But what did they do besides flip charts?

Essay by Ellen Miller

Growth – January 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

Everybody’s talking about the growth and development problem these days. Most of the talkers haven’t been here long enough to remember when, just a few years ago, mere survival was the issue. Mountain counties wanted growth, every county commissioner agreed, the governor weighed in, economic development councils were formed, and real-estate agents went berserk. Well, we got what we asked for.

It turns out, as a real surprise to some but none at all to the realistic, that all growth is not good. There are counties where the riches are piling in and neighboring counties get the problems

Pitkin County, just to name one, has the big-bucks ski areas and the trophy homes, with the resulting huge property tax base.

But Aspen has become impossible to live in for anybody who isn’t either a ski bum or a millionaire, so the worker class hangs out in Garfield County. So it’s the Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, New Castle, Rifle, and even Parachute officials who get the social problems: kids who are super-latch-key types, on their own from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., if they’re lucky. Their parents, both working full-time and commuting several hours a day, have little energy for the kids when they get home. They’re broke, all the time.

So Aspen gets the money, Garfield County gets the cost. And Garfield County has residents, growing in number daily, who hardly have the money to keep body, soul, and family together, let alone support the place.

This is not a unique situation. Lake County is the bedroom community for Summit and Eagle counties. Eagle County workers also go down the river to Garfield County. Telluride’s working stiffs live in Norwood and Montrose.

So what to do? There was a “rural resort symposium” in December at the Regency in Beaver Creek, at which about 150 city and county managers, social services directors, police chiefs, planners, and other bureaucrats met with a few actual business leaders from the resort towns.

PARTICIPANTS WERE UNANIMOUS in agreeing that the meeting was long overdue. They explored, in politically-correct “break-out sessions,” different ideas about what to do. The conference had the full complement of “facilitators” and operated in the trendy babble of meetings these days. They actually talked in terms of community buy-in, diversity, facilitation, empowerment, and, my personal favorite, safe and effective venting.

They furiously wrote on big flip charts, networked like mad, and came up with no concrete solutions, ideas, or directions — other than meeting again.

But I don’t want to be too harsh. There were 150 people from a variety of mountain counties, all of them with problems and ideas. And all of them were trying hard. State legislators were notable by their absence, as was Gov. Roy Romer, who didn’t even send a representative (and the archbishop of Denver did). Of the congressional delegation, only Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell bothered to send a staffer.

At some point, there will have to be some concrete suggestions to come out of this, the kind that can find their way up to the folks who actually cast the votes at the statehouse. Ad-hoc steering committees only go so far. The problems won’t get fixed unless the money gets figured out, and that means who pays for what. There ain’t no free lunch.

When she’s not writing her O’Piñons column, Ellen Miller covers the Western Slope for The Denver Post.