Town of Vail celebrates 50 years

Former mayors of the Town of Vail unveil a new rock at Mayor's Park, Tuesday, in Vail. The rock weighs 14,000 pounds and displays the names of the 13 former mayors.
Chris Dillmann | |

VAIL — Four years after the ski resort popped up in 1962, a handful of property owners living off the land voted to incorporate as a municipality. The vote that welcomed Vail as Colorado’s newest town was passed, 43-19.

Building the town of Vail from the ground up followed as the first Town Council was formed Aug. 23, 1966. Everything had to be created, from speed limits to public transportation to police and fire services to whether or not the town would have a library or an ice rink to paved roads and eventually heated roads.

“No one was telling us what to do, and no one knew what they were doing,” said Diana Donovan, who, with her husband, John, was among the first families in Vail and served on the Planning and Zoning Commission as well as Town Council. “We just did what felt good and seemed right.”

Fifty years later, the town celebrated everything the former staff and employees created with a birthday celebration at Donovan Park on Tuesday. From Vail’s first doctor to its first town manager, Vail’s unique history filled the pavilion with stories to be told.

“The legacy, the spirit and the town that they’ve created has set the bar so high and set a standard that not only are locals able to appreciate, but our guests who come from all over the world,” said current Mayor Dave Chapin, who met with the town’s previous mayors as part of the celebration.

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The 50-year celebration included events across town on Tuesday, and in Mayors Park, Vail’s 13 mayors were honored with the unveiling of a new centerpiece listing their names and terms.

At Donovan Park, former and current town of Vail staff and residents gathered to celebrate five decades of progress.

“I don’t think anybody envisioned that Vail would be this big,” said Blake Lynch, Vail’s first town manager. “They knew it would be a successful ski area and community, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be as big as it is today.”

Looking back, moving forward

Nearly 90 town employees, past and present, were honored Tuesday for working 20 or more years. Among them was Charlie Turnbull, of the town’s public works department.

“The town has been really good to me and my family. This is one of the greatest organizations to work for,” Turnbull said. “I wouldn’t be here for 39 years and going on if it wasn’t such a great organization.”

He said he remembers when he first started doing similar work on a smaller scale.

“Back then we only plowed and maintained everything from Vail Run east,” Turnbull said.

Rod Slifer served on Town Council for 16 years, 11 of them as mayor. He can’t remember why it was an odd number, but he does remember his solution to a transportation issue, when he got 16 buses from then President Gerald R. Ford after a trip to Washington, D.C., he said.

“The first time I was on (council) was some time ago,” Slifer said, “and there wasn’t as much participation from the citizens of Vail, and we got a lot done because there were a lot of things to get done.”

Kerry Donovan, state senator and daughter of Diana and John, said it’s a neat time to be in Vail where you can still talk with some of the founders of the town.

Kerry served on the Vail Town Council, like both of her parents.

“As long as people remember their roots, we’ll be fine in the future,” she said.

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

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