The first Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train engine of 2019 rolled into a snowy Silverton this weekend packed with passengers, a welcome site for business owners eager for a season better than last.
Dozens of people stepped off train cars pulled by D&SNGR engine 482 and planted their feet in the muddy, dirt-paved 12th Street in Silverton just before 1 p.m. Saturday, the first big batch of tourists to arrive in the small mountain town after a monumental winter dumped feet of snow and caused dozens of avalanches that closed access along U.S. Highway 550 for weeks.
The snowy winter came after a dismal economic summer for Silverton business owners whose budgets were rocked by the month-and-a-half of train cancellations caused by the 416 Fire, a wildfire that burned 54,000 acres north of Durango.
Tens of thousands of train reservations were canceled. At least one Silverton business owner reported sales were down 70%. Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes and many Durango shops, restaurants and adventure services were hurt by less business from fewer tourist.
But things are looking up, Silverton business owners said.
Business is backBill Walko, owner of Natalia’s 1912 Restaurant at the southwest corner of 12th Street and Blair Street, said a strong economy and what he called “pent-up demand” for Silverton tourism caused by the 416 Fire will mix into a perfect cocktail to keep his restaurant full all summer.
Walko said he hired three additional staff members for the upcoming season and plans to hire more. The employees come from all over, he said. Some are Silverton residents, others are students, he said. He has plans this year to participate in a U.S. State Department program offering work and an American experience to foreign exchange students, Walko said. Last year, he employed two students from Romania.
“I think it’ll be a good, solid year,” Walko said. “We want to welcome everyone.”
Meanie Bergole works at the Old Arcade Trading Co. at the northeast corner of 12th and Blair streets, where she has been employed for seven or eight years, she couldn’t remember, she said. She did remember – with a little help from Facebook – that fire officials announced a little over a year ago that Silverton was under a Stage 1 fire restriction.
Bergole said she is excited to see snow piles still lining the streets of Silverton, but it’s more the effect it has on the environment that she is happy about, not how it looks. More moisture means a lower likelihood of fires, at least for a few months, she said. And people from arid parts of the country love seeing snow in May, she said.
“I hope we have a good season – the snow is an attraction in itself,” Bergole said.
But the snow is a double-edged sword, Bergole said. Some areas around Silverton are still buried in snow, especially in the remote areas where hikers like to go, she said.
“It’s such a mess,” she said.
Tiffany Dekay, owner of High Noon Hamburgers at the northwest corner of 12th and Blair streets, said at this time last year, she had been anticipating the best year ever. Then, on June 1, 2018, the fire started and derailed her projections.
But with a strong economy and what she said is a low-cost of transportation, Dekay is hoping this year will come “on the heals of what we anticipated last year,” she said.
“Hopefully, we’ll have enough moisture that the fire danger is low,” Dekay said. “We did have an epic winter.”