Our View: They were visionaries
February 8, 2014
Already in 2014, the Yampa Valley has lost two visionaries who were among its most effective "doers" of the past half-century, with the Jan. 3 death of former Steamboat Ski Corp. executive Martin Hart followed closely by the death of former Routt County Commissioner Bill Haight on Feb. 2.
We hesitate to think what the local resort economy might look like had Hart and Haight not been determined to modernize Yampa Valley Regional Airport and attract the first ski season jet flights in 1985.
Steamboat Springs always has been remote, and that's not all bad. The fact that the transcontinental railroad ran just to the north of the Yampa Valley left Northwest Colorado relatively untouched, and the decision to build Interstate 70 through the Eagle River Valley instead of down the Yampa saved this valley from becoming the urban mountain environment that now defines much of Summit and Eagle counties.
Yet, in an era when affluent Americans are taking shorter vacations, access to robust air service has allowed the resort to grow and, at the same time, attract new intellectual capital to the valley in the form of location-neutral workers and sophisticated retirees.
Ours is a highly educated community with an appetite for cultural events and one that enjoys a remarkable range of recreational opportunities, thanks in large part to the fact that YVRA is a modern airport that can connect us to the world and the world to us.
When we think that Bill Haight — along with his fellow county Commissioners Billy Mack and Paul Kenney (and many other vital players) — three decades ago was able to motivate the county Road and Bridge Department to use its own machinery and human power to widen and extend the airport runway to 10,000 feet during the course of two construction seasons, we marvel at the accomplishment.
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And it makes us wonder out loud, "Who will be next?"
What is the next grand vision for the Yampa Valley's future? And which of us, through sheer force of personality, is capable of making it happen?
Will our fossil fuels be as robust in 30 years as they are today? Or will alternative forms of energy come to the forefront?
Will we find a sustainable way to protect today's relative abundance of water in the Yampa River Basin? Or will powerful interests to the east and west pull it away from us, perhaps undermining our traditional agricultural land management practices in the process?
Will the Colorado Department of Transportation find a way to build a monorail connecting Denver to Avon, once again passing by Steamboat? And would we be just fine with that?
Steamboat has not gone wanting for dreamers who know how to accomplish big things. We have a hospital that wins national awards, and recently, Steamboat became home to a new continuous care community for aging residents. Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus has a spectacular new academic building and, for the first time, offers four-year degrees.
Strings Music Festival built a new performance space that dazzles performers as well as audiences. A local nonprofit persevered for years and succeeded in converting the Chief Theater into an intimate performance space.
Steamboat Ski Area has a six-seat chairlift and an impressive restaurant above 9,500 feet in elevation. Our community built a library that is the envy of guests from much larger cities. And after 45 years, we finally achieved a pedestrian-friendly ski base with heated pathways.
Our downtown and the base of the ski area were transformed by new mixed-use condominium buildings last decade. The path to development was bumpy, but they all are complete, attractive and well used.
We can foresee that there may be turbulence ahead in the future of air service at YVRA.
But that does not lessen the achievements of a couple of dreamers who led the charge to bring ski season jet service here in 1985.
Nor should the prospect of adversity deter us from continually looking for that next big transformative shift in the future of the Yampa Valley. Call it the next big thing.