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Colorado Dreamin'

This article appeared in the Daily Times-Call on February 17, 2005 on page D-1

Couple buys cottages in Estes Park after 15-year-long wait
Christina Simms, The Daily Times-Call

ESTES PARK - The gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park has about 8,000 guest pillows for travelers to lay their heads on, dreaming about mountainous adventures. After 15 years of their own dreaming, 33 of those pillows now belong to Carolyn and John Edrington. The couple recently became the newest owners of Colorado Cottages, a 12-cabin retreat nestled not far from the park's U.S. Highway 36 entrance.

The Edringtons, high school sweethearts from Louisiana, moved to Colorado 15 years ago. They rented property in Boulder for two years and eventually bought a run-down house in Firestone for $60,000 in 1990.

They saved money - she working as a housekeeper and he as a diesel mechanic, and over the years began investing in real estate. Five years ago, they moved into a house in Dacono and worked up to owning four properties. Then, after nine years of patience and a tripling in value of their first property, they pounced. We took a huge chance doing this. We put everything on the line, and I mean everything, Carolyn Edrington said. We'll see whether it's courageous or stupid come this summer.

According to the Travel Industry Association of America, tourism is currently the third-largest retail industry, behind automotive and food stores. Residents and international travelers in the United State spend an average of $1.5 billion a day on tourism activities - that's $63 million an hour, $1.1 million a minute or $17,500 a second.

According to Peter Marsh of the Estes Park Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2.7 million people traveled to or through Estes Park in 2004, some on day trips and others overnight, helping the city pull in $6.3 million in sales tax. The Edringtons are banking on those numbers. Eric Blackhurst, a broker with Anderson Realty Management, said investing in lodging real estate, as with most investments that don't have a fixed rate of return, comes with risks.

How long the establishment has been in business, its reputation, past cash flow and occupancy trends can tell a lot about the risk level, he said. Often times, you have businesses that are overpriced and oversold compared to the amount of cash they generate.

Self-taught and self-advised, the Edringtons have never used a financial planner or investment adviser to coach them through their investments. They started putting their money in real estate after John was fired from a job, using his 401(k) to buy rental property. Everyone thinks we have this rocket-scientist formula, but we don't, Edrington said. It's just been a little luck and lots of hard work.

But that doesn't mean following dreams of owning a lodge in Estes Park is a surefire thing. More than 100 hotels, motels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, cabins and cottages, guest ranches, condominiums and campgrounds host the nearly 3 million travelers who visit Estes every year. So guests have a lot to choose from. But the Edringtons and Rhonda Waters, president of the Estes Area Lodging Association, say teamwork is what makes the community successful.

We call each other when we have questions, like "My Jacuzzi is out; what do I do? or I don't know how to fold fitted sheets; how do I do it?", Waters said."The organization's members also pool their resources and buy things like toilet paper in bulk. And $50 of the $150 in annual dues go to advertising and marketing. And we send each other business," Waters said. Based on what travelers are looking for, I'll send them to a certain lodge." Recently, Waters sent a couple traveling with their dogs to Colorado Cottages. Allowing pets and staying open during the winter are two things the Edringtons have done to drive business.

Carolyn Edrington admits that if this doesn't work, bankruptcy won't be far off. It will turn into a nightmare if we don't make it, she said. This summer will make or break us. As things have done so far, they might just work out for the Edringtons. Suzy Blackhurst of the convention and visitors bureau said she has heard reports that reservations are starting for summer. It's still too early to really tell, but we are starting to see indicators that we're going to have a strong summer, she said.

Even though summer hasn't started yet, the Edringtons are getting calls for reservations. Out of the 12 cabins they own, only four are left open for next week. Since buying the property a month ago, the couple have done a great deal of work to the nearly century-old blue/grey and white cottages. Carolyn Edrington said she feels good about things so far and hopes the calls keep rolling in.

I realized I can't take a shower when the sign is on, she said, referring to the brightly lit Colorado Cottages sign out front. When the sign is on, I'm on the clock. But I knew it would be like that. This is a dream, and we're doing it.

Christina Simms can be reached at 303-776-2244 or at csimms@times-call.com.

(pictures added by Colorado Cottages)