Transportation key to Vail’s success
It was a dramatic decision, but only the beginning, however, because there was a strong new movement to build a tunnel under Red Buffalo Pass and bring the interstate into the valley via Gore Creek. This would have been very costly and would have destroyed some primitive areas of national forest land. It was finally decided that I-70 should follow U.S. Highway 6 over Vail Pass.
This decision presented two questions: Where should the highway be located in the valley?; and what would be the condemnation fees?
If the Colorado State Highway Department had had its way, I-70 would have taken out the golf course, encroached significantly on the village, and killed the development of Lionshead. But finally, due to the Vail group’s persuasion, Charley Shumate, head of the Colorado State Highway Department, moved I-70 to the north side of the valley.
The other question resulted in a court battle. The net difference between what Vail Associates got from the old U.S. Highway 6 right-of-way and what they gave for the I-70 alignment was 112 acres. The federal highway system offered $297,000. Even by 1967 standards, Vail Associates felt that this was far too low and decided to go to court. Vail was represented by prominent Denver attorney and Vail homeowner Fred Winner, who was about to become a federal judge. After some clever maneuvering on Winner’s part, Vail was awarded $1,508,012.75. It was a great settlement at the time, but in today’s terms, it was peanuts. Nevertheless, what would have happened to the development of Vail if I-70 had not been built through the valley?
The Eagle Airport, meanwhile, was built as an emergency, unpaved landing strip for government use during World War II.
In 1964, an enterprising pilot, Gordon Autry, started Vail Airways. He had two Cessna 310s and offered service between Eagle and Denver. It was quite a simple operation. Many times if a pilot, already in flight, would see a late customer racing up the dirt road, he would turn around and pick up the passenger.
Within a few years, Autry expanded his business to include several other towns, including Grand Junction and Steamboat Springs. He also changed the name to Rocky Mountain Airways, which was later sold to Continental Express. That was the beginning of commercial activity at Eagle Airport. Today, the airport accounts for about 40 percent of Vail and Beaver Creek’s skiers.
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 41st installment, an excerpt from chapter 5, “Creating a Plan to Make it Work.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.