EDITORIAL: The Heart & Soul of the Future, Part Seven
Sec. 14.3.2. Park and Recreation Commission
The Park and Recreation Commission is established to develop and recommend to the Council new policies, ordinances, administrative procedures and other means to expand park and recreation opportunities, coordination and efficiencies, and advise the Council on the overall policy and direction of the Town’s park and recreation programs.
— Pagosa Springs Municipal Code, page 14-6
As I understand it, the new Pagosa organization born during the past month or so — Friends of Reservoir Hill — has as its primary goal the future development of non-mechanized amenities atop Reservoir Hill. Unlike the Town Tourism Committee (TTC) and Town manager David Mitchem, who want to create a small, government-subsidized amusement park within the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area — a development which would, by all accounts, utterly change the way locals and tourists currently access and use the park — the Friends of Reservoir Hill would like to add amenities that would be attractive to locals and visitors but which would augment, rather than preclude, the park’s current uses.
In other words, the Friends of Reservoir Hill would like to see development that aligns with the larger community’s desire that Reservoir Hill remain relatively wild and unspoiled. Those desires were clearly expressed in two opinion polls conducted by the weekly Pagosa Springs SUN over the past year, and were also vocally expressed at every public forum related to the TTC’s proposed amusement park.
I attended three of those recent public forums, as well as numerous TTC meetings; I cannot recall a single person from the general public speaking out in full support of the TTC’s amusement park idea.
This demographic contrasts sharply with the numerous Town meetings related to the proposed Walmart discount store. At those Walmart discussions, the audience speaking in favor of the development and the audience speaking in opposition were clearly split 50-50, with supporters arguing the need for more jobs and cheaper groceries and merchandise, and opponents just as urgently urging respect for the original goals of the Aspen Village subdivision.
In contrast, at the numerous public meetings regarding Reservoir Hill, supporters of the amusement park plan — from the general public — have been conspicuouly absent.
Also absent from the Reservoir Hill discussions: the Town of Pagosa Springs Parks & Recreation Commission.
The Parks & Recreation Commission has been around for quite a while — at least since 1993, when I first moved to Pagosa. According to the Town’s Municipal Code, the Commission consists of between 5 and 9 members; ans is supposed to advise the Town Council on park and recreation matters. I’ve yet to hear any of the current commissioners offer any testimony regarding the TTC’s proposed amusement park, at any of the presentations I’ve attended over the past year. If you visit the Town website and click through to the “Parks & Recreation Commission” page, you will find very little useful information — only a list of the current commission members. You will not find minutes from any recent meetings, nor any agendas for future meetings. You will not find information about any “new policies, ordinances, administrative procedures and other means to expand park and recreation opportunities,” even though that is the stated goal of the Commission as written in the Municipal Code.
As far as I know, the Town Council has never asked its Parks & Recreation Commission to express an opinion regarding the Reservoir Hill controversy.
At one of the recent grassroots planning meetings that led up to the founding of Pagosa’s new “Friends of Reservoir Hill” non-profit group, a question was raised about the Parks & Recreation Commission. Wouldn’t it be appropriate, someone asked, for the Parks & Recreation Commission to present an alternate plan for the development of Reservoir Hill? The TTC’s plan is all about commercializing a public park. Couldn’t the Parks & Recreation Commission present a less commercial option… since it is the Commission’s legal duty to advise the Town Council?
“They’re afraid to say anything about Reservoir Hill,” answered one of the meeting attendees who had apparently talked to some Commission members. “They’re afraid they’ll get fired.”
After eight years of news reporting, I’ve come to the conclusion that “fear” is the dominant energy driving the decisions at the Pagosa Springs Town Hall. In particular, citizens are afraid of their own mayor.
Here’s the introduction to the Orton Family Foundation webpage about “Heart & Soul Community Planning.”
“There’s something special about every town—the corner barbershop on Main Street, acres of wilderness, busy local shops, hard-working lands and people, or deep-rooted traditions. That character is why people love their towns. It’s why they live there. And it’s also in danger…”
I wrote briefly about this new approach to community decision-making in Part Four of this article series. You can click here to read a white paper about the concept.
“Towns that are close to significant natural resource amenities face increasing development pressures from urban professionals plying their trades via the Internet and enjoying the great outdoors, and from burgeoning retirement populations seeking the high quality, low stress way of life found in these picturesque and desirable places,” the Foundation explains. “Other communities suffer from youth exodus, crumbling infrastructure and antiquated economies, and they are tempted to embrace development at any cost. Stories of confrontation and alienation are commonplace in local newspapers, and many citizens simply opt out of their towns’ important discussions and decisions due to skepticism, fatigue, intimidation or a sense that their voices don’t count.”
Sounds very much like Pagosa Springs. A large portion of our jobs, here in Archuleta County, consist of “Lone Eagles” — self-employed individuals with no employees — and many of them “ply their trades via the Internet.”
Young people graduate from Pagosa Springs High School and are never seen again, except during holiday reunions.
From my study of the past decade’s real estate and building permit data, and water district reports, the vast majority of the single-family-home purchases made in Pagosa Springs since 2000 have been to retired couples or investors.
And indeed, our leaders have — for many decades now — embraced “development at any cost,” to use the Orton Family term. We are now paying that cost, with a road system that is beyond the County’s capacity to maintain, with a School District that claims it can’t afford to maintain its own buildings, with a downtown commercial area struggling to remain viable.
Skepticism and intimidation are commonplace characteristics, as regards government decisions.
For many years, the Orton Family Foundation focused its efforts on helping communities create governmental Master Plans. The City of Durango and Routt County, here in Colorado, were among the communities that benefitted from that assistance. The Foundation also developed planning software and unique mapping tools, in the apparent belief that a well-planned and well-mapped community could save its own soul.
But as many of us are aware, governmental Master Plans and well-drawn Community Maps mean absolutely nothing when our leaders ignore those plans and make decisions based, instead, on the latest developer’s pie in the sky concept. Plans and maps are especially worthless when our government leaders begin to see themselves, not as stewards of the community’s character, but as “economic development agents” whose first and foremost goal is the “creation of jobs, jobs, jobs” at any cost… via taxpayer subsidies and the exploitation of public lands, public resources… and public parks.
I’m not sure if it’s already too late for Pagosa Springs to change direction. Obviously, groups like the Friends of Reservoir Hill still have faith that the good citizens of Pagosa Springs can salvage their town from the clutches of the “economic developers.” Maybe innovative approaches like “Heart & Soul Community Planning” could still find a place here in Archuleta County.
Speaking for myself, I am enjoying spending time in another small town, on the other side of Wolf Creek Pass. Salida is a town struggling with some of the same development issues but which — through luck, location, or maybe foresight — has somehow avoided the worst part of the damage wrought on Pagosa Springs by the combination of overdevelopment, global recession, and misguided local leadership.