We park at the parking garage and walk toward town. My daughter runs from one musical instrument to the next as we stroll along looking for snakes hiding in the grass. We stop at Kind Coffee to grab a breakfast burrito and sit on the patio chairs, greeting our friends as they walk by.
We bike to town with the girls in the trailer, stopping to walk them along the river walk. We slowly move along, waiting for my oldest daughter to play at the pocket park. Eventually we get to the brewery and order some chicken wings from a favorite food truck before heading back home to beat the rain.
We love our downtown. We rarely drive through downtown in the summer, but we do to access it on bikes or walking. Our downtown is beautiful and the centerpiece for our entire community. Many business owners have created unique, successful business that contribute to our town. As we grow and adapt to changes in our town, how are we addressing the concerns of our community members, business owners, and visitors? Can we address the concerns of everyone to make everyone happy? Probably not, but we can all work together toward a solution.
The Downtown Parking Management Plan was created by the Downtown Parking Management Plan Task Force, a collaboration between the consultant, the Transportation Advisory Board and the Downtown Plan Steering Committee. This plan is a multi-phase plan that uses quantifiable data to monitor each phase. The plan has phases that include paid parking in certain portions of the downtown area, shuttle use, and parking lot enforcement.
Way finding signage for drivers and pedestrians are vital to a thriving downtown. What message are we telling people as they access our downtown? Do our streets and downtown culture incentivize people to bike, or walk? With proper signage, visitors will not have to circle downtown to figure out where they can park. Safe, well identified bike lanes through downtown that are connected to the other bike trails in town will encourage alternate transportation to driving. Expanding on our pedestrian friendly areas and providing signage of these areas will build upon the downtown atmosphere and increase positive visitor experience.
Buses and Shuttles
Again, what message are we telling visitors and residents when it comes to using our bus and shuttle system? More efficient planning of our bus and shuttle routes will result in more locals and visitors using them. It's difficult for residents to use the bus system, because stops are often not ideal for what they're hoping to access. To take a bus 45 minutes to get to Safeway will not incentivize individuals to use the bus rather than driving. Buses with bike racks would allow for residents to access downtown from outlying neighborhoods and travel through downtown without needing a car at all.
Shuttles that run during shift hours and connect workforce housing to downtown businesses would alleviate some of the dependency on parking. See how these issues are all interdependent?
Flood Plain Mapping
Our climate is changing and with that, we will have more frequent flooding events. The flood of 2013 was considered by many experts to be greater than the "100 year flood", which actually means there's a statistical 1% annual chance that a flooding event will inundate the area (plain). Events like this are a huge threat to our town. As they happen more frequently, our downtown infrastructure must be updated to be able to sustain these events and relieve the burden of rising insurance costs on our downtown core and lodging properties located along the river corridors. The Moraine Avenue Bridge is the first step towards a solution that will significantly improve the flow capacity through downtown. The new Flood Hazard map will be more accurate in planning for these events, however we must understand the implications that will have on the businesses.
Arts and culture should be woven throughout our entire town, highlighting our cultural diversity, rich history, and mountain lifestyle. Our town is full of gifted artists that contribute to the culture of our town through their music and artistic creations. Celebrating these artists is what brings our community together as a whole, to thrive and prosper. Unique experiences will separate us from other mountain towns and identifying with what makes us unique and building on that will encourage a prosperous community.
Estes Park downtown is a rich staple in our community that provides economic value to our town. One of my favorite things to do is see old photos of downtown and compare them to what our downtown looks like now. As downtown continues to grow, we must prepare for change and growth with proper planning. The Town of Estes Park has Advisory Boards, professionals, master plans, and committees all working on this vision. Strong leadership is necessary to bring all these together to envision a prosperous Estes Park for the future.
I’ll be honest, I was concerned to raise children in Estes Park. I was married to my husband and we knew we wanted children, but I didn’t feel like Estes Park was going to be a supportive community for young families. It didn’t seem like families were thriving in our community and I didn’t know the resources available. I was nervous.
Then the flood happened.
I was pregnant and due to have a baby summer 2014. I knew if we were going to stay in Estes Park I would need to be involved in the conversations. I joined groups like Families for Estes and one of my first stops was to EVICS to learn about childcare options. They offered me a list of licensed providers and recommended for me to get on a waiting list. At that time, I hoped we would be able to hire a nanny to watch my daughter throughout the day and to help my transition back to work. Unfortunately, that fell through two weeks after the birth of my healthy daughter, Ava. I scrambled to find someone to watch her. Luckily, I had been an assistant to a preschool in town for a period. I called her to simply find out what some options may be. She offered to take her for a short period of time while I found something more long term. Since I didn’t work at an organization that provided maternity leave, I had to use as much of my sick time as allowed and was only able to stay home six weeks with my infant. At six weeks old, she was left at a licensed preschool 4 day a week. My heart broke, but I knew this was a decision I had to make for my family.
My “long term” solution was to find a neighbor that was unlicensed and watching children in their house. My daughter, 4 months old at the time, was often left in her car seat for hours at a time while older children ran around with the TV on. It still makes me cry thinking about it. I knew my child was safe, even if the environment was not ideal. I continued searching for another option.
The preschool teacher knew I was still on the search and she told me immediately when an Eagle Rock graduate had come to her looking for a nanny job. In perfect timing, my neighbor had to move and after a couple weeks of bringing my 6-month-old to work with me, I was able to have a nanny come to my house.
Our nanny was wonderful, and it was working out well, except she could not afford to live in Estes Park and I could not afford to pay her more. She felt the need to move back to California to be with family and we said goodbye to her when Ava was 12 months old.
At this time, she was able to go back to the preschool and be there full time, 5 days a week. We are so grateful for our licensed preschool and the relationships she’s built. She’s been there for 2 ½ years now.
In 2017, I had my second daughter, Eleanor. I knew the battle that was to come. I prepared, interviewed, and found a lovely home childcare provider that was perfect for our need. The provider was gracious and kind as I went back to work (this time at 3 months), she was patient as I came every 2 hours to feed her because she refused to take a bottle. I had new employment that allowed me to be more flexible and worked only 3 days a week. Unfortunately, she was unable to take my daughter anymore and at 5 months old, I was searching for another childcare provider. She is now 11 months old and she has been going to a friend who is a stay-at-home mom since then.
I know there are many parents who have similar, or worse situations than I endured. I currently work at EVICS and at least 3 times a week we have families coming in seeking resources for childcare. After going through the situation with my first child and having many friends that left town because of the difficulties in raising children here, I jumped on an opportunity to work for a nonprofit that was making a difference. I also knew I was going to have to quit my full-time job because I couldn’t find or afford two children in full time childcare. I’ve been at EVICS now for almost a year. Oftentimes I see mothers in tears because they can’t find care and they will need to quit their job, inevitably forcing their family to leave our town. There are 8 spots for infant childcare in Estes Park. You may not see parents walking into the Town Building with crying infants asking for help, but we are here. We are doing everything we can to make our lives work in this town. My personal belief is that a community of people is greatly benefitted by having a diverse community of families, working class individuals, seniors, and cultures all supporting one another.
Current Town Trustees have a difficult decision to make tonight. They must choose between four different proposed uses for the 220 4th Street facility. While to many, this is a fight for another option for space, or a preferred use of space, or additional space. For families living in Estes Park seeking childcare this may be their only option.
Although many seem to be experts in what childcare costs are, what the other options are in this town, or what future options we may have- this IS THE BEST OPTION. If we want our Town to get serious about addressing goals and objectives outlined in the 2018 Strategic Action Plan, a building owned by the town, leased at a small fee, in a safe and accessible location allows the greatest, affordable childcare option for our community members. To build a facility similar to the 220 4th Street building, it would cost upwards of $500,000. For programming to run, a provider would have to decrease costs to pay for such a building. This happens with increased parent fees and tuition and/or a decrease in pay for staff. Parents of one child in full time care pay over $8,000 per year in childcare. Are we going to ask them to pay more? A preschool teacher staff person in Estes Park makes around $14/hour, a director makes around $35,000/year. Are we going to ask them to take a pay cut? Will we have quality staff if we reduce their pay?
The original plans for the Community Center included full time, licensed childcare, but after the election, the childcare facility was eliminated due to cost (would have increased the cost of the Community Center by 1 million). Many families advocated and fought for the Community Center because of this component but were disappointed when they voted for something they so desperately needed, and it was taken away. Rather than fighting and yelling and dividing the community, they put their heads down and got back to work.
I know Town Trustees are aware of the impact and huge need for childcare in our town, I don’t doubt that. If it is possible for the town to use the space for childcare, without jeopardizing the deed restriction, I know many would choose this option. I would encourage Town Trustees to consider all options. If the deed restriction is the greatest concern, I implore them to seek additional information on how we can address that concern. The issue quickly becomes a larger issue than just that of childcare vs. senior center vs. museum. It is an issue of deed restriction and land use. We must sort this out for the future of Stanley Park. If they are unable to address the deed restriction and the risk is too high, the community will continue to put our heads down, get back to work, and seek solutions to this great need impacting so much of our workforce. We ask the Town Board and Family Advisory Board to continue to be proactive in finding solutions.
When addressing large issues like lack of childcare and affordable housing, I find it incredibly important that we are looking at other mountain communities. While Estes Park is unique in many ways, considering how other towns have accomplished these goals makes for more efficient decision making. Consider Breckenridge in regards to addressing childcare in Estes Park. I know current Town Trustees and individuals involved in solving the issue of childcare in our community have looked at this model and we have many things in common.
In early 2006 the Breckenridge Town Council created a Child Care Task Force in response to parent, employer, and child care provider concerns about the lack of capacity (child care slots), the long wait lists, and the inability of Centers to retain staff, provide quality care, and cover their costs through tuition and fund raising. Employees were missing work because child care was not available, families were leaving the community because of the cost of living, and Centers were struggling to keep their doors open and provide quality care that is particularly important and impactful during a child’s first 5 years.
The Task Force recommended a multi-prong approach to address the issues and the Breckenridge Town Council launched the Child Care Program in late 2006. Based on the Task Force recommendations, the Child Care Program included the following components:
Link: Breckenridge Child Care Program
Affordable housing an identified issue to recruiting and retaining seasonal, as well as year round employees in Estes Park. There are currently around 400 open job opportunities in Estes Park that aren't filled, and lack of housing impacts the decisions of individuals looking to relocate to our community. When individuals move to a town and cannot find housing, they quickly move out. In my time supervising and hiring staff, there were many times we would go through the full process of interviews for full time, benefited positions and may have to go through our top 3 candidates before someone would accept. Many well qualified candidates would decline an offer after visiting and seeing the lack of housing opportunity. Are we getting our strongest workforce if we are losing our top candidates? This effects seasonal workers as well. When I first lived here, many of my friends worked multiple jobs and had a steady income, but had to live out of their car or "camp" because they couldn't find a place to live. Unstable living situations results in an unreliable workforce, high turnover results in decreased levels of customer service.
Below I've outlined some of my thoughts on housing in Estes Park:
Affordable housing solutions can be environmentally friendly. Many individuals see affordable housing developments as negatively impacting the environment. They think building high density, affordable housing in an open lot will ruin the environment without considering the alternate environmental impacts. People who can't find housing in Estes Park end up living in a more affordable Front Range community and commuting 30 minutes to over an hour each day. There are 2,000 workers that commute to Estes Park. The wear on our roads, increased traffic congestion, and pollution negatively impacts our infrastructure, environment, air quality, and wildlife.
Also, as our town grows further outward this sprawl is worse on the environment than increasing density on property within Town. Building up the "inner core" of Estes Park is the most environmentally friendly option, which brings me to my next point...
Increase high density housing in the inner core of town. Many individuals first reaction is fear that allowing high density housing will ruin the town character or impact their property values. They consider development and large crowds evil- although these things are the foundation of the tourist economy. While practically all traditional, low density neighborhoods in Estes Park are outside of city limits, many of the houses in these areas are left empty throughout most of the year because they are second homes. These outer areas of town demand citizens to drive long distances to run a simple errand. How often have you procrastinated going to Safeway in the summer months because it wasn't worth the 20 minute drive and long lines? A smart community would have accessible housing closer to these community essentials like the library, grocery store, post office, etc. Finding housing solutions so that families and seasonal workers have easy access to these fundamental needs creates a smart, efficient, and sustainable community. This would increase pedestrian movement through town, adding to the character and culture of our community.
Proper planning is necessary. If planned properly, high density housing solutions should be placed near transit routes or near the inner core, as described in my previous point. F.O Stanley did not plan for the sprawl in 1915 that we are experiencing today. Growth occurred quickly and unchecked and our infrastructure is suffering the impact. Building up our community from the inside out will bring welcome changes.
There are many solutions to issues plaguing our workforce. It's important to realize nothing is locked in time and that with proper leadership and planning, mountain towns can have affordable housing while keeping its character, environment, and rich history in tact. I am committed to the community of Estes Park.
Running for Town Trustee has been something I always saw for myself "in the future". For many years, I have been actively involved in community conversations, committees, boards, and task forces. I have heard reoccurring concerns from our citizens. Due to lack of opportunity for our workforce, it has become more and more difficult to raise a family in our beautiful town resulting in many professionals leaving our community. It is because of these conversations and the momentum right now, that I have decided to run for Town Trustee. I want to raise my children in a community that is thriving.
Individuals of all ages and demographics are vital to a prosperous, sustainable community. Our town has the resources to create a resilient community that retains these young families. Estes Park has incredibly strong assets; Rocky Mountain National Park, a rich history, strong tourist economy and downtown corridor, many non-profits, highly educated citizens, cultural diversity, and active community members. As a community, we have identified our current greatest needs and taken steps to address affordable housing, access to childcare, transportation, and expanding our workforce. I believe with strong leadership we can address the issues our town is facing by building upon existing assets.
Building community means building our identity and culture, coming together as one, and adapting to change. Positive change and growth will come from leadership that’s committed to community.