Vail, whose motto over the last few decades could well have been "Where rich kids come to get drunk and party," now wants to crack down on drinking and partying (although probably not on rich kids), at least for the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve. Last December 31, about 8,000 people gathered on Bridge Street in Vail Village, many of them young, rowdy and inebriated; during the festivities, several of the revelers were trampled and had to be sent to the hospital. So the resort is now trying to put a lid on raucous holiday behavior and has turned to other notorious party towns -- Boulder, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Springs -- for help.
After hearing from their counterparts in Florida and California, Vail officials asked their advertising and public-relations firm, CMI/Barnhart, which usually tries to lure people to the resort, to develop sixty-second radio spots that will instead keep people away from Vail next week -- or at least keep them out of trouble. The ads began airing this week on three Denver stations that target the 35-54 age group -- KOSI, the Hawk and KJCD -- in order to reach not the party crowd, but their parents.
"A message from the town of Vail," the ads begin. "Parents, please don't send your kids to Vail alone over the Fourth of July, even if they promise they will be on their best behavior." The town also mailed letters to people who own homes in Vail but live elsewhere in Colorado, asking them not to give their kids keys to the Vail condo unless they're planning to supervise. Vail Resorts sent e-mails to season-pass holders requesting much the same thing.
Vail's new motto? "Celebrate Independence Day without losing your own." Not exactly heartwarming, but then, Vail last New Year's Eve was anything but, according to Vail mayor Ludwig Kurtz, who witnessed the giant party firsthand. (Some video footage of the mayhem can be found on Vail's Web site, ci.vail.co.us.) "There is a level of expectation out there, and we are trying to get the word out that those expectations won't be met this year," he says. "It's a change, one that we feel is necessary to keep a level of safety and quality of life for everyone -- locals and guests."
The new rules go like this: Next Wednesday, during the Vail American Days celebration of the Fourth, only those 21 and older will be admitted into the four-block area that makes up Vail Village unless they are on their way to or from a residence there; a curfew for kids seventeen and under will be in effect throughout the town from 10:30 p.m. on July 4 through 5 a.m. on July 5; the Vail cops will be out in force, and anyone caught breaking the law will be arrested and jailed. "Kids and booze. It appears that the combination is the problem," says Kurtz, who followed Denver's post-Stanley Cup mayhem on TV. "This wasn't a difficult decision, but it was a sad decision. This wasn't something we arrived at lightly."
Vail spokeswoman Suzanne Silverthorn recently came across an issue of the Vail Daily from the 1980s in which the same problem was discussed. "The folks who we are now targeting with these ads, the parents, were likely the very same people who experienced the fun on Bridge Street during those years," she says, laughing. "What's changed more than anything else is the volume of people. It's no longer a thousand or so -- it's elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder."
Spending money to discourage people from coming to Vail -- in this case, about $20,000 for the radio campaign, according to Silverthorn -- is quite a change for the town, which usually spends its money trying to do the opposite. "It's a real tricky line to walk," says Erika Olson of CMI/Barnhart, which also handles Vail's summer marketing campaign. "We're still trying to get people to come to Vail American Days, but to come and celebrate safely."
In other words, if you want to watch fireworks, come to Vail; if you want to riot, stay in Denver.
Talk to the animals: The Denver Zoo knows just what to do with its rowdies. They're tossed into a pit in front of the main entrance, where a giant underground parking lot is being built. Okay, maybe that's just what zoo officials would like to do with the protesters and animal-rights activists who've shown up at least three times since Hope the Elephant got loose June 10 and stampeded through the zoo. But it's just a coincidence that parking-lot construction has consumed the space the zoo once designated as its official protest area, according to zoo spokeswoman Angela Baier. "As many jokes as there are, that is no longer our main demonstration area," she says. "Right now it's on one of the medians in our parking lot."
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And that spot is designated for more than just protests, she adds. In fact, most of the people who set up shop there are using the space for promotional purposes, to give away stuff or ask people to sign petitions of all sorts. "The Denver Zoo attracts such a large number of people that occasionally people want to hold rallies or give away sample products here," she explains. "But there are no solicitations, demonstrations or petition-signings by anybody allowed inside the zoo. We've even turned down causes that we believe in. That's why we have this area that we've designated for this."
And speaking of designations, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which accredits zoos and aquariums, is satisfied with the way the Denver Zoo handled itself in Hope's wake. "The day after the incident occurred, our accreditation division wrote a letter to [zoo president] Clayton Freiheit asking for a full accounting," says AZA spokeswoman Jane Ballentine. "We got a response within 48 hours, and we were satisfied that the situation was handled professionally and appropriately, and that the zoo has taken steps to make sure this won't happen again."
Nevertheless, she adds, a letter will go in the Denver Zoo's official file.