It sounds a little strange, but well-signed public restrooms are a draw for tourists driving through small Colorado towns, a urban planner advised Dolores officials.
During a trails presentation, residents and the mayor discussed the option as a way to get people to stop and shop in town year round.
Once personal business is taken care of, road-weary travelers are refreshed and more likely to take an extended break, look around, go to the grocery store, wander down Central Avenue and explore local shops, said Gabe Preston, an urban planner with RPI Consultants.
"I plan my trips around where there are good bathrooms that are heated and clean," Preston said. "A good sign with an arrow pointing to public restrooms will get people to stop more than you might think. Families with kids love them."
But there are challenges, and depending on size and scope, a year-round decent public restroom, dubbed "comfort stations" would run between $10,000 and $50,000.
"It could pay for itself through additional sales taxes over time," said Mayor Val Truelsen.
Dolores has public restrooms on both ends of town at Joe Rowell Park and Riverside Park, but they shut down in winter, said Anne Swope, Dolores assistant clerk. Vandalism has been a problem at the Joe Rowell facilities.
"Two years in a row someone propped open the door in winter and everything froze, cracking the toilets," Swope said. "Driers get damaged, someone destroyed the drinking fountain beyond repair. After hunting season, we found it is cheaper to close the restroom and put a porta potty out there than replacing vandalized equipment."
There is a trend to install public restrooms, Preston said. Durango recently installed facilities for the public on Main Street. Silverton has done the same as well as Creede and Ridgway.
The Dolores Welcome Center has a bathroom, but it is not designed for heavy traffic. Dolores Town Hall does not encourage public use of its restrooms, and the bathroom at the Galloping Goose museum is small and shuts down in winter because it is not winterized.
It was noted that the two gas stations in town have well-maintained restrooms for customers.
The new Connector Trailhead accessing the McPhee Rim will be built this summer. Once the six-mile hiking and mountain bike trail is completed to House Creek, there will be more demand for public restrooms, Truelsen said.
There used to be a bathroom at the new trailhead location on the shore of McPhee Reservoir, but the Forest Service removed it years ago.
Sewer lines leftover from when the old jail was at Town Hall are still in place, Truelsen said. It could be a cost-effective way to create public restrooms.
"We'd have to look at the plans to see exactly where they are," he said.
A new public restroom in the core of Dolores is part of long-term plans, but it will not happen overnight, officials said.
Trails Plan Complete
Access from Dolores to the Boggy Draw trail network via the new Forest Service trail is expected to boost the economy.
To further accommodate hikers coming to Dolores, the proposed trails plan includes a separate pathway along the west side of Central Avenue to provide easy and safe access to the new trailhead.
Another priority in the trails plan is to connect a gap in the River Trail between the library and Riverside Park. The plan proposes a separate pathway along the south side of Colorado Highway 145 to make the connection.
The comprehensive trails plan can be viewed at Town Hall. It was paid for by a $19,700 grant for Great Outdoors Colorado.
Preston said GOCO requires long-term plans like this one to be in place before grants for trail construction are awarded. Trail planning grants are tougher to win, Preston said, and once they are awarded GOCO tends to award more funding for installation.
"You have a lot of momentum right now, so making the trails plan a priority is a key component to get more grant funding," he said.