Romer: There goes our small town …
Highway engineer Charles Vail routed Highway 6 through the Eagle Valley over what is now Vail Pass in 1940. Inhabitants at the time surely cried “there goes our small town.”
Pete Siebert and Earl Eaton, along with others from the 10th Mountain Division, returned to Colorado after World War II and bought the ranch that existed at what is now the base of Vail Mountain. They opened Vail Mountain in December 1962. Valley residents and other ranchers at the time surely felt as if their small-town life was threatened.
Vail Village quickly grew and housing expanded to East Vail and West Vail; lodging and base operations spread into Lionshead Village. By the late ’60s and early ’70s, Vail was the most popular ski resort in Colorado. Also by this point in time, some who had been here from the beginning surely felt their small-town life was over.
In November 1972, the state’s voters weighed in on whether they would authorize a $5 million bond issue to help finance the Winter Olympics. Residents at the time overwhelmingly rejected this by at 60-40 margin, in fear that hosting the Olympics would surely lead to growth and crowds, and citizens around the state celebrated that they most certainly did their part to save small-town life in rustic Colorado.
Beaver Creek Resort opened for business in 1981 and purchased neighboring Arrowhead four years later. Critics claimed that Colorado and Eagle County didn’t need another ski resort; what might this unfettered growth do to our small-town lifestyle?
The World Alpine Ski Championships were recruited to Eagle County and hosted in 1989, as Vail and Beaver Creek were squarely on the world map and among the most popular and recognized ski resorts in the world. This event — hosted again in 1999 and 2015 — surely led to nostalgia among those who missed small-town life that existed earlier.
Eagle County Regional Airport began receiving mainline jet service by early 1994 with service from American, Delta, Northwest, and United Airlines from cities around the country. There were 36 jet flights a week being operated by these airlines into the airport during the winter ski season early in 1994. Air service into Eagle County led some residents to decry the noise from planes and feeling as though our small-town life would never be the same.
Thanks to the foresight and leadership of our community leaders throughout the years, Eagle County has grown into a modern, successful community. We enjoy access to Denver via I-70, powder days on Vail and Beaver Creek mountains, mountain resort villages that are vibrant and lively, world-class events throughout the summer and winter seasons, air service from 15 markets, a vibrant college system, and medical facilities that are best in class for any community our size.
We’ve come a long way, yet at each step, there are those who mourned the death of our small-town lifestyle. Today, opposition to housing projects such as the Reserve at Hockett Gulch and Booth Heights is led by voices claiming that we are losing our small-town charm.
Our small-town charm isn’t based on building heights, in-fill density or allowable zoning use on private lands. Our small-town charm is based on friendly people enjoying our recreational amenities and lifestyle; it is based on locals taking care of each other; it is based on community.
What is “killing” our small-town atmosphere is the inability to retain those who want to stay. Providing housing for those who desire to make a life here supports our small-town atmosphere and is additive to our community.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.