Sad news about Vail Trail, but not a surprise
Vail, CO, Colorado
For those of us who have been around long enough to remember the heyday of the Vail Trail, it was sad news recently when the newspaper published for the last time as a stand-alone publication. But it wasn’t unexpected news.
No doubt readers are wondering if that decision is a harbinger for the future of newspapers in the valley.
The Trail has been a presence in this valley since 1965.
That newspaper grew up with the Vail ski resort. Its founder, George “the Skipper” Knox, was an unabashed cheerleader for the resort town. He was a booster sort of publisher, who tirelessly promoted everything good about the community that he loved. (In fact, the front page banner tended to have the word “great” and a lot of exclamation points in it (“Weather: Great!; Skiing: Great!; Vail’s greatest newspaper!”)
What started out as a public relations sort of rag ended up being a highly respected newspaper. During the peak of the ski season, the paper would swell up to more than 100 pages. No doubt all that ad revenue was the envy of every weekly newspaper publisher in the state. The Trail had the biggest editorial staff in the valley. It was the Cadillac of local newspapers.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
For a year or two in the mid-1970s, the Trail operated a spin-off weekly newspaper in Eagle, called the Eagle Eye. It was a spunky little newspaper, but it died when the Skipper did.
There’s been some fabulous writers on the Vail Trail staff. Rusty Pierce and Sharon Brown were standout reporters during the early years. Then there’s been a slew of talent in subsequent years: Scott Kersgard, Russ Arensman, Rob Kelly Goss, Tara Flanagan, Allen Best, Connie Steiert, Tommy Boyd and Geraldine Haldner, to name a few.
In 1999, when editor David O. Williams, still one of the best journalists in the valley, took on the challenge of making the longtime weekly into a daily newspaper, “The Daily Trail.” He led the charge with a rambunctious, and sometimes (in the tradition of newsrooms everywhere) squirrely staff, going head-to-head with the well-established Vail Daily.
It was (no wordplay intended) a David vs. Goliath fight, and in the end, the better-funded and bigger-staffed Goliath won. But those of us who were involved remember what a fun adventure it was. The competition was fierce, and there was no sweeter victory than beating the big guys to a story. And there were some big stories in those days, ranging from the Two Elk arson to controversial county land use decisions to the discovery of “Big Foot” tracks on the Eagle River.
That newspaper war was good for readers, too. Never before, and never since, has the local scene been covered in such daily detail. Reporters on both sides were digging for hard for the news; and they had reason to be proud of their work.
Ultimately, it was the financial decisions, not the editorial effort, that ended the Daily Trail. In 2004, Swift Communications (the company that owns the Vail Daily and the Eagle Valley Enterprise) bought the Vail Trail from the Knox family.
The following years have been somewhat schizophrenic for a weekly newspaper trying to find its niche in a market dominated by a daily powerhouse. Like a woman testing new hairstyles, the newspaper tried out a lot of different personalities, ranging from an “edgy” young-people’s publication to a dignified, business-like publication targeting second home owners in the resort communities. The newspaper’s most recent incarnation, as a sort of news magazine, really looked promising.
But given the economy, and the state of newspapers these days, keeping the Vail Trail operating just wasn’t in the cards.
Don’t believe the rumors that the intent was always to make the Trail go away. That’s not true.
Swift is a family-owned corporation, and their emphasis is to try to keep community newspapers going, not make them disappear (the Enterprise is still here, as proof).
These are tough times for weekly newspapers. The Enterprise staff certainly understands that situation. People are increasingly turning to the Internet for their news. The experts say newspapers are a thing of the past.
We disagree. We think people still like to sit in their favorite chair, hold their favorite newspaper in their hands, and read about their community.
The staff here at the Enterprise will miss the Vail Trail … but we’ll keep up the tradition of weekly newspapering, hopefully for another 110 years.
Longtime Eagle County journalist Kathy Heicher now writes part-time for the Eagle Valley Enterprise, which she edited for several years.