Leadville is a place with a proud history, and this week, the town nabbed a title as one of USA Today’s Best Historic Small Towns.
Leadville ranked no. 10 in the 2020 list of USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Award Contest. The newspaper’s editors and other travel experts assembled a list of 20 nominees for each category, and the public voted online in June.
“History is alive and well in Leadville, a former Colorado mining town,” USA Today wrote in the article. They listed the Tabor Opera House, the Matchless Mine, historic downtown and the Leadville Train as sites that “bring alive the Silver Rush days.”
Katie Hild, director of the Leadville and Twin Lakes Visitor Center, said the award is a huge honor, especially for residents who shared the vote on social media to show their enthusiasm. She said history is central to Leadville’s museums, downtown retail and outdoor activities.
“It’s history that’s accessible,” Hild said in an interview with The Denver Post on Monday. “Whether you choose to pay money to go to our National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum or you just want to go out and about hiking, riding your bike or doing a driving tour, it’s something that’s accessible to people of all ages, all ability levels.”
Stephen Whittington, executive director of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum as well as the chair of the Lake County Tourism Panel, can talk for days about the icons Leadville has hosted over the years, from famous miners like Horace and Baby Doe Tabor to playwright Oscar Wilde, who once performed in the Tabor Opera House.
As Leadville experienced “booms and busts” since the Silver Rush, the town shifted to make tourism a central industry, Whittington said. But in a pandemic summer, Leadville is also dealing with the economic impact of less travel — and the cancellation of high-profile trail races that bring thousands of athletes to the area each summer.
RELATED: Iconic Leadville trail races canceled due to COVID-19
The town has eight museums and historic sites, but Whittington said they’ve all been impacted by coronavirus closures. The Tabor Opera House is reopening soon, History Colorado recently opened the Healy House and Whittington has started welcoming guests six days a week at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum and five days a week at the Matchless Mine.
Whittington estimated that he’s seen about half as many people as previous years at the museum with fewer out-of-state visitors and no international travelers at all.
“USA Today saying that Leadville is one of the 10 best historic small towns, that’s very important,” Whittington said. “That is going to give us some national exposure, which can only help us if not this year, at least in future years when people are feeling better able to travel around.”
Hild and Whittington both emphasized the importance of respecting social distancing measures and following Lake County’s mask requirements. Hild said Leadville is eager to welcome visitors, but the return looks different on a wide-open trail, compared to a small, historic building or mine.
“Communication between locals to tourists is huge, letting them know why we have safety measures in place,” Hild said.
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