The Southwest Colorado regional director for Sen. Cory Gardner paid the town of Mancos a visit on Friday.
Ann McCoy Harold, of Gardner’s Durango office, met with Town Administrator Heather Alvarez and Mayor Pro Tem Fred Brooks to learn about current issues facing the town. Harold said she tries to visit the towns in her region as often as possible in order to keep Gardner informed about issues affecting rural Colorado. Alvarez and Brooks gave her a summary of some of the town’s greatest triumphs and tragedies during the past few years, and outlined some of their goals for the future.
Harold said she has visited Mancos a few times, having grown up in Southwest Colorado, but she didn’t know much about the town as it is now. She asked for an update on the best things happening in the town, including how the federal government might have helped make them possible.
“I want to know what’s happening in Mancos, what’s most exciting,” she said.
Alvarez mentioned the upcoming municipal election, saying she is excited to have more trustee candidates than open positions for the first time in several years. Citing accomplishments like a fully staffed marshal’s office and the successful Mancos School District bond issue last year, Brooks said he believes the town has come a long way in the past four years.
“I landed here in 2014, and the strides that we’ve made are very, very positive,” he said. “We’ve had some turmoil, certainly, in the last couple of years, but I think everyone does.”
He also touted the success of the Montezuma School to Farm Project, which he helps to run as a board member for the Mancos Conservation District. Established in 2010 as a farm field trip for Mancos students, the project now includes six school garden programs all over Montezuma County and teaches about 2,300 students per month about nutrition, gardening and cooking. Harold said she was impressed with the idea of the program, which she hadn’t heard about before.
Town staff also discussed some upcoming projects, such as the Main Street bridge replacement, which is still in the design phase but is scheduled to begin this year. Alvarez said the town is indebted to the Colorado Department of Transportation for providing some of the funds for that project. Mancos’ 2018 budget includes about $1.4 million for the new bridge, but CDOT has also committed more than $1 million toward completing it, since it’s located near U.S. Highway 160.
Not every topic of discussion in the meeting was positive. Brooks and Alvarez also brought up the fire that destroyed the local Western Excelsior plant last year, and its impact on the Four Corners region. Brooks was quick to point out the loss of about 100 jobs, including many filled by employees who commuted to Mancos from outside town, has not affected the economy as much as originally expected. But Alvarez said it’s still not clear whether Western Excelsior will ever reopen a fully-functioning plant in Mancos. Right now the site is being primarily used to store and sell firewood.
Despite the tragic nature of the fire, staff said they were encouraged by the response from Montezuma County residents, many of whom continue to raise money for people affected by the loss of the plant.
“People in Mancos...all of the area organizations have not forgotten,” she said. “To me, that’s the biggest benefit of a small town, is they have long memories. The silver lining to that is that, when there’s an emergency, they’re there for the duration.”
Harold said she was impressed by several things Alvarez and Brooks told her about, especially the School to Farm Project, the Main Street bridge construction and some of the planned and completed projects by the Creative District. She said Mancos seemed to be a “caring community,” and encouraged town staff to stay in touch with her office.
Harold’s Durango office is one of eight office locations for Gardner in Colorado.