Hospitality & Tourism  October 26, 2023

Estes expands the ‘glow’ for holiday season

ESTES PARK – The village at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park is expanding its holiday festivities substantially to lure more visitor dollars in what usually had been a quiet time of year.

“It’s really important for our businesses,” said Kara Franker, CEO of Visit Estes Park, the area’s marketing organization. “We see this as a tourism opportunity to market Estes Park as the ideal winter village, a little snow globe in the mountains – because that’s what it is.”

Other than the annual “Catch the Glow” parade on the Friday after Thanksgiving, “this historically hasn’t been a busy season, but it should be,” Franker said. “That’s why we’re encouraging our businesses to amp up and promote that holiday atmosphere. We’ve expanded ‘Catch the Glow’ into a catch-the-glow season” stretching from a tree lighting on Nov. 18 through New Year’s Day.

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Especially with some downtown streets disrupted by the Downtown Estes Loop project, she said, providing a full slate of activities and promotions is that much more crucial for the town’s economy.

“People are handling the Loop really well,” Franker said of the one-way downtown street plan designed to speed summer tourist traffic to and from Rocky Mountain National Park. “There’s always growing pains, but it’ll be great when it’s over.”

The heart of the festivities will be in Bond Park, at Elkhorn Avenue and Park Lane, where Visit Estes Park and the Stanley Hotel have teamed up to present a seven-week winter wonderland including walk-through lighting displays, life-size lighted photo backdrops and a towering lighted tree that plays a synchronized light and music show every 30 minutes each night throughout the holiday season.

“The town used to put up the lights downtown, and now it has contracted with us and we’re putting them up now,” Franker said. “We’re transforming Bond Park into a holiday wonderland. It’s not like a big Disney production, but it’s more than it was.”

The tree lighting, which had been held for 12 years at George Hix Riverside Plaza, has been moved to Bond Park for the Nov. 18 event, with festivities beginning at 3:30 p.m. and Mayor Wendy Koenig lighting the tree at 5:30 p.m.

“There’ll be carriage rides and carolers” from the local Mountain Echoes Choir and Ballet Renaissance, Franker said. “We’re trying to blow it up as big as possible.”

Throughout tube season, Bond Park will include an LED-lit Christmas tree that features a light and music show every 30 minutes, as well as a rainbow tunnel and larger-than-life, light-up photo-ops, including a gingerbread bench, a field of lollipops and life-sized snowmen.

The “Catch the Glow” holiday parade will travel down Elkhorn Avenue on Nov. 24, the Friday evening after Thanksgiving. In past years, that event has drawn up to 20,000 spectators.

The action will return to Bond Park on Dec. 9 with a Frosty Beer Fest, featuring a day of ice-cold local brews and performances by bands including Chain Station and Good Time Johnny. That event will include an Ugly Christmas Sweater Fashion Show and an ice cream eating contest with a Frozen Dead Guy Days theme, promoting the quirky festival that will be held in March for the second year in Estes Park since moving from Nederland.

A week later, Catch the Glow Family Day will be held on Dec. 16, including a “Sweets Stroll” in which visitors can pick up a punch card from the Visit Estes Park tent and then sample treats from locally-owned bakeries, candy shops, ice cream parlors, chocolatiers and more. Those collecting 10 punches on their cards will get a prize if they bring it back to the Visit Estes Park tent.

Visitors on that day will get an up-close look at floats from the Catch the Glow Parade. The event also will include a meet-and-greet with Santa Claus and frozen princesses, a llama petting zoo, a giant inflatable slide, a mechanical reindeer ride and classic carnival games, and a chance to meet actress Nikki DeLoach, who has appeared in movies on the Hallmark Channel.

Other scheduled events include a performance of Tchaikowsky’s “The Nutcracker” by the Boulder Ballet at the Stanley Hotel and a “Miracle on 7” holiday pop-up cocktail bar from Nov. 20 through Jan. 8 at Cousin Pat’s Pub and Grill, 451 S. St. Vrain Ave.

Throughout the seven-week season, a digital Estes Park Holiday Passport will be available, featuring special offers from more than 40 local businesses.

“We’re trying to do as many things as possible to get people to patronize our small businesses,” Franker said. “We’d like them to stay a couple of nights, but even if they just come in and shop local, we’d be happy with that.”

Franker’s team has been marketing the events on Facebook as well as in other media and has been encouraging businesses to staff up for a hoped-for influx of visitors.

“We’ve been talking with our businesses about this for months. We don’t want them to be surprised,” Franker said. “Now we just hope we can deliver.”

ESTES PARK – The village at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park is expanding its holiday festivities substantially to lure more visitor dollars in what usually had been a quiet time of year.

“It’s really important for our businesses,” said Kara Franker, CEO of Visit Estes Park, the area’s marketing organization. “We see this as a tourism opportunity to market Estes Park as the ideal winter village, a little snow globe in the mountains – because that’s what it is.”

Other than the annual “Catch the Glow” parade on the Friday after Thanksgiving, “this historically hasn’t been a busy season, but…

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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