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Vail parks and politics

Kaye Ferry
Vail CO, Colorado

The relationship between the town of Vail and the Vail Recreation District has long been plagued with controversy. From poorly crafted contracts exacerbated by even worse execution, to personality conflicts, to power plays, their interactions have been less than productive which in the end has translated into a dysfunctionality that has not served the needs of the taxpayer. Or at least not as they should.

But it appears that’s about to change. In fact, the general tone of the interchanges between boards is remarkably more civil than it has been in recent memory. They’re actually down right polite to each other.

Why is that, you might ask? To say it’s about time would be trivial because that’s been the case for years. It’s more that the new Vail Recreation District Board of Directors and the new Vail Recreation District general manager have made it a priority and the Vail Town Council has wisely followed suit. And not a moment too soon.

The general state of some of the recreation facilities in the town of Vail needs attention. A lot has been done with the Band-Aid approach but serious work must be programmed if we are to maintain “world class” status ” a term that causes me personally to gag every time I hear it.

Isn’t there any better phrase that we can use to suggest that we strive to be the best at what we do?

What some people don’t know is that the recreation district, formed as the Vail Metropolitan Recreation District, was a legal government subdivision of the state of the Colorado before the town was incorporated, which explains why the town boundaries do not match the recreation district’s.

When the town of Vail incorporated in 1966, they also had a recreation department, which in 1989, through a public vote, rolled in to the Vail Recreation District.

At that time, 2.76 of the town’s mill levy was transferred to the recreation district as a permanent funding source. This vote was initiated and won because residents did not agree with the town’s management of its recreational facilities. So from the get-go, there was friction.

There has been much confusion over the contracts that control the agreements between the two entities, largely because they were poorly drafted, leaving miles of interpretation. In some cases, documents are missing all together. This has given rise to a great deal of misunderstanding and animosity in the past and it is on the top of the list of issues to be dealt with in the future. Many will remember the Dobson Ice Arena refrigeration dilemma and that is only one example of what has occurred in the absence of clear documentation defining responsibilities incumbent on the lessee versus leasor.

But things are changing. Through collaboration between the Vail Recreation District and town of Vail, a “Parks and Recreation Master Plan” has been developed after six public focus group meetings with 54 residents and stakeholders. I would have like to have seen a larger sample but the Vail 20/20 process was incorporated, thereby providing more community input. This citizen-driven master plan establishes a clear set of goals, policies and objectives that will provide direction to the Vail Recreation District and town of Vail, and this is especially important in a community that draws residents and visitors alike through its recreation lifestyle.

But to begin, it’s of interest to look at the demographics of the town since Vail’s population is considerably different from the state and national averages in most categories. It has about half the averages in the lowest age groups (5-24) with its largest group at 37.9 percent in ages 25-34 (Colorado comes in at 14.5 percent while the U.S. is 13.2 percent). In ages 35-54 and 55-64, we’re comparable to the national average but over 65 is notably smaller.

In terms of education, 60.9 percent of Vail’s population either has a bachelor’s or master’s degree compared to 32.7 in Colorado and 24.4 nationwide. And perhaps that correlates to a higher median income of $73,000 as compared to Colorado, $53,000 or U.S., $52,000. Additionally, the average family size is slightly smaller at 2.16 compared to Colorado, 2.54 or U.S., 2.59.

Armed with that info, and skipping over the rec district’s goals of clarification of contracts with the town of Vail, as well as a better relationship in general, better communication and marketing, and an upgrade through capital improvements, just what was identified through the development of this long awaited master plan?

All groups shared concerns about the age and poor condition of many of Vail’s rec facilities. The Vail Golf Course, Nordic Center, Dobson Arena and the youth service facility were listed as being in need of major renovations. There is also interest in redesigning Ford Park to provide more field space and parking, and to study the uses for the tennis courts. And has been mentioned in previous surveys, interest was expressed in an indoor lap pool, weight room, cardio fitness and teen center. It was also noted that it is important to continue to expand special events that help support sales tax revenues.

But when all was said and done, it still got down to the basics. “The lack of adequate contractual agreement between the town of Vail and the Vail Recreation District is the most critical issue affecting the relationship between the entities and their collective ability to offer sustainable, comprehensive recreation programs and facilities to the community. Misunderstanding of responsibilities, expectations, and capabilities has been the root of the past strained relationship. Rectifying (this) … will be critical to success.”

Quite a mouthful, but clearly, something that needed to be said. In public. With consultants. After surveys. In good faith.

This master plan has been a long time coming. But it’s completed. Now the questions remain. Will it go the way of so many of our research projects? Will it end up in someone’s bottom drawer or the circular file? Or will we finally tackle this problem head on?

As was highlighted in the report, Vail’s park and recreation resources are an important part of our past and future. And as much as I hate the term “world class,” it’s better than no class at all.

Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.”

Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a biweekly column for the Daily.


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