By Caitlin Switzer

MONTROSE-When Montrose resident Lois Phillips read a recent article in the Mirror about improvements to Cottonwood Trailer Park, where she has lived for many years, she knew there was more to the story.

“A very, very special thanks goes to Pastor Arnie Chavez of Extending Grace, a branch of Grace Community Church,” Phillips said. “Extending Grace paid for the playground equipment that the maintenance crews put in, and Zane and Chauncy from Black Canyon Aggregate donated the gravel. There are a lot of kids here, and it has just been wonderful for them.

“That playground gets a lot of use.”

A former manager for the Great Homes Company, which owns Cottonwood, San Juan, Green Acres and Mountain View Trailer parks in Montrose and another in Delta, Phillips credits Chavez with making a real difference for those who live in the Cottonwood Park. In addition to regular bible studies in both English and Spanish, Chavez implemented an after-school homework program, she noted, and has awarded bikes to those kids with regular attendance at year’s end.

“Before Arnie started Bible study, I didn’t know much about the Bible or care to know,” Phillips said. “Now, I know.

“Grace Church does a lot for our community.”

Extending Grace also donated the new playground in the San Juan-Green Acres parks, she said.

“The maintenance crews for Great Homes-Steve Romero, Allen Johnson, Robert Garduno–planted the grass and laid the sprinklers,” she said.

Phillips, who came to the park as a renter 14 years ago, purchased her own trailer in 2001. Today she occupies one of 181 privately-owned units in the park system. She recalls a time years ago when drug dealers seemed to outnumber law-abiding tenants.

“When I worked for the company I made the maintenance guys check every empty trailer, all the time,” she said. “I drove the parks several times a week and took notes, and I sent letters. I once found a drunk guy asleep in one unoccupied unit–he got mad that I woke him up!”

The majority of tenants today are very good neighbors, and many are non-English speakers, she noted.

“I feel safe here; I’ve been here for so long,” she said. “I keep my door locked, and we all watch out for each other. We have two great volunteers here who do so much-Lorraine Vigil and Tina Gauthier–and we never have had any trouble with the City-the police are always so cooperative, and so good about responding when you call. Paul Eller was very good to us.”

Sadly, the age of many of the park units has made them obsolete and less than ideal, she noted.

“If this park sold, very few of  these trailers could actually be moved,” she said, “because anything older than 1976 has to be destroyed on site.”

And in the end, the welfare and well-being of children remains the ultimate concern, Phillips said.

“Kids don’t always have a voice,” she said. “As manager here, my biggest fear was that we would go into an empty trailer, and find a child. I always made the crews double check to make sure doors and windows were well covered.

Still, “People have broken into old trailers here, and started fires to stay warm,” Phillips said. “It wouldn’t take much for these old parks to go up in flames.

“I have worked my whole life for to have my own home,” she continued. “And there are people living here who would not be able to get out in time.”