Road Warrior

Deadwood tries to spring back to life with tourism revamp

Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC
A sign hangs in downtown historic Deadwood.
Harriet Baskas | CNBC

Since its Gold Rush-era founding in 1876, South Dakota's frontier town of Deadwood has been through several booms and busts. However, it retains a veneer of the Wild West, and to this day maintains stories of legendary residents such as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.

Yet with a slump in tourism, Deadwood is living up to its name. In order to stay alive, some say the town that helped spawn a popular cable series needs a strong shot of something new.

"All destinations need to evolve over time, even those that that wish to remain the same," said Alan Fyall, a professor in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

"Changes may be very subtle and not necessarily expensive, but a destination and brand 'refresh' helps maintain the status quo as well as attract new markets," he said.

The summertime reenactments of Wild West shootouts on Deadwood's Main Street are purely theatrical. However, the money tourists spend in three blocks of shops, restaurants, hotels and particularly casinos, is very real.

Read MoreREAL ID may create real headaches in 2016