On a road trip coming back from Steamboat Springs last week, I passed through the small town of Hot Sulphur Springs. Catching my eye as I entered the tiny hamlet of six hundred or so souls, was the town welcome sign with the moniker, First in Winter Carnivals. This got me thinking about the interesting town slogans you see as you drive the back roads of Colorado and throughout the west. Why do they pick these slogans, are they even important, and who decides on the slogan, for what purpose? What makes this little town that is on they way from Granby to Steamboat, first in winter carnivals?
In the case of Hot Sulphur Springs, a quick look at history shows that it literally did hold the first Winter Sports Carnival west of the Mississippi in 1911. The small carnival, featuring tobogganing, ice skating, and cross country skiing, is thought to have led to the massive winter recreation industry that fuels Colorado’s economy today. A winter carnival is still held today in Grand County celebrating all thing winter and it all started with they tiny town of Hot Sulphur Springs. And I don’t need to tell you how big or meaningful the winter ski industry to Colorado now.
Probably the most interesting one I’ve encountered in Colorado is Morrison, a small town along the Front Range foothills known best for the spectacular Red Rocks Amphitheatre nearby. Morrison’s clever slogan is the “Nearest Faraway Place.” That one is somewhat easy to reason out, as Morrison is quite close to the city of Denver, but does have a small town, nature vibe. But my all time favorite for a town in the west isn’t in Colorado, but a few hours north in Gettysburg, South Dakota which states Where the Battle Wasn’t. Even our big city of Denver is somewhat spoofed by another much smaller town in Iowa going by the same name, coining itself as the Mile Wide City.
Town slogans are not decided easily or without controversy. Two Colorado towns were involved in a bit of controversy over slogans Steamboat Springs, and Fruita, Colorado. Steamboat Springs has long touted itself by the nickname, Ski Town, U.S.A. since 1959, an obvious connection to their longstanding winter sports heritage, and a way to promote winter tourism to the area. A couple of years ago, Salt Lake City decided they wanted go by the slogan of Ski City, U.S.A. You wouldn’t think that a nickname or slogan would mean that much, but it meant something to the Steamboat Ski Resort folks, who filed a lawsuit against Salt Lake City for poaching their nickname. The suit was settled in 2014, with Salt Lake City agreeing to drop the U.S.A. part, and simply going by Ski City.
Fruita, Colorado cleverly took a more humorous approach to their town and their nickname, which reads Welcome to Fruita. Oval stickers with block initials are quite popular among tourists to pick up as a memento of the places they visit. For instance, Rocky Mountain National Park sells thousands of RMNP stickers to their millions of visitors. The Fruita folks decided to use this design and play on their welcome signs to create a memorable WTF (Welcome to Fruita) stickers, which sold like hotcakes. In spite of the sales success, the City Council and certain residents didn’t take too kindly to the humor, and the stickers and the accompanying campaign were abandoned.
Thinking all of this out, does a slogan really matter? Does it draw more people to your town or attract publicity? Look no further than our biggest city here in Colorado for the answer. There aren’t too many people you can find that don’t know Denver as The Mile High City. It certainly has provided strong branding and identity for Denver, and a clever nickname that is easy to remember as well as reminding folks of our high altitude. So you may be wondering after reading all about town slogans, what our welcome sign here in Nederland uses for its nickname? One, that needs no explanation, and for me rings true every day I make the drive home to our mountain community — “Life is Better Up Here.”