Boom towns

April E. ClarkPost Independent Staff
Special to the Post Independent/ Erin M. Cady Castle Valley is alive with growth and expansion as is the whole western part of Garfield County, according to census data.

In the 59 years since Betty Clifford was born at the old Thomas Maternity Home on Second Street in Rifle, she has seen the city boom and bust.She wasn’t surprised to hear Rifle is booming again. A U.S. Census Bureau report released this week showed the city’s population increased 13 percent since 2000.”I’ve kind of went through the boom, bust, boom, bust all my life,” said Clifford, a writer of published short stories titled Rifle Vignettes. “My brother used to say Rifle was a place where he couldn’t get home before our folks knew what he was up to. Right now it’s like, hang on to your hats.”Although Clifford said she is no stranger to the growth Rifle continues to experience – the population grew 2 percent from July 2003 to July 2004 – she has no plans to leave where she was born and raised.”The reality is that there is nothing we can do but plan. As far as the people coming in and the traffic, it’s going a little crazy, kind of like wildfire,” she said. “But the people here make a lot of difference. The mountains and climate are great, and I have a lot of friends here.”Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert, who came to the valley in 1981 as a young teacher, said he was surprised the population increase percentage was no higher.”We have eight housing developments going on right now. That’s significant for a town our size,” he said. “Our down town is a flurry, a beehive of activity. I haven’t seen that much activity before, and I’ve lived here for 24 years. It’s been amazing to be a part of this.”

Lambert said the city is taking immediate action to account for the growth.”We are in the midst of a lot of planning, and all-in-all we’re pushing into the future,” he said. “We have to accept the fact that growth is going to take place, and even if we didn’t accommodate that kind of growth, we would still have people come this way.”Rifle’s on the mapWith the surge of oil and gas drilling from Silt to Parachute, Lambert said one of Rifle’s initiatives is to diversify its economy so it is not so reliant on the energy industry.”We want to be a full-service community,” he said. “We want to attract businesses that are not solely in the energy industry so we aren’t left with a boom-bust situation. We’re looking to improve our retail sector.”Jim King, manager of Starbucks Coffee in Rifle, said the city is on the right track in terms of making itself a better place to live and work.

“Rifle’s not the sleepy little cow town it used to be,” said King, a father of two kids, 15 and 17. “Some people see the growth as a bad thing, but I think it’s going to create an expanded tax base, and hopefully we’ll get a recreation center for the kids.”King said he and his wife bought a home in Rifle in 1980, when mainstream commercial development in the area was limited to City Market. Today, Rifle boasts a Starbucks, which opened in September of 2004, and a Super Wal-Mart.”Starbucks saw Rifle as a growing area, located right on I-70,” King said. “Our local clientele makes up 80 percent of our customers. We know these customers by name and know their drink. Business is getting better every day.”Glenwood’s growth spurtWhile Glenwood Springs experienced just a 1 percent population increase in the past year and a 9 percent jump since 2000, it is preparing for a substantial retail boom with its new Meadows development.”The Meadows has several components – a residential component, a commercial-retail component and a hospitality component – which will certainly impact the community,” said Glenwood Springs city manager Jeff Hecksel.

Hecksel said he is happy with Glenwood Springs’ gradual growth, in comparison to cities where he has worked that saw sudden increases in population.”One percent growth – that’s manageable. When you have a city with 5 or 6 percent growth, that really puts a strain on your infrastructure,” he said. “Having worked in a region and community in Oregon where the growth was five times what it was, it’s hard to keep on top of the demand for certain types of services.”Steve Marshall, director of business development for the Fleisher Co., a commercial real estate firm, said Garfield County’s commercial growth will bring more jobs and demand for residential real estate. He hopes to see comprehensive plans in place to accommodate growth.”With a lot of growth comes a test on these cities’ level of responsibility to handle that growth and not just proceed in a haphazard way,” said Marshall, who moved to the valley 10 years ago. “Time will tell.” Clifford said she hopes history does not repeat itself for her city – and others in the county – and bust.”It feels like in 1987, when there were a lot of people here with the promise of jobs but no place to go or stay,” she said.Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext.

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