06_24_21 summit house06246.jpg (copy)

Visitors explore the new Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center

in June

.

More than a half million people drove to the top of Pikes Peak through October this year, as the mountain celebrated the opening of the $65 million summit house, beating out vehicle traffic last year. 

The summit saw 506,940 visitors through October this year, well above the almost 480,000 of last year, but below about 560,000 people who made the trek in 2018 and 2019 during the first 10 months of the year, city data show. 

The Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway likely carried a large number of visitors to the top as well since it reopened in May, but it's unknown exactly how many riders because the railway did not respond to a request for data and it's not collected by the city. The railway traditionally does not release its ridership numbers. 

VisitCOS President and CEO Doug Price said he believes the railway had a strong season that likely made up for the gap in visitation between this year and 2019 because it was booked up two weeks in advance for most of the summer. Spur of the moment riders had to hope they could claim a seat because someone else didn't show up, he said.  

A strong year for the railway would fall in line with other attractions who had a record-setting tourism year in 2021,  he said. 

PK McPherson, executive director at Pikes Peak Region Attractions, concurred with Price's assessment and said it was possible with railway ridership the mountain numbers were higher than in 2018 and 2019. Pikes Peak and the railway are both members of the association. 

The tourists in the last year were also spending quite a bit more money than they have in the past, McPherson said. 

"Everybody's gift shop did really well," she said.

The city is also pleased with the visitation trends for the mountain. 

"We are on track for a good solid visitation year," said Sandy Elliott, interim manager for Pikes Peak.

Next year, the mountain is expecting visitation will be strong again, with the return of international travel, Elliott said. 

While largely complete, the city's work on the summit house is still wrapping up as staff works to finish fundraising and small pieces of construction. 

The city set out to raise $15 million for the visitor center and so far has brought in $12.8 million, Elliott said. The city is looking to raise the rest through grants aimed at promoting causes such as sustainability and education, since the center was designed to be far more environmentally friendly than the previous one and has educational aspects. 

"We’re exploring all the avenues," she said. 

If the city is unable to raise the remainder, the city might cover the cost through savings from the Pikes Peak enterprise fund. The mountain is a self-sustaining attraction that raises money through events, ticket sales and fees from the concessionaire, Aramark, the company that runs the Summit House. The city paid $51 million for the Summit House through its revenues and bonded $30 million. 

While the building is complete, crews expect to finish parking lot paving in the spring. 

The Summit House's unique wastewater recycling system has also yet to become fully functional because it is still in the state's permitting process, Elliott said. 

The wastewater system is aimed at reducing water consumption and reusing gray water because fresh water for the building must be trucked in and wastewater trucked out.

The water recycling system was one of many sustainable aspects of the building designed to meet the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous standard that focuses on being regenerative. For example, buildings that meet the standard generate more energy than they consume. 

Data on the building will be collected over the next year to determine if it meets the challenge standards, Elliott said. 

The Broadmoor hotel is owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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