This article first appeared in the Vail Daily on February 13, 2020.
EAGLE — Traditions all begin somewhere. If they survive the passage of time, they tend to evolve.
Take the Eagle County State of the County presentation. The all-hands-on-deck address was launched a few years back as an opportunity for the county’s leadership to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and recognize the government’s long-serving employees. But for the past three years, lengthy speeches have given way to a snappy summarizing video and concise remarks from the three county commissioners.
This year’s video didn’t disappoint — set to the theme music from “Magnum P.I” the production called out successes such as the completion of the Edwards roundabout, passage of the 2019 tobacco products sales tax and construction of the Mott’s Landing bike path bridge during satirical “commercials.” That left the commissioners with the job of talking about the year ahead.
For 2020, the county’s theme is “People and Place” — reflecting the human and natural resources that define this part of Colorado.
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry introduced the theme, noting it reflects citizen feedback from decades of community surveys, focus groups and surveys.
“There is such a consistency to what comes out from all that work, “ she said. “In fact, a branding study by the Vail Valley Partnership a few years ago said success means being able to get out and enjoy the wonderful mountains where we live.”
That’s why, when asked, Eagle County residents consistently say what they value most is “quality of life.”
“That is not some vague sort of idea. People who live here know exactly what they mean when they talk about quality of life,” Chandler-Henry said. “It is place that is important and it is place that we are nurturing.
Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney expanded on the “people” part of the county’s 2020 theme. First off, she complimented the Eagle County staff as the people who provide vital services to the public. She then expanded the circle to all the volunteers who serve on planning commissions and citizen advisory groups. “We could not do the work for Eagle County that we need to without these people lending their skills, their expertise and their commitment to these volunteer boards.”
McQueeny noted that the county has many community partners — organizations such as Walking Mountains, Eagle Valley Land Trust, Vail Valley Partnership, Early Childhood Partners and Vail Health — that make special projects happen. And, of course, the county has involved citizens who regularly share their thoughts.
“I really see this group of folks as a reminder that everyone really wants to see Eagle County be the best place to live,” she said.
McQueeney noted Eagle County will need all of its people to address some of its big issues such as affordable housing, quality child care, public transportation and the high cost of health care.
“We are facing a tremendous challenge for our working families. If we don’t address this, we are going to lose them. We need to find ways to help our working families,” she said.
There are big ideas on the horizon, McQueeney said. For example, she noted the county is reaching out to Union Pacific to work on transit options that would utilize the railroad right-of-way and tracks that line the valley.
“What a game-changer that would be,” McQueeney said.
Transitioning into the discussion of place, Commissioner Matt Scherr said, “Don’t you think it’s this place that makes for such hearty folks and colorful characters?”
Scherr noted it is easier and less expensive to live in other areas, but Eagle County’s residents are committed to this community.
“It’s hard to live here but we choose to live here because we love this place,” Scherr said. “And it’s those determined kinds of people who make up this kind of community that’s innovative and resilient. But this place will change.
“In another 20 years will this be the place that we truly love and want it to be?” he asked.
Not without thoughtful action, Scherr said. To illustrate his point, Scherr pointed to the recent “Getting to Zero” presentation to community leaders that painted a grim picture of global climate change’s impact in the decades to come.
“If the climate crisis scares us, then fine, we are paying attention. Now that we are paying attention, we should stop shaking and start making,” Scherr said.
Scherr pointed to the biomass plant in Gypsum, saying it was a solution in action. With that plant’s operation, Gypsum is the one “net zero” community in the county, Scherr said.
Scherr said the issue of behavioral health needs is another problem that’s being tackled in Eagle County.
“Vail Health’s Eagle Valley Behavioral Health has already changed lives in the short time it has been around,” Scherr said.
He noted that Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
“We have already shown we can create transformative systems,” Scherr said. “It’s time to get to work imagining our future, so we can begin creating it.”