunteer or take part in some way, the whole thing is a headache. Our population doubles in size, and you know there are areas to avoid because of congestion and bad/drunk drivers. Forget about going to your favorite eatery: You will be driving around looking for parking for an hour only to end up on a wait list for what seems like forever. If you are lucky, maybe you can go on your own vacation for a week just to avoid the mess of it.
Passing through town on your way to somewhere else and need a place to sleep? Good luck finding a hotel room. And if you do find one, expect to pay triple what the pricing will be a week later.
It’s virtual insanity, and our local government is one of the biggest supporters.
What about the everyday people who petition the local government with good ideas focused on the local year-round population but are not about making the city money? Forget it. They don’t want to hear your ideas. They just want to push paper and encourage you to sign up to volunteer your time in one of the various ways as the town tries to be something that it isn’t.
We have to see the local government for what it actually is about – money and control of resources. It’s only about the residents insofar that the residents help them get the money and control of the resources.  
But the money rarely recirculates down to the little guy, and we don’t see much happening that is beneficial for the citizenry who are the moving pieces of progress.  
This needs to change with speed and force. As residents, we need to re-evaluate those who hold power on a local level and examine their connections and agenda.
We need representation by people who are for the people, not the representation of money grabbers who back-door deal within their shady networks that leverage the residents in their desire to monopolize a location.
It’s time for those types to go!
Let’s make towns worth living in, and if we get some visitors, “Cool, I hope you had an enjoyable experience Oh, you want to move here? Lovely. It’s a really pleasant place to live. Yeah, what you see is what you get.  Not some myth, legend or tourist trap.”

Madge Midley is a Cheyenne writer.


  1. I'm not sure I agree with frontier days being a huge disadvantage for Cheyenne residents. I know a couple small business owners who benefit greatly from the tourist traffic once a year, even to the point that they might not be in business without it.

  2. Isn't that problematic in a different way? It's not sustainable for the individual if something changes in the corporate structure of the event- what are these businesses? What are they offering that the community isn't supporting the rest of the year? Is it a brick and mortar location or a booth? Do they have an online storefront? Personally I think it would be awesome to make a years worth of income in a week- but what does that do to a local economy in the long run? And by making a year worth of income what level is it at? Bare minimum for survival or eating like a king 365 and giving raises? Do these businesses have paid employees, or is it just mom and pop?

  3. That’s exactly right. I have a small business and if Frontier Days didn’t happen, I wouldn’t make it. There aren’t enough local people supporting the local brick and mortar mom and pop shops in town. It takes Frontier Days to make it. It’s feast and famine because the locals don’t support their town, assume there’s nothing to buy downtown and head to Fort Collins. But they also complain there’s nothing here- for one singular reason- they’ve never looked...