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Who do you think we are?
Developing a vision for Archuleta County

Colorado — a state that brings to mind mountains, skiing, forests, fishing, hiking and a plethora of outdoor activities. Within Colorado, there are many areas that have successfully defined themselves and are known around the nation: Aspen, Vail and even Durango. When residents travel away from this corner of southwest Colorado and tell people where they are from, is the name Pagosa Springs immediately known? More often than not, a resident of Archuleta County mentions Pagosa Springs in the same sentence as the words “east of Durango” or “in southwest Colorado near Wolf Creek Ski Area.” What will it take to define Pagosa Springs as easily as Aspen or Vail?

In 2009, the Board of County Commissioners took a step towards creating a unified vision for the county. The vision will encompass not just the town of Pagosa Springs, but the entire county, including the scenic ranch areas of Chromo, the large subdivisions of Aspen Springs, and the quaint communities that surround the incredible resource of Navajo Lake.

According to the introduction of the Archuleta Community Vision Workgroup Report, “In May of 2009, the commissioners charged the Archuleta Community Vision Workgroup with a first step of investigating existing documentation to determine if indeed there already exists a vision for all to follow.” In response, the appointed workgroup spent hours culling nine years of community reports and surveys that reflected resident and visitor attitudes, opinions and interests. Led by project leader Patsy Lindblad, the team of nine volunteers worked on their own and in over 30 hours of meetings to determine 300 pertinent data points. The group then analyzed and interpreted the data to produce a coherent report for the public to review. Lindblad, along with team member Paula Craig, have been meeting with local groups to present the report findings and motivate community members to get involved in the next step of the process.

“Paula and I were at a public forum where we both spoke out,” recounts Lindblad of how she began her involvement with the workgroup, now named Vision4Archuleta. Both ladies spoke at the April 2009 roads forum and realized that the community didn’t have a vision. After the meeting, Archuleta County Commissioner John Ranson approached them and asked if they would be interested in forming a task force to work on a community vision. Craig and Lindblad agreed and began the volunteer work of devising a plan to use the information that had already been collected, but had been “shelved.”

“One commitment this committee made,” Craig explains, “was to undertake this task in a step process.” The step process involves presenting all work in stages, with reports made to both Archuleta County and the Town of Pagosa Springs at each step. Steps one and two were to research existing data and identify vision elements. The planning process for the task force was compiled by Lindblad, who has an extensive background in corporate market research. After performing the first two of nine steps, the task force summarized the findings into groups and presented the report to the BoCC. The county commissioners liked the report and noted it was important to see an “Archuleta community,” not just a vision for Pagosa Springs.

The first page of the report contains a few words of caution for readers, with the first being that the results in the report reflect only existing community documentation. According to the report, “The work group recognizes that the vision for our community must be inspiring and must be embraced by the community in order to bring it to fruition.” The next step in the process will be to conduct a current situation analysis, develop a draft vision scenario and then survey the community for feedback.

Comprised of members who represent the diversity of our community, the task force team includes the director of county development, leaders in the arts community, a county planner, and owners of a large outdoors retailer. Forty-one community and regional reports were reviewed and included the 2006 Downtown Master Plan, 2006 Town Parks and Recreation Survey, 2007 Archuleta County Citizens Survey, 2006 Stollsteimer Creek Master Plan, 2007 Community Arts Center Report, as well as other strategic plans from the town, county, transportation and medical districts.

The results showed that there are core values that community residents and visitors hold very dear. At the top of the list is our beautiful scenery, mountains, rivers, open spaces and other exceptional natural resources. According to the report, Archuleta County is seen as a beautiful, recreational destination and an escape from stress, congestion and weather. The report also found four target audiences of place, which is important for determining our vision. The target audiences are residents, businesses, tourists and “export” customers, or those who are served outside of our county boundaries.

The report determined that residents show the greatest area of need, but this could also include second homeowners, tourists and business owners as well. Susan Shaw is one of those second homeowners. A full-time resident of Phoenix, Shaw and her husband had been skiing at Wolf Creek for years and loved the area. “We used to come every Thanksgiving and stay at Wyndham,” she says. When the Shaws were looking for a second home near the ski area, they looked at Durango first, but determined it was overpriced. The fact that Pagosa Springs had an airport was key in their decision to purchase a home in Pagosa Lakes three years ago. “My husband has a small plane,” Susan says, “and being able to land so close to our house and then get to the ski area is great for us.”

Also shown in the report is significant attention to improving job opportunities in the area. “Many people come here thinking they’ve arrived in paradise,” the report reads, “but the economic reality sets in and many end up working two or even three jobs to survive.

After all the data was compiled and the report presented, the question to the community became, “What is it we want to be?” Lindblad uses a house analogy to try and show the idea of a vision. When you build a house, you have the plans for walls and rooms, and also the design of the house in mind. Will it be a Cape Cod or Santa Fe style? Once the design is determined, you can change the details inside, but you should stick to the design of the house. Patsy explains that once you’ve decided to build a log house, you can turn away the people that are coming and trying to bring you adobe. “But the decision for our community vision hasn’t been made,” she comments. “It seems we are putting that off.”

“People assume that vision is what you see on the entrance to the community,” Craig adds. “But vision is helping the total extended community to be prosperous for a long period. Residents, tourists — all who live or pass through the community can enjoy our vision.”

Archuleta County resident Rod Proffitt agrees. With a background in community development, Proffitt has been involved on six assessment teams with other communities that were also looking to develop a vision. He refers to the words of Roy Spence, an author and corporate CEO. To explain the confusion between mission and vision, Spence says that mission is how you execute your purpose, and vision is a statement of how you see the world after you’ve done your purpose and mission. “Your tactics will change, your ads will change, your mission might too, but your purpose never will,” Spence writes.

Lindblad and Craig have many stories of towns whose leaders decided to embrace a vision and prospered for it. One example was the town of Leavenworth, Wash., that reinvented itself after losing its railway and timber industries in the ’60s. Leavenworth was inspired by the resemblance of the surrounding countryside to Bavarian Germany and the town was remodeled as a Bavarian alpine village. Now, not just tourists are attracted to the area, but many people of direct German, Austrian and Norwegian descent have made Leavenworth their new home. Although the Vision4Archuleta task force does not suggest we need to go that far, they do stress the need for our area to define ourselves. “It’s hard to look beyond the present with no master vision to refer to,” Lindblad says.

“There has to be an orderly process for how things go on,” Craig adds. “We haven’t had a vision plan to work off of.” Craig notes that the community vision should have flexibility and does not have to be something set in concrete, but should address infrastructure, education and retirement. “The current economy has made this a critical time to be attentive to vision,” she says, and notes that with a good vision plan in place, all aspects of the community should benefit from implementing the plan. “We’ve always taken short term fixes. We should look at the best return on investment for our sales tax dollars.”

The next step in the process to develop a community vision will involve a one-day event at the end of April that will include a synectics session, which Craig and Lindblad describe as “structured brainstorming with a facilitator.” The process was used for developing the community greenhouse project and will allow participants to use analogies and metaphors to realize different ways of problem solving. The group will create several vision scenarios that will then be presented to the public through community postings, meetings and a Web site.

Once the community has weighed in on various scenarios, the task force will finalize the vision, identify strategic priorities and use the vision to modify existing strategic plans. The ultimate community vision will not be a binding legal document, but rather a guide for the community to follow when making key decisions. “It will be the responsibility of town and county leaders to accept that the plan is what the community wants,” Craig says.

Both Craig and Lindblad acknowledge the need for community input to develop a vision and they encourage residents to get involved in the process. “We are listening,” Craig says, and stresses that the vision task force is not driven only by their own ideas. They understand the differences in opinions on the direction the county should go and the no-growth versus pro-growth voices. They remind the community, “Growing doesn’t always mean getting bigger. It can mean getting better.”

To find out more information and view the presentation and report, visit Vision4Archuleta.com. If you would like to schedule a presentation for your organization, contact Patsy Lindblad at patsylindblad@att.net.