Quit pretending this isn’t a suburb
Smalltown character? Hah!From the moment Pete and Earl planted the first lift tower – with their eyes already on the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin – this place was bound to become something more like a suburb. And I-70 forever killed our chance of being a grizzled mountain town a la Crested Butte or Nederland. In the upper valley, outside of Red Cliff and Minturn, there was never anything historic to preserve. Unlike Breckenridge, Telluride or Aspen – which were actual towns long before anyone used the phrase “powder day” – Vail, Avon and Edwards, which are the towns that matter now, don’t really have a pre-ski resort history, aside from a few hearty and lonely ranchers. Old-time identity lingers in those other ski towns. There are still shades of mining and railroads and winter before central heating in the architecture. All Vail’s ever had to define itself by was the slopes, tourism and making money. There nothing wrong with that, and Vail’s done such a good job without any roots to rely on that those other towns are wiping out their last shreds of silver and molybdenum to be more like us. Historic preservation’s cute. But unless you’re preserving something like the pyramids, it doesn’t really pay for that brand new high-speed gondola. The receipts from the Sheep Farming Museum aren’t going to run the kind of bus system a modern ski town needs. Vail’s swallowing up Minturn, too. The feisty little town has so far resisted becoming an outpost of second homes, but it probably can’t hold out for long, especially if a private ski resort on Battle Mountain starts squeezing out the old miners from the other side. The miners may not get squeezed, but what the amount of money they may soon get offered for their property may make it awfully easy to leave Minturn behind and retire in Buena Vista. The argument against all this development – what some call progress and others call a tragedy – is always the preservation of “small-town character”: Know-ing your neighbor, recognizing folks at the grocery store and going to the town’s Fourth of July party. We’re hanging on to all those things, but the many other traits that make us more metropolitan are becoming more and more dominant with each new Marble Slab and Starbucks branch that opens. Truly small towns don’t have as many cops as we do in Eagle County. How many cops, troopers, sheriffs and security officers do you see on a drive down Highway 6 between Edwards and Dowd Junction? The Sheriff’s Office already is too big. And can you ever imagine a sheriff asking the county’s permission to cut the staff for the sake of small-town character?The fire departments in small towns don’t have to ask for tax increase so they can beef up their crews and buy new equipment to keep up with the booming population. You need plenty more firefighters to put out a blaze at a big-box store than you need at a general store.Small, rural towns definitely don’t need open space committees to make sure every speck of empty land isn’t filled with shopping centers. Small rural towns don’t have hundreds of real estate agents sending unsolicited letters to homeowners inquiring if they want to sell.So when we’re considering a development – such as Costco in Gypsum – we’ve got to get over the fact that this isn’t Salida or Paonia. The Costco isn’t wiping out any small-town character of any substance, but it will be convenient for us middle-class folks who actually look at the receipts when we buy something. City Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14620, or email@example.com
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