New York heroes to visit town |

New York heroes to visit town

Firefighters, police will be on hand at dedication ceremony in school courtyard

— Two days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the students at Strawberry Park Elementary School gathered around the school’s flag flying at half-staff and honored the lives lost.

On Wednesday, the students will return to the same flagpole to hang a new flag one that is five times the size of the flag that flew Sept. 11. And, in partnership with Steamboat Springs Middle School, they will dedicate a living memorial to the day and honor more than 40 New York firefighters and policemen coming to Steamboat for the week.

The group of 75 New York firefighters, policemen and their families are visiting Steamboat Springs thanks in large part to the efforts of Steamboat Springs eighth-grader Hallie van Straaten, who came up with the inspiration in the weeks after the attacks.

The firefighters and policemen will share lessons and stories of Sept. 11 with local students.

“I think it really is an important opportunity,” middle school counselor Margi Briggs-Casson said. “Since we are so far away and some of us have no ties to the East Coast, it brings a reality to our pretty little mountain town.”

The student ceremony on Wednesday is one of the many chances local students will get to interact with the firefighters and policeman throughout the week. The New Yorkers will visit all four Steamboat Springs schools and two Lowell Whiteman schools.

On Thursday, the high school will hold question-and-answer sessions with the firefighters. Soda Creek Elementary School will hold an assembly and sing “We Appreciate You” when the New York visitors come Wednesday afternoon.

The firefighters will arrive in Steamboat on Sunday and have dinner at Olympian Hall, an event sponsored by the local Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary and Optimist clubs.

Their arrival marks the end of a six-month process van Straaten spearheaded to bring the New York heroes to Steamboat Springs. The idea came to van Straaten after visiting the Engine 3, Ladder 12 fire company and presenting them with a poster signed by her classmates.

During her visit to the fire station, a firefighter remarked that Steamboat was the only Colorado ski resort he had not visited, and the idea was born. Although van Straaten said she had initially planned for about 20 firefighters to visit, the calls kept pouring in from different firehouses around New York, and she could not turn anyone away.

“We really hoped to have 20,” van Straaten said. “But there were so many people, and you couldn’t tell them no.”

To help bring the firefighters and policemen to Steamboat, the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp gave the travelers a week of free lift tickets and half-price ski lessons and rentals. The New Yorkers will also get discounted or free meals and free lodging at the Steamboat Grand and condominiums.

Although the visitors’ eight-day trip includes trips to the schools, they will also get the chance to have dinners at the Sheraton throughout the week.

The ceremony on Wednesday, which dedicates trees and a small park area in between the middle and elementary schools to Sept. 11, is expected to draw more than 1,000 people and camera crews from Denver and children’s cable channel WAM! The ceremony should also include local and New York firefighters breaking ground for the memorial trees.

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