Yeah, but what’s it got to do with groundhogs? |

Yeah, but what’s it got to do with groundhogs?

Generations of reporters later, airport still needs expansion

— Any time I yearn to feel like the zany comedic actor Bill Murray, I simply get up and walk around the corner of my handsome office cubicle and open the drawer of a big file cabinet. Right near the front, under the heading “airports” is a manila file folder dedicated to clippings of stories about Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

The file is about four inches thick. When I open it up and begin to leaf through it, I immediately feel like Phil Conners, the obnoxious television weatherman played by Murray in the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day.”

Allow me to briefly reprise the plot so you can understand what I’m driving at.

Conners, a prima donna if there ever was one, is dispatched to Punxsutawney, Pa., to do a live remote on Groundhog Day. His assignment was made on the thin pretext that he and the famous rodent, who is the focus of Groundhog Day, share first names.

Conners goes through his sarcastic monologue, dishes some verbal abuse to his producer Rita (played by Andie McDowell) and retires for the evening. The movie begins to get interesting when Conners arises to the sound of his clock radio and discovers it is Groundhog Day all over again. This 24-hour cycle repeats itself again the next morning and the morning after that.

Eventually it dawns on Conners that he is doomed to give the Groundhog Day weather report in Punxsutawney until the end of time.

That’s a little bit the way I feel when I flip through the clipping file on YVRA. Pilot and Today reporters have been writing about the airport, the need to fund it and the need to attract airlines to it since at least October 1965. That’s when the county condemned the wheat fields needed to build it. As this ski season comes to a close, we’re reporting about the county’s plans to build a new addition to the baggage check area so departing passengers won’t have to go through luggage screening in a tent. Some things never change.

I get the feeling reporters for the Pilot and Today will be writing about the need to expand the terminal at YVRA until the day after Punxsutawney Phil gets his commercial pilots rating.

Spring may arrive in the Yampa Valley any day now, but this story will never go away.

In December 1978 my old editor Dee Richards wrote a full-page story about the plans to build a $5 million airport expansion. Nearly a decade later, in October 1988 the story was about the $805,000 needed to add a second story to the airport terminal and a long overdue $2.8 million jet port expansion. I could go on listing the clippings, but it’s more fun to dig back to 1965, when the airport was just a plan on an engineer’s drawing board.

In September 1965 the Steamboat Pilot reported construction on the new airport would begin on Oct. 5. The article concluded with this statement: “Air transportation will make Steamboat Springs one of the few major ski areas with direct scheduled airline service. It is anticipated that this will do much to stimulate skiers to this part of the state.”

Overlooking the bad sentence structure, one has to agree that the 1965 article was prophetic. What the piece failed to mention was that 38 years hence, and perhaps for all time, community leaders would be struggling to find a way to make the economics of the airport succeed.

I don’t want to close this column and leave you with the lingering impression that I have grown weary of writing articles about airport funding. Perish the thought. After all, I’ve been able to make a nice living as a small market aviation writer. And I’m grateful that I am not on the gravel pit beat.

In the movie, Bill Murray’s character learns to moderate his obnoxious behavior and eventually is released from perpetual Groundhog Day.

I remain hopeful that if I continue to find fresh ways to write about airport terminal funding (or is that terminal airport funding?), someday I will wake up and YVRA will have a brand new building that makes sense. Furthermore, Punxsutawney Phil won’t see his shadow and I won’t be such a wise guy all the time.

Nah, that’s too much to ask for.

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