Nature is choreographing its annual fall-foliage spectacle, but mountain-town businesses in Boulder County that rely on an autumn tourism boost say they are seeing few leaf peepers because of Boulder Canyon's continued post-flood closure.
"We're doing a fraction of the business we usually do at this time of year," said Kimba Stefane, owner of Blue Owl, a bookstore, coffeehouse and ice cream parlor in Nederland.
Historic flooding in Boulder County damaged roughly one-fifth of Boulder Canyon Drive, which is the stretch of Colo. 119 that connects Boulder to Nederland. The Colorado Department of Transportation expects to re-open the canyon to full traffic by mid-to-late October.
With leaves changing color, Nederland and other mountain towns typically get a boost in tourism. Business owners such as Stefane say the Aspen leaves are just starting to turn, so they are still holding out hope for tourists this coming weekend.
Rides on Nederland's Carousel of Happiness are about half of what they are on a typical weekend -- which is about 600 to 800, said director Katrina Harms. Meanwhile, sales at the visitor's center, where tourists can buy T-shirts and maps, are down by almost 90 percent, said Harms, who also manages the center.
The owners of some shops in Nederland have had to lay off employees as they hope for a strong winter ski season to help recoup sales.
While it will tack on extra drive time, those wanting to visit Nederland and Estes Park can take the Peak to Peak Highway, said Mary Ann Mahoney, executive director of the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"It's a spectacular, beautiful drive," she said "It's one of my favorites."
She said Boulder County's portion of the highway has widened shoulders, which allow people to stop and take photos along the way.
Boulder County sheriff's Cmdr. Heidi Prentup said people are encouraged to take the Peak to Peak while the canyon is closed. Sheriff's deputies have been issuing trespassing tickets to those who have tried to sneak up the canyon via bicycle, she said.
Michael Grant, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education at the University of Colorado and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said the lower elevations of Aspen in the Front Range are likely to still have a fair amount of striking colors. But, he said, the higher elevation locations are probably well past their "prime."
Aspen trees can be found along the Front Range mostly at elevations between 7,500 feet and 10,500 feet. So below about 8,500 feet, there should still be a fair amount of color, Grant said.
Nederland's elevation is 8,230 feet.
The flooding, Grant said, won't have a direct effect this year on the pattern of leaf changing.
The disturbances caused by mudslides and direct erosion, he said, set up disturbed habitats that may well be colonized by new Aspens next spring as some may be damaged or killed this year.
Aspens, he said, require some disturbances such as mudslides, avalanches or fires to maintain themselves, otherwise conifers shade them out over the longer term.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or email@example.com.