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Red Cliff’s future: rural or resort?

Steve Lynn
Kristin Anderson
ALL |

As she stood outside her home and called her children to dinner each evening, Angela Beck’s voice echoed among those of other mothers calling their kids.

Now, when the 77-year-old Beck walks in the town in which she was born and lived her whole life, she rarely sees any of her neighbors. The children who live here don’t play outside much, either, Beck said.

Most of the old families who lived in Red Cliff when Beck raised her 10 children there have moved away since the nearby New Jersey Zinc mine closed in the early 1980s. Most of the men and women who live here work miles away in Vail or beyond.

The former mining town was the first county seat between 1879 and 1921. Students attended elementary through high school in the old school building ” built in 1937 ” which has town offices and a museum today. Red Cliff used to have grocery stores and gas stations ” the last gas station closed around a decade ago.

Now Red Cliff, with a population of about 300, has a bar and restaurant, a liquor store and a handful of other small businesses. But the 14-room Green Bridge Inn is slated to open soon, and some new families are moving into town. Like everywhere else in the county, property values are on the rise.

But one of the biggest changes may be yet to come. Residents face the prospect of being surrounded by the town of Minturn if that town’s leaders decide to include into Minturn the 1,000 acres of land owned by the Ginn Development Co. that border Red Cliff. Town Councilors already have voted to annex 4,300 acres of Ginn’s property into Minturn.

Ginn’s plan is to build 1,700 homes and condominiums and a private ski resort and golf course on 5,300 acres between Red Cliff and Minturn.

Some Red Cliff residents are wary of having that resort development so close to their town. Eight ski lifts are planned on Battle Mountain in the Holy Cross, Rock, Kiln and Willow creek drainages. With a vertical drop of more than 2,000 feet, the ski area would have as much terrain as Beaver Creek ” minus Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead.

“It ain’t going to do the town any good,” said Buster Beck, Angela’s 83-year-old husband, who calls Red Cliff “probably the best place in the world.”

“It would probably get to be too many goddamn people.”

Ginn representatives “say they’re going to be good neighbors,” said Eric Cregon, a member of the Red Cliff Board of Trustees and co-owner of Mango’s Mountain Grill, the town’s only watering hole.

Bobby Ginn and Bill Weber, Ginn’s senior vice president, recently went snowmobiling near Red Cliff and had lunch at Mango’s, said Cregon, adding that the men have good personalities.

“It’s not so much them,” Cregon said. “It’s their residents who are going to be our neighbors.”

Minturn town councilors unanimously voted to include land owned by the Ginn Development Co. into the town in February. They said they voted yes because they wanted Minturn to have control over a development Town Councilwoman Shelley Bellm called “inevitable.”

Red Cliff had “made it pretty clear” it would annex Ginn’s property if Minturn had not, Minturn Town Councilman Tom Sullivan said at a Feb. 27 Town Council meeting.

Minturn town councilors have declined to let Red Cliff annex the additional 1,000 acres, owned by Ginn Development Co., that border Red Cliff. Ginn has to wait a little more than a year to apply to the town of Minturn to annex that additional land due to state law that bars towns from annexing more than a certain number of acres at a time.

Ginn wants to build employee housing in the abandoned mining town of Gilman and more housing near Red Cliff, but neither can be seen from Red Cliff.

And Ginn won’t let its employees and residents go through Red Cliff to get to its development if Red Cliff refuses. Instead, they will have use Ginn’s road near the abandoned town of Gilman on U.S. Highway 24.

On top of millions of dollars of annual tax revenue Ginn will provide Minturn, Ginn has agreed to give Minturn $180 million. In the future, Minturn may share revenue with Red Cliff “if appropriate,” an agreement between Ginn and Minturn town councilors says.

Cregon thinks the private ski resort’s residents will spend their money in the town and more businesses may locate in Red Cliff, he said.

“I don’t really know,” he said. “We can only speculate.”

Some residents remain skeptical about Ginn, wary of the changes the development will no doubt bring to the area.

Red Cliff’s culture has changed through the years from one of poverty to hope and achievement, said artist Jim Lamont, who owns a home and art studio in Red Cliff.

Red Cliff residents used to leave trash and old lumber and cars on their properties, he said. Now many people have fixed up their homes and cleaned up, he said.

“Mr. Ginn threatens that change by inundating the community with unwanted development,” he said.

Red Cliff will not have any sort of leadership role as to what happens to it, said Caroline Bradford, who has lived in Red Cliff for 12 years.

“(Minturn town councilors) are working with the Ginn company and we are not,” Bradford said.

Ginn will continue to work with Red Cliff and will be a “good neighbor,” said Cliff Thompson, director of communications for Ginn.

“We have met numerous times with Red Cliff and plan to continue to do so,” he said.

In the past few years, property values have risen dramatically in the face of potential development, residents say.

Buster Beck’s father bought his about 80-by-120-foot lot in Red Cliff for $700. Now Beck thinks his land is worth a half a million dollars.

“The home ain’t worth anything, but the property is,” Beck said.

Bobby Ginn predicted they would rise when a woman asked him how Ginn will affect Red Cliff when he met with residents in April 2005.

Yet he said the development would benefit Red Cliff.

“I’ve watched communities change,” Ginn said. “There are always things communities like this do. This will provide the ability to provide more things in Red Cliff.”

Home ownership is partly what makes Red Cliff a tight-knit community. There aren’t many second homes, although renters are becoming more prevalent since the town is more affordable than others in the county.

Cregon came to the town in 1997 and now he lives there with his wife and three kids.

He bought a home a couple years ago because he wanted to get one before everything was gone. He likes to rock climb in the nearby boulder gardens, fish in Turkey Creek and snowmobile on Shrine Pass, all of which is outside Cregon’s front door.

Unlike when he lived in East Vail, he says hello to his neighbors and knows their names.

“I can walk down the street and point out everybody in town,” he said. “I know exactly who they are.”

But Cregon and other residents worry the property values will drive full-time residents out in a town that has little room for growth.

“I wouldn’t want to see this town turn into $1 million homes,” he said. “The people buying in would probably be second-home owners,” he said.

With increased property values, middle-class families and their children are driven out, Bradford said. Having children in a town makes it a true community ” only two other kindergartners live in Red Cliff besides her daughter, she said.

“We’re not necessarily looking for suburbia, but we’re looking for a small-town feel,” she said.

The area’s fixed-income seniors are also feeling the pinch as property values rise and taxes go up.

Despite the challenges, Bradford loves Red Cliff.

“We had always planned to live here the rest of our lives,” she said about her and her husband. “We love how funky it is.”

For some residents, change means an improved Red Cliff.

Heather Stolz, a Red Cliff resident, cannot wait until Green Bridge Inn opens in Red Cliff.

With the hotel’s liquor and convenience store, residents won’t have to drive at least 9 miles away to Minturn to buy groceries.

The hotel is just one of several signs that the town is growing and improving, Stolz said.

“I can’t say enough about the great things going on in Red Cliff,” she said.

Cregon’s Green Bridge Inn should open soon. The building was built to “green” standards, using 72 solar panels for electricity and to heat water. The hotel also uses fluorescent lights and the wood in the building is used from local trees that have been cut down because they were infested with pine beetles.

As Red Cliff awaits its new, green hotel, its water woes may be coming to a close.

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District helped improve an outdated drinking water facility up Shrine Pass and has been working to help Red Cliff get a new wastewater treatment plant.

A few years ago, Bradford said she and other residents were ordered to boil their water because the drinking water facility was not working properly. That lasted two-and-a-half years, she said.

“The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District is doing a great job to clean up the mess,” Bradford said.

In January 2007, the district began installing water meters, which half the town didn’t have. In August, the district began operating the drinking water facility and wastewater treatment plant below the town.

As it has been doing for years, the wastewater treatment plant below the town still discharges an excessive amount of effluent, said Diane Johnson, community relations manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. The quality of water for drinking and recreation in the Eagle River is still good downstream from Red Cliff, she said.

A new wastewater treatment plant is supposed to be built by the end of 2009.

“They have a lot of people doing the right things to take care of these issues,” Johnson said.

Of an estimated $4.2 million, almost half of the plant is funded by federal, state and local governments, but Red Cliff taxpayers will pay back a $2.5 million, 40-year loan. Residents now pay a $123-a-month water bill.

“It’s absolutely the right thing that they’re doing not only for their community, but for people downstream,” Johnson said.

Red Cliff also could face political changes soon, depending on who residents elect to the Board of Trustees April 1.

Some years, the town has not held trustee elections due to a lack of candidates, but five seats will be up for grabs this year.

Mayor Ramon Montoya will run unopposed. Incumbents Tom Henderson, Veronica “Betty” Sandoval and Duane Nelson will run for their second term as trustees. Billy Marsh will not run again.

Eric Cregon’s term expires April 2010 and Walter Fox is term-limited.

Scott Burgess, Daniel Mitchell and Garrett Scahill are the new candidates, guaranteeing all but one incumbent or challenger a seat on the Board of Trustees.

Scahill, who owns a real estate and property management company, moved to Red Cliff and bought a home because he hopes to start a family with his wife there some day.

Contemplating the town’s future, he said he wants to see Red Cliff, Minturn and Ginn work together, something that has not happened so far, he said.

“I just want to make sure if it does happen, it’s going to be done right and that Red Cliff will prosper from it,” he said of Ginn’s development.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.


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