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April 24, 2014
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Vail Daily column: The wild cards that define us

The Vail Valley is shaped by the creek and river running through it, with municipalities strung as pearls along 50 miles from Vail to Dotsero.

Lake Tahoe towns ring around the lake, their center in all ways.

As for Park City, it’s the land that holds the community close. Literally.

“Historic” means something a little different for each region, too.

The certified historic Main Street is Park City’s cultural cornerstone, what makes this town so cool, really.

The Vail Village core, a half-century young, has a quaint character that residents and visitors want to protect. Is it historic? Not quite yet, but we look at it that way.

Tahoe best get cracking, lest its ’50s and ’60s crap construction be declared “historic” and they never get to build fresh and in line with their intense environmental focus.

The lake defines everything for them. So much so that all the wastewater in the Tahoe watershed is pumped over the mountain and down to Carson City, Nevada, the desert. Carson, a prison town and capital of the state, welcomes the effluent. I’m resisting a smart crack here, as that’s also where my company is headquartered.

Geography and history are the wild cards for these mountain communities that share roughly the same populations, pasts and mountains packed with top ski resorts.

It’s no surprise, then, that municipal leaders from each region would meet a few weeks ago in Park City to share their stories and pick up ideas they can bring home.

There were pretty good insights to be had for a newspaper guy who tagged along with the Vail bunch, too. Besides, I’d never been to Park City, about a six-hour drive away.

Each community has 45,000-52,000 permanent residents. Each has a mining, ranching, rail and timber past. Each now serves swarms of visitors and second-home owners who dominate their towns in high seasons. And each struggles with the pressure of high prices, particularly for real estate, on the local population that largely serves those high-end visitors and part-time residents.

I’m a little jealous of Park City. No lakes or narrow river valleys separate their larger community. Their “Edwards” — in demographer’s terms, their micropolitan core — butts right up to the city proper.

Their city manager joked about residents who occasionally have filed to run for city council seats and even mayor only to learn they didn’t actually live in the city.

It’s also crystal clear to everyone how crucial historic Main Street, a true gem, is to the whole community.

Ironically enough, Park City was in the midst of improving the sidewalks and such there, and at least a couple of buildings were under reconstruction, during our visit. They are taking great care to make sure it’s all done right and in character with the street.

The district is a “warts and all” kind of deal. Old miner shacks with no paint since, what, the 1890s, is a rougher part of the charm, along with a few plain ol’ butt ugly buildings mixed in with the truly quaint ones on Main Street.

Good thing that Vail had more sense than to “save” the Crossroads building for posterity. But the village core can benefit in the long term from a Park City approach.

A proper, if late, obsession with the pristine quality of Lake Tahoe had the unintended consequence of freezing infrastructure and building at possibly the very worst stage of development. A construction boom around the 1960 Winter Olympics hangs like an albatross today.

Think Vail government is a pain in the ... if you are trying to build or renovate? Guess again. The governmental maze at the lake led my then-teenage daughter a handful of years ago to roll her eyes at her mother extolling the natural beauty there — “Rachel, just look at the lake!”

“Yeah nice. Just look at the buildings.” You know the droll retort of the 16-year-old female.

Sounds like the lake is on its way to change, though. Joanne Marchetta, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency that essentially has guarded the region, and others spoke of sea change coming that will set up intelligent improvements.

There have been a few advancements over the decades in ecologically beneficial construction and transportation, after all. For the sake of the lake, it’s past time the region got busy employing these. The offshoots will impress critics like my daughter.

The lakeside towns and Park City’s compression bind those communities together in a way our string of pearls does not, frankly. Sure, “string” implies connection, and we do have that thread whether we’re comfortable with “Vail Valley” or a bit huffy about the properness of “Eagle Valley” at the western end of our valley.

I don’t think Lake Tahoe or Park City share so much our Gypsum resident who proudly claims having not set foot in Vail in however many years or the Vail resident — in that rich upstart town — who barely understands there’s a civilization west of Dowd Junction, much less that it’s been around a lot longer. Harrumph.

I love our municipal diversity, if you will, and chose the Eagle area as the best possible place for a newspaper person to live in our long valley. That gives me a great perspective on the whole, I believe.

But we’ll always have to work harder to make that thread a cord, most simply as the consequence of our geography and our history, which, ahem, pull against us.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.


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The VailDaily Updated Apr 24, 2014 09:41PM Published Apr 24, 2014 05:33PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.