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Runyon puts aside the lens

Tamara Miller
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyFirst time County Commissioner candidate Peter Runyon works from his home in Edwards as a professional photographer.
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It may be hard to believe, but Peter Runyon considers himself an introvert.For most of his life, Runyon has been more comfortable working behind a camera lens than in front of it. He’s done things on his own terms. Ten years of his adult life were devoted to sailing all over the road, with stops at home every six months or so. Lately, the Democratic candidate for the upvalley county commissioner seat has been a little louder. He spoke in favor of dedicating at least part of the Eaton Ranch – where B&B Excavating operates – to open space. At a recent county commission hearing, Runyon opposed a controversial project in Edwards’ Homestead neighborhood. Contrary to popular thinking, Runyon is neither outspoken nor an anti-development fanatic, he said. But he is concerned about Eagle County’s future.”I just think we can do better,” he said. A fish out of waterRunyon grew up on the East Coast but most of his life, he felt out of place, he said. He despised the New York aristocracy and how a birthright or prestigious school carried so much weight in society, he said. He went to St. Paul’s Academy – a fact that would greatly impress people in his native land. He’s glad it wouldn’t impress anyone here.

“Now I just say I went to high school,” he said.After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Runyon headed west. His destination was Aspen and he hoped to start his adult life there. He stopped in Vail along the way. He was struck by the pleasant way people in the West dealt with each other. While he enjoyed his stop in Vail, he was determined not to steer off course. He continued to Aspen. “I walked around Aspen and there was a different feel of the people there,” Runyon said. “I felt as thought I had to go back to Vail.”He did and at last, Runyon felt at peace.”It was as if I had come home,” he said. “At last, I felt as if I fit in.”He immediately began looking for a job. Runyon’s major in college was history but his passion was for photography. After speaking to a few local photographers, he went to Vail Associates to interview for a position there. After a nearly two-month wait, he got the call: He got the job. “It was great,” he said. “The company was very supportive.”Runyon only got one raise in the 10 years he was with Vail Associates, but he was allowed to use the photos he shot for projects on the side. Company officials realized that having pictures of Vail published on magazine covers could only be a good thing. Runyon got plenty of covers on national and regional ski magazines. Photography was in its heyday in the ’70s and ’80s. Nowadays the compensation Runyon would receive for cover is about the same he received then, he said.

His favorite photo, however, has nothing to do with skiing. It’s a cover he shot for Cruising World magazine that shows the sun setting over a sailboat in the ocean: Runyon designed and made the sailboat. After leaving Vail Associates, Runyon set to sea for nearly a decade. He would return home to Vail every six months or so, but for that period of time Runyon was a rambling man. When he came home in 1990, he stayed home for good. Joining the community fabricRunyon now owns two postcard and souvenir companies, Runyon Postcards, Inc. and Mountain Sights, Inc., which do business throughout the state. The postcards feature many of his photographs, as well as pictures belonging to colleagues and well-known photographer John Fielder. At a Halloween party in 1997, Runyon met his wife, Beth. He went as a sailor, clad fully in uniform with a harness. Beth was dressed as a construction worker.”So I kept clipping my harness to her carabiner,” he said. They’ve been hooked together ever since, he said. As he has gotten older, the shy East Coaster who felt out of place is now quite at ease. With this confidence, Runyon has started getting more involved in the community. He serves on the advisory board for Colorado Mountain College and is a member of the Vail/Eagle Valley chapter of Rotary International. As a 34-year resident of the valley, Runyon has witnessed plenty of changes. He’s not happy with all of them. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, this valley was sort of schizophrenic,” he said. “The upvalley had the elite skiers and the downvalley had the longtime ranchers. They didn’t understand each other.”



There needs to be a balance between the two and while the ski resorts are vital part of Eagle County’s economic health, Runyon said that ranching heritage needs to be preserved.”That’s part of the tourist experience,” he said. The idea of transferring development rights – which Runyon explained would allow developers to essentially buy zoning rights from another developer – could be one way to control growth. Runyon also agrees with Buz Reynolds, the independent candidate for the District 2 county commissioner seat, that it’s time for Eagle County to be run by five, not three, commissioners.He also would like there to be better communication between towns and the county and suggests hiring a liaison on the county’s payroll to do just that. To better control growth, Runyon wants to create a bipartisan committee that will establish guidelines to more strictly control growth in the county. Those guidelines should be voted on by county residents, he said. “This issue is too important to be left completely to the discretion of the county commissioners,” he said. Runyon already has seen some result of his community involvement. About 72 acres of the Eaton Ranch parcel is now under a one-year, $12 million purchase option aimed at preserving it as open space. The Vail Valley Foundation set up the deal with a $25,000 down payment. The organization hopes to raise the $12 million required to buy the land.”I, in my own small way, helped to get that to happen,” he said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or tmiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily


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