Mountain Counties march to a different drummer

Article by Sue Conroe

Growth – May 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

In response to a growing sense of alarm at the consequences of rampant growth in Colorado, Governor Romer has initiated a series of growth summits. And as the Director of the Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce, I attended one of those conferences on March 22 along with several other representatives from Chaffee County.

At this point, it seemed obvious that our county could benefit from some advice on coping with growth, housing shortages, subdivision development, water conservation, and numerous other issues. But the conference took some surprising turns.

No one from my group raised a hand when Governor Romer asked how many Chaffee County representatives would vote to change the 80% status of public lands in our county as a solution for growth.

And frankly, I was startled when the executive director of the Cañon City Chamber of Commerce took exception with our response. I’ve always bragged about the 80-20 breakdown of recreational lands to private property we have in Chaffee County. We have a dozen “fourteeners,” and a wealth of scenic wonders, plus hunting, camping, fishing, hiking, skiing, wild rivers and popular trails.

I suspect that those of us from Chaffee County shouldn’t kid ourselves that the beauty of our public lands has always fostered a good share of economic health, but it seemed inconceivable that the Cañon City representative would suggest that economic development should have a higher priority.

As you can see, growth means different things to different people — and to different communities. And thus another topic arose.

Romer contends that growth is inevitable. At the state level, our governor wants to at least be a cheerleader, and he offers his services (or rather those of his cabinet) to all counties that are grappling with growth.

But Romer also encourages local citizens to do their own planning.

Community involvement is somewhat limited, however.

Ruth Stimack, director of the Royal Gorge Bridge, relayed her breakout group’s observation that the average citizen is seldom involved in decisions affecting his community. And Frank McMurray, a Chaffee County commissioner, has often lamented that most citizens become involved only after they react to an issue — not during the planning stages.

Unfortunately, most people are either too busy running their family or business (or working two jobs) to get involved in community planning. And therefore, most participants at growth, planning and/or visioning events are either retired, or else they are there because attending is their job and they’re getting paid to do it.

This hardly seems representative in the old-fashioned tradition, but one woman from Cañon City offered a refreshing counter to the dilemma. Because she feels our kids need to be included in our decisions for the future, she brought a Ca$on City High School student to the conference. This seemed a good idea, especially after I reflected upon the fact that the events best attended in Chaffee County are the ones that involve children, and which in turn attract their parents.

In the end, however, the questions remained:

— Assuming we can broaden citizen involvement and develop a coherent plan regarding growth, will it go further than into a computer file?

In the long run, follow-through is definitely a challenge. People change positions, leave office, or move to other towns. Thus, usable plans must be easy for anyone to follow.

— And won’t growth occur whether we plan for it or not? Yes, growth will probably occur. And changes will definitely occur.

Thus the real issue is whether we will be able to manage the impacts of change.

And considering how rapidly Chaffee County is changing, the alternative is more than a little frightening.

Sue Conroe is “retiring” on May 1 as executive director of the Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce in Salida, and may join the growing ranks of people who hold six part-time jobs in order to avoid full-time work.