2017: Mancos rises from ashes, ends year with a celebration

Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 5:48 PM
The Western Excelsior fire continues to smolder with some flames Tuesday morning. The manufacturing building collapsed in the middle.
Rosa Sabido, a Mexican national, stands outside of the United Methodist Church in Mancos in June.
Petra Sullwood and Katherine Dobson serve mulled wine to Charolette Lenssen during an Old-Fashioned Christmas.
Thor and Sheri Tingey display one of the companies rafts at the location in Mancos for Alpacka Rafts.
Mancos Brewing Co. brewer DeWayne Jackson shows off a glass of beer while co-owner Kathy Hands holds up a sign at their new location, 484 E. Frontage Road.
Kelly Kilgore Chilcott opened American Indian Art at 100 W. Grand Ave.

This was a year of beginnings, growth and camaraderie in Mancos.

The biggest story of the year was the Western Excelsior Plant fire, which left hundreds without jobs. However, alongside tragedy, Mancos grew, becoming a designated Creative District and welcoming new businesses and remodels to town. The United Methodist Church became a sanctuary.

The Western Excelsior fireAt 1 p.m. on May 8, The Western Excelsior plant in Mancos erupted into flames, prompting at least 10 fire departments to send fire engines and crews to the rapidly escalating blaze.

Workers were evacuated safely, fire officials at the scene said, and no injuries were reported.

Western Excelsior, 901 Grand Ave., processed harvested timber to create erosion-control products such as shaved aspen, known as excelsior. It also made erosion control blankets and mats, and had been in business since 1977.

Evidence indicated that a fan’s motor was the fire’s point of origin, Mancos Fire Chief Tony Aspromonte said on May 9.

By May 10, employees were being told to file for unemployment. On June 19, Montezuma County commissioners voted to declare the May 8 fire an emergency economic disaster.

Zach Snyder, president of Western Excelsior Corp., said he didn’t know when the plant would be rebuilt. The Mancos Western Excelsior facility was the second-largest in the country and employed about 100 people from all over the Four Corners region.

The plant’s demolition began in September.

Western Excelsior has set up a temporary production facility in Mancos, in a building unaffected by the fire. Employees are still producing sediment control products, but the facility is still far from operating at its former capacity, and most of its employees have not returned.

Several local businesses and nonprofits donated money and held fundraisers to benefit out-of-work employees. The Mancos Valley River Film Festival in July raised about $10,000 for charity organizations like Mancos Valley Resources, Mancos FoodShare and Mancos Pay It Forward. Local yoga teachers also planned a firewalk ceremony on Sept. 10 to raise more money for employees and their families.

Rosa Sabido gains sanctuaryRosa Sabido likes to say she lives inside a postcard.

She loves the scenery, people and quietness of Cortez, where she has lived and worked for 30 years. But that idyllic scene appeared to be coming to an end.

Sabido, a Mexican national, was told in May that her application for a one-year stay of removal was denied by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She was ordered to leave the country or face deportation.

Since June, Sabido has lived in sanctuary at the United Methodist Church in Mancos, where she hopes to buy herself enough time to seek permanent residency.

Sabido came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1987 as a visitor to live with her stepfather, who is a legal resident. She took a job as a housekeeper and worked for several years each at the Ute Mountain Casino and H&R Block. According to a timeline provided in June by her immigration attorney, Sabido made several trips to Mexico in the 1990s on a travel visa, and one of those trips lasted longer than 90 days. That broke the 10-year streak of continuous residency required by U.S. immigration law, disrupting one avenue she could have used to acquire permanent legal status. She applied for permanent residency in 2001, but her petition is pending.

ICE informed Sabido that she would be detained upon showing up for her previously scheduled check-in appointment on June 5 with the ICE office in Durango.

Instead, she asked for sanctuary at the Mancos United Methodist Church. On June 29, church members said they voted to become a sanctuary, and since her sanctuary began, the church has marked her stay with 100- and 200-day celebrations in addition to a “caravan” of sanctuary advocates on Oct. 21.

One of state’s 21 Creative DistrictsMancos has long been home to a large number of artists, but 2017 was its first full year as a certified Colorado Creative District.

Colorado’s first Creative District was certified in 2012. Since then, 21 places in the state have received the designation, which qualifies them for grant money and other benefits designed to support local arts. In July 2016, Mancos became one of the smallest towns in the state to be certified.

The Creative District’s goals, as outlined in its strategic plan, include job creation, honoring the heritage of the Mancos Valley and “promoting social cohesiveness and understanding through cultural activities,” among other things.

Mancos has only had a Creative District for a year and a half, but its members said it has already left a significant mark on the town. Artists with the district have painted three new murals and helped to spruce up the small “pocket parks” within town limits. Sarah Syverson, the district’s director, said the marketing efforts have helped cross the divide between Mancos’ agricultural and artistic populations. “There’s a cohesiveness and a coming together that wasn’t there before the Creative District,” she said.

Schools win bond electionMancos School District won its bond measure to upgrade its campus

Bond Measure 3A, passed in the Nov. 7 election with 72.8 percent of the vote, will increase the district’s debt by $4.95 million for the purpose of school building remodeling, to be paid off with increased property taxes over the next 20 years.

The remodel project will include updates to the electrical systems and plumbing in many of the district’s aging buildings, added safety features, additions to the gym and performance center and a major overhaul of the middle school buildings to turn them into a single building, among other things. Superintendent Brian Hanson said the district has already begun contract negotiations with Denver-based architectural firm Humphries Poli, which will design the project.

“The next step is the design process, and we’ll hopefully start that process before the end of this year,” Hanson said. “We plan to start construction at the end of the school year, in the spring.”

Businesses, galleries growAt the beginning of 2017, Kelly Kilgore Chilcott opened American Indian Art at 100 W. Grand Ave. in Mancos.

The store contains a large inventory of Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and other tribal artifacts such as bowls, textiles, kachinas and baskets.

“Everything is authentic,” she said.

Veryl Goodnight moved into a 100-year-old building in downtown Mancos in late 2016, and then remodeled it. She plastered the walls and dyed the floors herself. She also used salvaged wood from a friend’s collapsed barn to build shelving and rafters that mimic the inside of a barn.After 10 years away, Goodnight returned to Mancos and opened an art gallery. Goodnight said she hopes to offer something for everyone.

“By using art you can educate and engage people more,” she said. “Imagery is very important.”

The Grange and the Food Share broke ground for a 420-foot expansion in January. It intends to work together in the long term to help distribute food to people in need in the Mancos Valley, said Kathryn Fulton, who is overseeing the project.A $60,000 expansion at Mount Lookout Grange in Mancos will go toward a full commercial kitchen and storage space for the Mancos Food Share.

The Mancos Brewing Co. moved to a new, larger space in spring 2017. The new location is about four times bigger than the original pub, on a 2-acre property.“We want to keep saturating the Mancos Valley with best beer we can make,” brewer DeWayne Jackson said.

They opened for business at their new location on May 18.

The Mancos Inn finished its remodel.

After purchasing the Mancos Inn and Hostel in November 2015, owners Amy Holmgren and Sarah Allen worked many 12-hour days and completed project after project to fix up the building.The Inn features 17 rooms, including two studio apartments and a six-bed dorm room or hostel. Three of the rooms have private bathrooms and 11 have shared bathrooms.

The Green Table Cafe opened in Spring 2017. The food Kendra Mackenbach serves from her little yellow school bus is from her Green Table Farm in Mancos, and is Certified Natural Grown.

The Alpacka Rafts company moved to downtown Mancos. Alpacka’s entire operation — from R&D to manufacturing to repairs – has moved to the former Mancos Hardware Store building, just south of the Mancos River on Main Street. They started moving to the new location in the middle of March, Sheri Tingey said.

Zuma Natural Foods is under new owner Katie Wall.Soon after Wall arrived in town, previous owner Dustin Partridge approached her about the sale of his natural foods store.

Wall was the merchandising manager of a natural food co-op in Minnesota, and she has 11 years of farming background.

Wall took over Zuma Natural Foods on Nov. 1. “There will definitely be significant changes, but it will happen gradually over time,” Wall said. “We are planning to do a grand reopening sometime this winter.”

Ending the year with celebrationMancos celebrated Christmas this year with a bang – two weeks of holiday events in the Creative District, starting Dec. 1.

The town began its “Old-fashioned Christmas” celebration with a tree lighting on Dec. 1. The holiday celebration hit full stride on Friday, Dec. 8, with Grand Winter Nights and continued Saturday with a holiday arts market at Main Street and Grand Avenue. HelloZark Studio hosted a three-day pop-up gallery featuring the Back Roads Collective. The Veryl Goodnight Gallery opened a special exhibit of vintage dolls, and caroling, hot chocolate, a bonfire and artistic demonstrations were available throughout the evening. Galleries stayed open late, and many offered drinks and appetizers. Santa Claus made an appearance, and wagon rides were available starting in the morning.

Kilgore American Indian Art Gallery hosted a Navajo weaving demonstration. The Mancos Valley Chorus performed three concerts at Mancos United Methodist Church, and local musician Ryan Barnum played a concert at Mancos Brewing Co. Events designed for children include a storytelling hour and photos with Santa.