Tiny Red Cliff poised for change | VailDaily.com

Tiny Red Cliff poised for change

Alex Miller

If you ever want to get an idea of the wild swing in economic makeup of Eagle County’s towns, take a trip to Red Cliff.

You might drive right by the turnoff, as I did on my first-ever visit last week. That I’d never been there had nagged at me, but, like skydiving and gazing at the Sistine Chapel, I just hadn’t gotten around to it. Fortunately, getting to Red Cliff is easier than diving out of an airplane or making my way to the Vatican ” but it’s still a pretty precarious road that the handful of locals who live there drive most every day.

It’s hard to comprehend that this tiny town is in the same county ” much less the same universe ” as Vail, with its heated streets and $60 million budget. Red Cliff is one of those former Colorado mining towns with a lot of “used to’s” associated with it.

The railroad used to run through there, it used to be the Eagle County seat, there used to be an elementary school and even a car dealership. As mining waned and skiing and tourism rose down in the valley, Red Cliff slid into obscurity and disrepair.

As the town’s mayor, Ramon Montoya, pointed out, the designation of U.S. 24 as a Scenic Highway has made it just about impossible to even put up a sign alerting passersby to the town’s very existence. From I-70, there’s no mention of Red Cliff on the signs that point to Minturn and even Leadville over Tennessee Pass.

As with every square centimeter of non-publicly owned land in Eagle County, though, things are changing. The looming Ginn development proposed for nearby Battle Mountain ” and which will nearly encircle Red Cliff ” has fueled speculation and pushed property values to double or triple what they were just a few years ago.

Rickety old homes are being refurbished or knocked down in favor of new ones, and the old timers are watching as younger families are moving into town. Red Cliff’s appallingly bad wastewater treatment plant is on track to be replaced in the next couple of years by a new, $4 million facility, and there’s even a new hotel being built ” with a convenience store.

I was there last week for the latest installment of the Economic Council of Eagle County’s “Shaping the Future of Eagle Valley” series, where we visit all the county’s towns and hear from the leaders what’s going on. First, we poked through the crude-but-interesting museum located inside the old schoolhouse and got that sense of place that comes from perusing a town’s artifacts. Red Cliff may be all but invisible to the rest of the county, but there’s been plenty going on up there for years.

Like most locals, the residents of Red Cliff would like to add some dollars to the town to pay for improvements ” but they’re ambivalent about how, exactly, to do that.

While Mango’s restaurant and the new hotel provide some sales tax dollars, and increased property values translate to a bump in tax receipts, there’s only so much room for the town to grow. And it is perched on, well, a cliff; a Vail this will never be, and nobody wants that anyway.

Red Cliff locals speak of the town in the kind of loving terms usually reserved for family members. I can see why since, compared to the busy valley, Red Cliff is a veritable oasis carved out of rock and snow. It’s a safe, quiet place with a rich history and a neat feel to it. But, as in Minturn, you can feel the apprehension in the air as the actions of a particular Florida developer hover overhead like a big cloud that may bring torrential rain, part to sunshine or contain a little bit of both.

Alex Miller is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Trail. He can be reached at 748-2920, or editor@vaildaily.com.

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