Heart and Soul Cortez wrapped up its two-year community-input project during a free chili and cake brunch at the Montezuma County Annex Saturday afternoon.
During multiple meetings, residents were asked to provide guidance on what their vision is for Cortez. The plans were again reviewed and embellished.
“We’re basically asking, What do you love, and what do you want changed,” said MB McAfee, program volunteer. “The process collects feedback and ties it into local government plans.”
The participants decided that the people and friendliness of a small town are important. Library and community activities deserve attention. Agriculture was an obvious choice. Business and economic development is a priority. Parks and recreation is critical for health and entertainment. Education, the arts, church and family are all equally important as well.
Forty residents attended the final event to further discuss prioritizing various goals for the short, medium and long terms.
“A final report will be created on the results of the community-wide recommendation process and then presented to the Cortez City Council,” said Kristen Sackett, city planning director. “Then they decide whether to adopt the plan.”
Program director Rocky Moss and a meeting consultant Heather Burgman organized an interactive event involving everyone who attended, lured in part by the promise of cake and ice cream afterward. Brilliant.
“What do you want your community to be. Remember, it is not all about relying on local government to make change. Community action and partnerships also create change,” Burgman said.
Groups of four toured seven stations headlined by values, discussed them for nine minutes with a Heart and Soul staffer, recorded their priorities, and moved onto the next station.
A master timeline was created from the five different stations. A community action plan will detail what participant’s visions are for Cortez and shared with the public.
Leaders were a bit disappointed by the low turnout, but realized organizing for a long-term vision takes time and patience.
“I’m sure you notice we have the same players attend community events and meetings regularly, and that is a beginning,” Moss said. “You are the community leaders who understand the importance of this process. Participation can only grow.”
Previous meetings were well attended however, giving the process a wide variety of information from residents.
“We’re at the point where we are getting good results because we gathered so much information,” said volunteer Eleanor Kuhl. “It has been a county-wide grassroots effort.”
A tour of the various group stations revealed a lot of enthusiasm and ideas for Cortez.
Regarding the economy, Steve Wilderson, owner of Sleeping Ute Builders, said Cortez is business-friendly but there is always room for improvement. Attracting new people is key.
“What I think has helped is the beatification of South Broadway and the focus on art and murals in town,” he said. “It is the first thing people see coming through town. A nicely designed landscape and artistic murals gives a good impression for new and potential residents.”
Galen Larson had some innovative ideas for agriculture and entertainment.
He says more community support is needed for the small farmer, and for starters they need small loans.
“Right now, only the big operations get loans and government support and subsidies. The small farmer is left out,” he said. “I suggest a community fund. Fifty people who can afford it donating $1,000 each would create a base for issuing small loans at low interests for smaller farmers.”
Regarding entertainment, “More organized block parties with music and dancing for all ages,” Larson said.
On recreation, Tim Robinson says you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.
“Promote what you have,” he said. “We have world class mountain biking at Phil’s World, but I don’t thing it is promoted enough.”
“Use existing buildings that are under-used,” said another participant. “Don’t just build new ones when perfectly fine buildings are sitting vacant.”
Cortez is known for its ample parks, with more open space per capita than nearby Durango.
“This community is proud of our parks. We need to continue adding open space, more pocket parks, more trails because that is what people say is so wonderful about our town,” said participant Janet Weeth.
Innovation should be encouraged. One idea floated was a space in the library where weekly meetings are held to brainstorm inventions, events, and creative solutions to problems. The mind-controlled robotic arm invented by Mancos high school engineer Easton LaChappelle symbolizes the potential of the creative process.
“He is a prime example of local inspiration that could be built upon by forming a local group that focuses on innovation and invention,” Moss said.
Other ideas floated were more community cleanups, collecting oral histories from locals, a local tennis and Frisbee gold tournament, and Haiku workshops.
“One thing we have learned is the importance of volunteers willing to step up and take programs on,” Moss said. “Without more volunteers to implement, ideas just stay ideas.”