Four decades of great ideas in Vail
VAIL, Colorado – Vail and the Vail Symposium grew up together, and both are turning out just fine.The Symposium is celebrating its 40th year in 2011.”It’s been an incredibly exciting evolution,” said Elaine Kelton, a member of that first Vail Symposium board. “Look at our history. We have created something about which we can be so proud.” Vail has survived and thrived in part because of the lessons learned at Vail Symposium events. The Symposium is the valley’s second-oldest nonprofit.”Vail is experiencing some tougher times, just like everyone else in the world,” said Elaine Kelton. “Nothing endures except change.””We are not la la land, but we are a slice if heaven.”
Right from the beginning, policy makers from all over the country came to Vail to be part of the Symposium.In 1971, New York City Mayor John Lindsay was the first Vail Symposium speaker. He helped lead the two-day discussions about the role of the mountain recreation community. Lindsay was joined by Max Linn, president of the John Muir Institute in San Francisco, among others.Nearly 600 people gathered at Eagle’s Nest to be part of it.”That original two-day program came out of an attempt to establish a town forum where we could determine where Vail was going, and how others were dealing with the same issues,” Kelton said.The second and third Symposiums delved into growth, because growth was delving into every facet of Vail life. The third in 1973 found Vail an established town facing all the challenges that go with it: “Man and His Environment: The Vail Experience.””By that time, we were experiencing a 25 percent annual growth rate,” Kelton said.”Vail itself was reaching a point where there was a huge need for direction and planning,” Kelton said. “We were facing questions about how to go about bringing a community together and so many other issues.”John Larsen, secretary of the interior, helped lead the discussion for that third Symposium.Locals have always risen to meet challenges and overcome skepticism. Kelton recalled that Kevin Foley was 41 when he was elected to the Vail Town Council. Letters to the editor poured in insisting that because he was so young, he could not possibly have enough experience to handle those pressures.”When we created a home rule community we were only 26. What did we know?” Kelton asked.But they could learn, and they did.
Vail Town Manager Terry Minger and Vail Mayor John Dobson helped give the Symposium life. Minger now heads the Piton Foundation in Denver.Because Minger and Dobson were able to run it through the town of Vail, they could forego the normal problems of any fledgling organization, and think big.”That enabled the Symposium to focus on larger, global issues,” Kelton said. “It really was one of the original ‘think globally, act locally’ organizations.”And it helps to be in Vail.”When you have people like Gerald Ford and John Lindsay who loved to ski here, and people like Bud Palmer to bring them here, it makes a difference,” Kelton said.Each of the early symposiums were three to four days, and designed in such a way that there was outcome formatted as part of it. Out of each symposium, Minger produced a book outlining issues and solutions.In 1987, the town moved the Symposium out from under its umbrella and it become its own entity. The Symposium started providing year-round programming.”When we went year round, we wanted to be affordable for the community,” said Liana Moore, the Symposium’s executive director.
The Vail Symposium provides educational programs of every conceivable sort. The Symposium was conceived as a once-annual, weekend think tank to help guide future change. In the early years, the Symposium fostered development of the Vail master plan, the formation of the Eagle Valley Forum, and was the platform from which President Gerald Ford made a major energy policy speech in 1976.They may refine their focus as they push into the future.”It’s a time to reflect on the last 40 years and determine what we want to be for the next 40 years,” Moore said. “The future may not hold as many programs, but we’ll make sure they’re home runs.”This week, for example.Jason Moore told us what it’s like to be the first one to negotiate an endangered river in Tibet, an endangered country.Lionel Jensen is a Notre Dame professor and acclaimed author. He’s telling us, clearly and concisely, what the Chinese are thinking.And because it really is all about the Benjamins, two of the world’s top economic experts, David Walker and Andrew Tisch, will lead a panel discussion about economic issues, how to address them and possible ways out of this mess.
New friends and ideas constantly flow through Vail and through the Vail Symposium, Kelton said.”Vail was built on not knowing everyone at the dinner table. You held out your hand and greeted people,” Kelton said.Some of that has to change as communities grow, but “there’s still that sense in Vail,” Kelton said.”If we were still charging $9 for a hotel room and $7 for an all-day lift ticket, none of us would be here,” Kelton said. “Nothing remains constant but change.”Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org