Gilding the Lilly or Upping the Charm Factor
Given my inclinations, I want to comment on the sprucing up of Westclifffe/Silver Cliff. Not that a little sprucing up isn’t welcome. Preparing to serve as the terminus of Ride the Rockies, the towns made a great effort to plant more flowers, install more sidewalk seating, and to welcome the cyclists with open arms. This was all to the good. But, to keep the analogy going, a bit of eyeliner and moisturizer is not a full-blown facelift.
Some years ago (time-wise my memory fails me, but let’s say 30 or 35 years past) a local resident suggested that we might increase tourism by turning our co-joined communities into an Old West town complete with false fronts. The facelift proposal never went to a vote, but word-on-the street was a resounding, “No!” I, for one, have no inclination to live in an approximation of a theme park.
In more recent times (last year I believe) the town of Westcliffe “improved” Fourth Street. And what an eyesore it is! I tend to think of Fourth as “The Interstate to Nowhere.” In contrast, unimproved Second Street looks much more welcoming. In both cases, the idea was to channel rainwater gushing down from Silver Cliff. In the case of Fourth Street, the shoulders were paved on both sides of the “highway.”
If you compare Fourth Street to Second Street, you will note a dramatic difference. Surely there is room for compromise: could we have some improvements but not a total makeover? Fourth Street is seriously lacking in small town charm.
For over a century, St. Elmo (once an 1880s silver and gold mining town) lingered on life support. When I visited some 25 years ago, the town was abandoned and only a couple of residents hung on. Earlier this month I visited St. Elmo once again.
The town is now off life support, is listed with the National Register of Historic Places, and has climbed into bed with the Colorado Historical Society which will oversee restoration and preservation. I like the compromise. Aside from structural repairs and signage, the buildings look much as they did — years ago. Some fronts have been painted, but the sides and backs of the buildings have been left unpainted.
However, I am not happy with the town’s marketing: “Why climb to the Continental Divide… foot by weary foot… when you can ride an All-terrain Vehicle?” (My take on marketing, not the words of the St. Elmo Chamber of Commerce.) ATVs are everywhere. You can rent on-site or large flatbeds bring in ATVs from nearby towns.
Yes, I want to climb up to Tin Cup Pass and straddle the Continental Divide, but I do not want to breathe the exhaust or hear the motors of ATVs!
By involving the Colorado State Historical Society, Saint Elmo is doing some things right . Unfortunately, promoting the use of ATVs is a step in the wrong direction.
With a hurricane of voices buffeting the tourism tightrope and its walkers, finding the balance is not easy. The tourism debate calls for a far-reaching vision. If you take a look at Fourth Street, you will see the attempt of a fix, but the “fix” doesn’t play into the larger tourism vision. Flowers and seating will not increase the attractiveness of a street wide enough to be a highway.
Rumor has it that a request has gone out for sidewalks on Second Street. PLEASE! If I wanted to live in the suburbs, I would have never moved to Westcliffe. I like walking down the side (and sometimes the center) of Second Street. Walking in or along the street, I can talk to those driving by in their cars.
ATTENTION TOWN OF WESTCLIFFE: Wider streets and sidewalks do not lend themselves to small town charm. Bring on the eyeliner and the moisturizer, but spare me the facelift.