Thoughts before the tsunami hits

On almost every level it feels like we are facing a growing and oncoming tsunami. The summer tourist season is getting busier at this end of the valley earlier and the “Help Wanted” signs are still pretty much everywhere. The weather is bringing us really nice summer days—too nice actually, because that is not what is needed as the low snow year combined with dry weather is making us more susceptible to dangerous fire conditions. Elected officials from various jurisdictions don’t seem to be working all that well together at the moment, so the cacophony and positioning is just building. The Brush Creek sketch plan issue was almost voted on but now there is a quick timeout to see if compromise can be reached—with those same elected officials. Did I mention Vail’s offer for the ski area and the stress that potential sale is causing for many in the valley? The Fourth of July is not that far away and the trails are dusty and it’s hot and Durango is on fire and, and, and… Breathe. Find a spot to regroup and find peace in the mayhem.

Let’s touch on two of the easy ones…

Fire: It is hot and dry and as a national forest to our south is closed, campers will be pushed up here. The fear is that just one absent-minded family or person who feels entitled to a campfire lights it up and—oops, we start looking like Durango. That is scary and could be devastating, so everyone needs to be aware at all times. It isn’t rude to confront someone who is smoking in a dry meadow and ask them to stop. It’s okay to ask someone with a campfire in a rock ring to put it out. Thanks to everyone for understanding the gravity of the situation. That situation is real.

Political workings: This is a bigger, longer-term discussion. Last week at a dinner for local elected officials, bread (and filet mignon) was broken and there was sometimes antagonism over even things agreed-upon. Some officials scowled. Others tried to verbalize their positions to death. Some pushed the issues with a barrage of questions and positioning. Defensiveness was served up between the entree and dessert.

Generally, the officials touched on the hard issues from their already solidified positions. Yes, everyone wants more housing for low-income workers. Not everyone wants more highly paid people coming in to take what housing is available, since service workers will be needed to accommodate any new residents. Yes, everyone agrees there needs to be a funding stream for local housing efforts, but the county reps seemed to insist that higher density has to be addressed and settled, and they wondered if the November tax being proposed by the housing authority is enough to really do anything of substance.

All wanted to figure out what sort of economic development genuinely adds to the overall community. Should efforts be focused on attracting new businesses or helping those already here? How can Western State Colorado University keep students from leaving after a couple of years? Again, housing comes into play with the need for units to accommodate more people.

It wasn’t all housing and economy table talk. How can the communities help visitors, especially campers, get rid of their trash and recyclables if they won’t provide the means, such as visible receptacles? But no one in any of the towns actually wants that dirty job that in the past has been abused and ended up a mess.

Everyone wants to carefully begin on the right foot with the potential new Vail ownership and management group. The hope is for better wages at the ski company and more investment in community housing and infrastructure like parking. Politicians need to begin these talks with caution and eyes wide open. It sounds like Vail wants to respect the unique feel of this community and that’s a good thing—but it is up to the valley leaders to hold them to that intent and probably explain what that really means from our perspective, and not Broomfield’s perception.

Like a therapist dealing with a bump in the relationship of a middle-aged marriage, the county attorney has been dispatched on a listening tour among stakeholders in The Corner at Brush Creek. David Baumgarten’s goal is to find common ground between various sides and see if something, anything, can be forged to make progress in the Brush Creek issue. He is looking for common ground. And there is some, but compromise won’t be easy. Ultimately, his success will be predicated upon not just if he can find a compromise on this one project (which looks really hard), but if he can help all sides return to respectful discussion and a good working relationship. That will matter as much in the long-run whether there are 200 units or 100 units at the entrance to Crested Butte and Brush Creek Road.

The dinner meeting finished with commissioner John Messner noting the need for respect between the partners. “There is a need for all of us to understand that we are all trying to do the best we can,” he concluded.

The need at this point in the relationship is more than that. There is the need for everyone to truly try to hear what the other side is actually saying. Isn’t that a trait of the most successful politicians? While that’s not always possible in a rocky relationship, this time-out might be a good start for reiterating that aspect of the relationship. Good luck to David on his tour.

Tensions are building as the summer tourism tsunami builds. It was mentioned to me recently that when it really gets busy, a friend of mine heads to one of the least accessible trails in the area. I’ve been there recently. Few will venture to the spot and it is indeed beautiful. In fact, there are many such spots nearby. Vail doesn’t own them; the politicians won’t be arguing there. Keep them in mind. Pray for some not so nice days with some good rain. Dealing with the summer madness helps if you know it is coming. It is coming. Go find your magic place to escape.

—Mark Reaman

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