If you’re a little fatigued by all the COVID news, then read on! This will be a (mostly) COVID-free column because I’m also fatigued and there is quite a lot to talk about beyond the pandemic.

The City of Grand Junction launched a series of public forms this past week to kick off it’s Parks, Recreation, Open Space (PROS) Master Plan process. This process will assess and inventory our parks and recreation system and identify what is needed in order to create a Master Plan that will guide priorities in the future. A Task Force of community members will guide the process and give continued feedback as they move towards a final Master Plan which is expected by the end of the year.  I attended a stake holder meeting and was glad to see representatives from across the valley to include Fruita and Palisade, as well as Mesa County. A lively discussion ensued about maintaining what we already have, reaching underserved populations, keeping up with growth and, of course, building a recreation or community center.

As an economic developer, these are important amenities that provide a high quality of life for our residents across all age groups. High quality of life means happier, more productive people for our employers and better opportunities for our kids and grandparents. As a mother of school-aged kids, my family uses these facilities often and just wants to be able to park legally when we have games at Canyon View. More river access, a lack of indoor sports facilities, and of course, the future of pickleball were all important topics. Did I mention parking at Canyon View?

I always enjoy these public discussions as we think through and try to imagine what our community will look like in 5, 10 and 20 years. I’ve participated in a number of these Master Plan processes that have helped guide decision-making and spending at the municipal level. The North Star report, which we’ve used extensively over the past five years to guide our economic development efforts, is already due for an update. A number of feasibility studies have been done in recent years to assess lodging, an event center, and a recreation center. Both the Cities of Grand Junction and Fruita have updated their Comprehensive Plans over the past year. The Downtown Development Authority also conducted a Plan of Development for the future growth of downtown Grand Junction. All three processes involved extensive community-wide discussions on how to grow in a smart way that maintains the character of the communities that we love while accommodating the growth that is coming whether we like it or not. The one hole in all the planning to date (as I see it) is understanding our housing inventory, although the City of Grand Junction was planning on launching a housing study this summer before COVID hit. That process has been put on hold, but conversations between GJEP, the Grand Junction Housing Authority and the City of Grand Junction continue and that process will probably move forward again before the end of the year.

And this is how well-run communities work. Citizen- lead conversations through task forces, committees, boards and forums guide decision-making at our municipalities. It’s not easy or perfect or smooth and oftentimes we disagree, but it’s a pretty good way to chart a way forward and plan for a community that recently surpassed 150,000 people and will continue to grow. COVID has complicated the public process and forces us to consider what has permanently changed because of the pandemic. But we’re also a pretty resilient people with the last recession not far behind us and the structure already in place to solve problems quickly and get our economy moving again. It’s why our unemployment remains lower than both the state and national average. It’s why 60% of our businesses report being minorly or not at all affected by COVID and it’s why I believe we will weather the storm better than front range cities that are still in shock from what hit them and unclear about how to move forward. We’ve been moving forward since we were shut down in March and are able to imagine what a post-COVID world looks like in western Colorado. I just hope it includes parking at Canyon View Park.

This column first ran in The Daily Sentinel on July 19, 2020, alongside the July 2020 Economic Snapshot – view it here.