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Looking forward, looking back

Sarah L. Stewart
Vail Trail file photo
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Eagle Countys identity is as diverse as its landscape, from the height of Vail Pass to the hills of Dotsero. Depending who you ask, it is a skiing mecca, a hard-won ranchland, a vacation playground, an immigrant destination and a place intricately tied to both Colorados past and its future.It is an evolving community, a fact made clear by the changes that have taken place over the past year and past decade in its population, economy, health and lifestyle.Data about our community helps us to see how our experiences fit into the larger picture and by examining where weve been, we just might figure out where were going.So heres a look at the place that is, for all of us lucky enough to live and work here, home.

Though all of Eagle County is steadily growing in population, the youngest and oldest segments of the population are growing faster than the rest. The next 10 years are expected to bring a slowdown in the growth of the under-10 population, while the over-50 set is forecast to continue growth at a rate more than double that of the general population. The shift is reflected in the predicted median age, which will surpass the state median in the next 10 years.General population1997: 35,2062006: 50,6182007: 52,2362017: 69,166Population under age 10:1997: 5,1472006: 7,7792007: 8,1112017: 9,437Population over 50:1997: 4,8262006: 10,6212007: 11,4312017: 20,409Forecasted population growth in the next 10 years, by age:0 to 24: 34.3 percent25 to 49: 8.9 percent50 to 74: 72.7 percent75 to 90+: 170.7 percentMedian age1997: 31.1 (Colorado: 33.5)2006: 34.7 (Colorado: 35.4)2007: 35.2 (Colorado: 35.6)2017: 39.4 (Colorado: 35.8)Total births1996: 5732006: 901General fertility rate1996: 662006: 80.6Births to unmarried women1996: 71 (12.4 percent of total births)2006: 186 (20.6 percent of total births)Low weight births (less than 5.5 pounds)1996: 58 (10.1 percent, compared to 8.8 percent statewide)2006: 94 (10.4 percent, compared to 9 percent statewide) Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and EnvironmentGood news, fellas: Its slowly but surely getting easier to find a lady in Eagle County.Number of males per female1997: 1.182006: 1.162007: 1.152017: 1.10Source: Colorado State Demography OfficeResidents of Hispanic origin2000: 9,682 (23.2 percent)2006: 13,507 (28.3 percent)Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The face of Eagle County is changing, and so, it seems, is its hair color.In the next 10 years, state demographers forecast the older segment of our population to grow far faster than any other group in Eagle County. The under-50 population is expected to grow 19.5 percent by 2017, compared to 78.5 percent growth in the over-50 population. The number of people over age 75 is expected to grow by 170 percent, though they will still comprise a relatively small percentage of the total population.As Eagle Countys adult services manager, Sheri Mintz faces the challenge of making sure the county is ready for its graying population.I think there has been a change in the way people look at Eagle County, says Mintz, 49. Theyre no longer leaving at some point. Theyre aging in place here.Her job was created two years ago, when the county changed its adult services program to a full-fledged department in response to the growing needs of the senior population. The department offers programs to meet seniors transportation, health and nutrition needs, as well as a lecture series called Active Minds, exercise classes and other activities to keep seniors involved.We are preparing, Mintz says. We are early in the process, and it is evolving and growing.One obvious deficit is the lack of an assisted-living facility in the county, a fact Mintz is confident will change in the next few years.Its certainly not by lack of trying, she says. Its more of an economic issue. We need to have a certain number of people to support that facility.Mintz emphasizes the benefits of an aging population as much as its challenges, saying it will give young people a chance to see what their elders have to contribute and bring more balance to the community.Its exciting, she says. The possibilities are endless.

When Colorado Mountain Medical added Dr. Victoria Mohr to its obstetrics and gynecology practice in November, it seemed another indicator of the baby boom underway in Eagle County. Figures from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show a 57 percent increase in the number of births in the county from 1996 to 2006.More than a baby boom, however, Mohr has discovered an increasing volume in another aspect of her practice, minimally invasive pelvic surgeries such as hysterectomies further evidence of the population growth occurring at the other end of the age spectrum.Mohr does expect continued growth in the number of babies born downvalley, though, as young couples find the community and prices there more appealing than other mountain areas.Pregnancy and childbirth take on a few unique characteristics in Eagle County, where in 2006 the fertility rate (the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44) was more than 10 points higher than the state fertility rate. The thinner air found at high elevations can affect newborns, sometimes requiring they be given a little bit of oxygen, Mohr says though she adds they do adapt pretty quickly.Babies born here are also more likely to be underweight than their counterparts in other parts of the state, a fact some attribute to altitude. But the valleys smaller babies likely have more to do with mothers health, Mohr says.Our population is very fit, and fit people have smaller babies, she says. The babies seem to do very, very well even though theyre smaller.Mohr, who has practiced in Florida and New Zealand, has had to adjust her advice to patients accordingly.As opposed to having to really promote exercise in my pregnant patients … I have to tell them to cut back when it may not be safe or prudent, she says. Thats a nice, welcome and pleasant change.

Perhaps nowhere is the countys burgeoning Hispanic population more evident than in its schools. This year, for the first time ever in the Eagle County School District, Hispanic students outnumber Anglo students 50 percent to 48 percent.At Avon Elementary, where principal Melisa Rewold-Thuons voicemail recording is in both English and Spanish, 90 percent of the student body is Hispanic, and more than 50 percent is considered non-English proficient. When Rewold-Thuon taught at the school in 2000, she estimated the ratio was about 50-50, but the combination of a growing Hispanic population and Anglo parents sending their children elsewhere has resulted in the predominately Hispanic student population.The biggest effect is we have to teach other things a regular, mainstream class wouldnt have to, she says.Spanish-speaking students receive at least 45 minutes per day of English as a Second Language classes; the school is also in its second year of a dual-language program, meaning the English-speaking students learn Spanish, and vice versa, in all subjects.Scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, reflect a gap between Colorados Anglo and Hispanic students. This year, nearly 80 percent of Anglo fourth-graders statewide scored proficient or advanced on the CSAP reading test, while just 40 percent of Hispanic students did. In Eagle County, the percentage of Anglo fourth-graders achieving at least proficiency surpassed 80 percent at all but two elementary schools; at only one school did the percentage of Hispanic students achieving proficiency exceed 40 percent.At Avon Elementary, Rewold-Thuon says she is seeing results from the dual-language program, with students from the two groups interacting more during recess and Spanish speakers picking up English more quickly. Shes always looking to hire more bilingual teachers, though already more than half of her classroom teachers speak both languages.At a school where the traditional majority is now a minority, Rewold-Thuon finds herself in the reverse situation of what most other schools face.We have to think about how were meeting the needs of the English-speaking kids, she says.

More of us in Eagle County are employed than we were last year or a decade ago. On average, were getting paid more than we were five or 10 years ago, but less than we were a year ago after adjusting for inflation. The jobs were doing are different, too, trending toward development-driven industries.Unemployment rateOctober 1997: 4.7 percentOctober 2006: 3.6 percentOctober 2007: 2.7 percentAverage weekly wage1997: $491First quarter 2002: $578First quarter 2006: $730First quarter 2007: $741 (a $6 decrease from 2006 after adjusted for inflation, but a $70 increase over 2002)Sales revenueAugust 2006: $169.1 millionAugust 2007: $182.8 million (a $9.8 million increase after adjusted for inflation)Source: Colorado Department of Labor & EmploymentJob sectorsAgriculture, 1997: 726Agriculture, 2005: 198Construction, 1997: 5,001Construction, 2005: 5,417Real estate, 1997: 1,826Real estate, 2005: 2,980Source: Colorado State Demography Office

At its peak, the 1,600-acre Walker family ranch supported 150 to 200 cattle off of Cottonwood Pass Road and on a 35-acre tract in Gypsum. Jenny Wood, whose maternal great-grandparents homesteaded the land in the late 1800s, remembers riding a pony at the age of 5 or 6 to help the adults check on the cattle and move them to lower elevations.Memories like 29-year-old Woods are dwindling in Eagle County, an area that once relied heavily on agriculture. From 1997 to 2005, the countys number of agricultural jobs fell by nearly three-quarters and 1997 was long after the countys agricultural peak.The Walker ranch now lays claim to just 50 cattle, a reduction largely resulting from the sale of land in Gypsum that the family used to lease to grow hay. That land is now a subdivision.Its pretty difficult to be a rancher here, Jenny Wood says. From a ranching standpoint, I think its pretty sad.With property values climbing, the sale of ranches for development is an ever more common tale.I dont blame them when they can get the price they can, says Wood, a 4-H and youth development extension agent for the county. I think its only a matter of time before we see nearly all the ranches sell out because of that.Her brother, Jared, still works the family ranch, but hes taken a job in town with the gas company to make extra money.Its really not a big money maker, he says of working his familys ranch. Theres nothing else Id rather do.The countys shift from agriculture presents ranching families with a difficult choice.Were kinda tied to our place because its been in our family for so long, Jenny Wood says. When you see what you can get for your land, its hard to stay here.The price they could fetch for their Eagle County land could buy a much larger ranch in another state, where the whole family could work together. But for now, they dont plan to sell. Woods grandparents remain firmly opposed to the idea, despite the flowers and chocolates realtors send them several times per year in an effort to sway their decision.Itd be a shame to leave something like that, Jared Wood says. Its not much, but theyve been working for it for a lot of years.

Finding (and buying) a place to call home has become increasingly difficult in Eagle County, as property values have soared in recent years. Just check your property tax bill. As buying a home becomes more expensive, finding a place to rent has gotten more difficult, too.Average home price1997: $532,7392006: $715,000Source: Eagle County AssessorMedian home price as percentage of median family income2000: 477 percent2006: 649 percentAverage rent price2000: $9522007: $1,150Rental vacancy2000: 6.6 percent2007: .07 percentSource: Eagle County Housing Needs Assessment 2007County building permits2002: 4582006: 6402007: 514Source: Eagle County Government

What we like to do is a big part of who we are. Heres a glimpse at what were reading, drinking and doing and what many of us arent doing (such as voting). What we like to do is a big part of who we are. Heres a glimpse at what were reading, drinking and doing and what many of us arent doing (such as voting). Registered voter turnout2001: 42.8 percent2004: 89.7 percent (presidential election year)2006: 58.3 percent2007: 23 percentRegistered vehicles2000: 44,4212006: 49,516Source: Eagle County GovernmentSkier visits: Vail1962-63: 55,0002005-06: 1,676,0002006-07: 1,608,000Skier visits: Beaver Creek2005-06: 875,0002006-07: 890,000Source: Vail Resorts

From climate change to water consumption, the environment is always a top concern for Eagle County residents. So how are we doing? On the plus side, were recycling more. But looking ahead, we can expect more development and continued effects from the mountain pine beetle infestation.Vail Mountain snowfallNovember average: 58 inchesNovember 2007: 45 inchesDecember average: 59 inchesDecember 2007 (as of Dec. 12): 56 inchesSource: Vail MountainSolid waste2002: 97,227 tons2006: 109,000 tons2007: close to 115,000 tonsSource: Eagle County LandfillRecycled material2002: 1,336 tons2006: 2,115 tonsSource: Eagle Valley Alliance for SustainabilityProjected additional acres to be developed, 2000 to 2030:4,932Source: Colorado Conservation Trust


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