An Open Response to James Pickering, good friend of Estes Park and Appeal to our Town Trustees, individually and corporately.
I was not the first to recognize that "everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.'
After discovering Estes Park and RMNP over 32 years ago, I have been an avid fan. So much so that 17 years ago, I walked away from a lucrative law practice, uprooted my young family, and dared to live an adventure-filled faith-based life in what is now "our" high mountain "park".
We moved full-time to Estes in 1997. By 2000, I built my family a home, co-founded and led a start-up company that now benefits hospitals, care providers and patients from coast to coast, and looked for ways to build community that would be best for all concerned, now and for perpetuity. I think as an entrepreneur, though my profits are not measured in dollars.
Soon after my professional retirement, I supported my very creative wife, Cheryl, in the establishment of Rocky Mountain Memories, a downtown shop on the Fall River. In October of 2009, RMM sustained a total loss in the Park Theatre Mall fire. We rebuilt and reopened in mid 2010. Her business boosts Estes Park as a resort destination while providing all people creative opportunities to archive their best memories and to express their life's sentiments in visual arts. Last week, we vacated the Park Theatre premises due to uncertainty over deferred infrastructure issues.In 2012, we searched for and invested in what may have been the most distressed piece of downtown real estate and long forgotten local lore. We thought we could bring it some needed renewal. And, I needed to put my untrained hands to good use. Redemption Cabin was the outcome. It became our private urban renewal project and treasured mountain get-a-away. It's on the south end of E Riverside Drive. Circa 1914, it's purpose and beginning coincided with Enos Mill's final preparations of the birth of Rocky Mountain National Park one year later. RMNP is recognizing its 100th Anniversary this year. To celebrate the park and what it still means to us, Cheryl and I have take the pledge to hike 100 miles together there this summer.
For me, the Riverside area of downtown is a crown jewell that ought to be protected. Just ask Frank our dear & feisty 94 year old neighbor. Or, Kathy who loves and shares her garden. Both Riversides, the east side and west, came out of John Cleave's portion. They are situated along the sparkling Big Thompson River just before it converges with the Fall River, the Big T's fraternal twin brother from another snow-fed high mountain valley. Their coming together explains why the downtown corridor was laid out as it is. But before it was ever platted into a downtown, early indians made their summer camps there. They understood Riverside's one-of-a-kind and valuable geography, and enjoyed the benefits of its perfect environmental conditions, abundant game and healthy rest. To this day, a portion has been set aside in 3 public treelined riverside parks. After the Arapahoes and maybe the Utes, pioneers in likes Cleave (the Park's first postmaster), Mills (the naturalist and "Father" of RMNP), F.O. Stanley (the industrialist and visionary), and Fred Payne Clatworthy (one of the most notable wilderness photographers of the era) harvested logs, hauled them to site, cut, stacked, spiked & chinked them into walls and found their dreams come true under the lumpy ridge of "Little Prospect Mountain". Despite the wear of the years and what spins all around it, Riverside is still one of the most wild, beautiful, and charming places that I have every experienced. Cheryl and all our out-of-town cabin guests feel the same way. The area is heavily treed with old Blue Spruce, Ponderosas and Balsam Poplars. In fact, Estes Park's Grand Champion Tree sits on the riverbank just out of Redemption's front door. It's a rare opportunity to experience the full essence of 'Colorful Colorado' from one simple, easy to get to, extraordinarily special place.
My wife and I support the local economy, create jobs, pay local property taxes, and collect and remit Town sales and marketing district taxes. We lead quite lives, but we work very hard to make the Town successful for everybody concerned. For the last decades, we have contributed to all the Town's budgets and building of the visitor center, senior center & rec district improvements, library & museum upgrades, the Riverwalk Connection, Estes Lake Trail, the Stanley Park grand stands, new multipurpose event center, road maintenance, new municipal building, and other Town projects I am too senile now to remember.
Like others, we are people of Estes through and through and desire to benefit the community in everything we think, say or do. Though we often contend against burdening restrictions and higher fees, we have no "history of organizing ourselves and saying no to things". We are not part of any advocacy group who "do not want change". We are independent minded folks. We do not "champion the status quo or breezily dismiss 40 years of Town paid-for traffic studies". Yet if you take a walk down E Riverside straight south from Town Hall, you will find our "stark green" signs that reads "We Support No Action on the Loop." Before a Town decision on FLAP (the Federal Land Access Program), we would like Jim and you to appreciate why.
Since investing in the downtown district, I have been actively involved in the summer traffic congestion and parking dilemma discussion trying to best understand the competing public and private interests at play. I have been a participant in all the Town large and small group meetings so far as I know.
Our friend and respected local historian James Pickering advises from his soapbox that Estes Park is at an important "crossroads" and asks us to "find the wisdom needed [to make a good decision] by viewing the FLAP project in its largest possible context."
I understand from the good book that wisdom is for doing what is right, just & fair. It teaches me and you: 1. to stand at the crossroads, to stop, look & listen, to ask for the right path, to ask where the good way is, and then to move out on the fork that can supply everything we need to well finish the race, 2. that, once we start walking, there is a proper procedure and a proper timing for everything; and, 3. our plans will fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they will succeed.
With all due respect, after examination and assessment of the record, wisdom shouts from my rooftops: "DO NOT WALK DOWN THE PATH OF OPTION 1".
So why does wisdom oppose FLAP?
Firstly, it does not meet the Town's expressed FLAP goal of "benefitting the residents and businesses of Estes Park". And so, it is clearly not in the best interests of our community as a whole, or of its' guests. The Town and its consultants have not come even close to meeting their burden of demonstrating that Option 1 is a good plan for Estes. Not one person I have found believes Option 1 will benefit local businesses. Unless we move together in one accord, going down the path of Option 1 will trip up the Town and cause it to stumble more.
Secondly, Option 1 does not respect Estes Park's long-term enduring values. People buy and build in Estes Park because it offers an authentic mountain village experience 24/7, 365 without discrimination. Option 1 will have a direct and negative impact on every residence in the Riverside area. It would unjustly move the existing "serious" problems of vehicular congestion (emissions, lights, sounds, highway speeds) and pedestrian/vehicular conflicts of the commercial district into established residential neighborhoods and public parks. Though shroud in humble streetscape, Riverside is a historic place filled with one-of-a-kind natural retreats where senses are reignited, bodies refreshed, hearts rejuvenated & lives reset everyday. FLAP can never justly compensate Estes Park for that kind of loss. If you walk down the path to save Riverside, Estes Park will be positioned to finish the race before it and become the No. 1 Colorado mountain village destination and more.
Everyone I have spoken to from the south end of E Riverside to the north opposes Option 1. It will cheapen 3 parks, the downtown stretch of the Big Thompson River, the convergence with Fall River, and all Riverside private retreats, lodging, businesses, and property values. The cliffs of Little Prospect Mountain will magnify the problems and amplify the sounds. "Serious" environmental problems will invade their yards, living and bedrooms. It would be unjust to fulfill a dubious federal purpose by sacrificing one of Estes Park's most charming features and causing unending problems on good & faithful Town citizens.
Thirdly, before it leaps into FLAP, Estes Park needs a downtown Master Plan. Proper procedure demands its. And wisdom says the the proper time is now, before surrendering over to the State 3 highly regulated one-way thoroughfares that encircle & restrict access to the downtown commercial corridor, and the very best Estes has to offer. I first asked the Town for its downtown transportation vision when CDOT and the Town proposed to close the Moraine crosswalk at Fall River back in 2011. Like the current downtown merchants threatened by FLAP, Rocky Mountain Memories had to speak up to protect customer access. Good visibility and easy access to storefronts are vital ingredients to a prosperous downtown. In order for the downtown corridor to thrive, the Master Plan must include the public policy that all downtown vehicular traffic yields to anything on bike or foot, for perpetuity, or at least until 2040. The key to becoming Colorado's Number 1 all time destination is to protect and enhance it as a top place to walk, talk, ride, or simply to escape, find a quiet place, and get still.
I respect the fact that FLAP is a windfall to the community in light of the work ahead caused by the floods. Yet that does not justify the risk of dividing the community, more business uncertainty, and more threats to our economic vitality.
From the beginning of the FLAP project, some have felt betrayed by the Town by what has been described as a bait and switch strategy. I am sure others remember the shock that reverberated through downtown when learning their most favored FLAP project option, to reduce congestion by building a downtown transit and parking facility, had been taken out of the grant application by the Town suddenly without any notice. (At a special March 19, 2013 Town meeting, downtown stakeholders voted the FLAP grant should be pursued for the purpose of "Rerouting some of the traffic on Elkhorn Avenue and Moraine Avenue to increase mobility, support the economy by providing better access to businesses, reduce traffic congestion frustrations and improve quality and the overall safety of our residents and quests" AND AND AND "a downtown parking structure to increase ease of accessibility to business and support our existing infrastructure.") That storm of mistrust was later calmed in me when the Town messages assured me and others, we would have regular opportunities to insure the final project was best for all concerned. Said the Town over and over again: "We will make sure your comments get included in the record and considered as the team looks at all the alternatives."
Many FLAP meetings were held and virtually everyone who I heard speak publicly on the topic clearly expressed their lack of support of Option 1, preferring alternatives. Yet now at the final hour, we are told no one near to the project can find or access our prior comments, and no alternative other than Option 1 is on the table. We are told we must take it or leave it and if we leave it, be burdened by a financial penalty. Once again, those keen to the details of the FLAP plan feel betrayed. Tell us one thing, and do another. It seems all our contributions and comments to date were a waste of our time and in vain. But, wisdom says if you do not listen to counsel, your plans risk failure. Proper procedure requires the Town to do what it says with full transparency, and say, without ambiguity or slight of hand, what it does. Only then will it be wise for Town government to move forward.
Option 1 will negatively impact our downtown merchants and way of life because it will restrict travelers and businesses options, visibility and physical access. Drip by drip, barricade by barricade, construction delay by construction delay, hurried car by hurried car, even the most successful businesses will start to die on a parched vine as their customers get dizzy going around and around the FLAP one way merry go round until dad says "forget it, we're losing daylight, lets go home".
There must be a better way to improve traffic to RMNP that does not tread so on the community's economic vitality, seasonal traditions, and our highly valued on-foot authentic mountain village get-a-way experiences.
Better than Option 1, Estes Park should do public education that equips travelers with the knowledge that good alternate avenues to RMNP exist, but should they enter our downtown, they must respect our charming one-of-a-kind Colorado mountain village life.
Simple as it sounds, I believe the best possible plan to move traffic through Estes Park to Rocky Mountain National Park is to:
1 Establish and build consensus for a Master 25 year Plan.
2 Repair and maintain our roads.
3 Mark and celebrate pedestrian crosswalks and bike lanes.
4 Design and implement a real time "Smart Park" system of signals and signs that disburses congested National-Park-destined-traffic to an optional North Smart Park By-Pass [Hwy 34] and/or to a South Smart Park By-Pass [Hwy 7/Marys Lake Road] as road condition and congestion require.
5 Construct a downtown transit and parking hub to coordinate with existing transportation capabilities, shuttles and infrastructure.
By the way, designating roadways with the express purpose of bypassing downtown Estes Park in favor of RMNP as the "Estes Loop" is a branding mistake that will tend to devalue downtown property and businesses even more. The word "Estes" should attach to positive elements that highlight our community, not a fast track through intended to bypass it. The combined words "Estes Loop" should be reserved to describe a downtown feature like a system of walking and riding loops that easily access the best venues, entertainment, shopping, lodging, and restaurants, better than any other mountain town get-away.
Finally, as a fellow citizen of our mountain village, I appeal to you. Please vote for No Action on FLAP Option 1.
Further, please consider forming a delegation to speak with our Congressmen. Tell them federal visitation has a substantial impact on the life of our roads and that Federal management of the Fern Fire likely contributed to our floods. Yet King FLAP dictates how our reparations are to be invested? Ask them to to go to bat for us. Ask them to represent us. Ask them to protect our national treasure and do what it takes to get us our money with less strings attached so that we may employ in a way that best serves everyone's interests. Surely, there is help for our community that better serves the Town's original FLAP project goal "to find creative solutions to the 'good problem' we have of accommodating the millions of visitors each summer, while benefitting the residents and businesses of Estes Park".
Indeed, Estes Park is at a crossroads. I agree with Jim, we have no
choice but to move ahead. The wise move is to tell the Feds NO TO OPTION
1, build consensus around a great Master Plan that maintains our
mountain village character and finally includes a good downtown transit
and parking solution.