RIDGWAY-Some folks can remember hearing Ridgway called a “pass-through town,” a stop for lunch or gas on the way to Telluride or Ouray.
Now, Ridgway is itself a destination, one of Colorado’s favorite in-state getaways.
This hip little enclave in the San Juans, founded in 1890 as the headquarters of Otto Mears’ Rio Grande Southern Narrow Gauge Railway, is a feast for the senses these days. What’s the recipe for Ridgway’s recent success? Start with a few staples–an engaged and active citizenry in a picturesque, well-organized mountain town set amidst snow-capped peaks, with excellent recreational opportunities and close proximity to Ridgway State Park and Reservoir and to the popular Orvis and Ouray hot springs.
Include excellent eateries in all price ranges, a rustic and well-placed Welcome Center/Railway Museum, a beautiful up-to-date library, good schools and an exciting historic backstory that includes railways, miners, Native Americans, cowboys, ranchers, artists and even movie stars.
Add a blossoming arts economy and creative district, strong partnerships with regional and statewide development organizations, an active and resourceful chamber of commerce, eclectic shops and galleries, a fresh new brand (Think Outside), regular full-moon art walks, a free summer concert series and historic ranch rodeo, upgraded Fairgrounds and grandstand facilities, diverse performance opportunities at the historic Sherbino Theater, and plenty of options for enjoying the beverage of your choice in a setting guaranteed to take your breath away even if you live here year-round.
Recreational opportunities here–and local outdoor professionals–tend to be among the world’s best. And Ridgway’s relaxed attitude toward retail marijuana has boosted tax revenues and traffic.
What’s not to like? After 32 years here, Ridgway Mayor John Clark has not found much.
“When we first got here in 1982, there were 400 people,” Clark recalled. “You could lay down in the middle of Main Street. But Ridgway has always had a great energy, if people would only stop to discover it.
“Now, they are starting to stop.”
Local entrepreneurs and new investment have played a big role in Ridgway’s economic vitality, Clark said, noting that a political climate that focuses more on getting things done than on promoting differences has also facilitated Ridgway’s growth.
“What you see is what you get here,” Clark said. “People are open with ideas, and willing to accept differences and work together for common community goals. It’s not about what political party you are, but about what we want for our community.
“And even when you have differences, you can usually sit down with someone over a cup of coffee or a beer and talk them out–Ridgway is kind of unique that way.”
The town’s planned Downtown and Hwy 62 improvements project will break ground in 2016, Clark said, giving the business community time to plan for the inconvenience of construction and highway widening and ultimately adding a more pedestrian-friendly feel.
“A lot of Ridgway’s streets will still be dirt, but not our Downtown,” he said.
Another local, Trail Town Still owner and veterinarian Dr. Joe Alaimo, feels that Ridgway’s popularity has something to do with the attitude of those who live here.
“My personal opinion is that nobody is here who doesn’t want to be here,” Alaimo said. “In the big cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, people are often there because they have to be. But nobody gets rich in Ridgway–whatever you do, you could always make more money doing it in Denver.
“People are here because they want to be here,” he said. “They walk around smiling, and they come in and spend money.”
Business has been strong despite the impact of last summer’s Red Mountain highway closures, and Alaimo finds himself faced with the enjoyable dilemma of deciding whether to add a second tasting room to Trail Town Still or expand into the wholesale market.
“Who knows what the future will bring,” said Alaimo, who has called Ridgway home for 16 years, “But as long as Ridgway is good to us, we’ll be right here!”
One of Ridgway’s best-known lodging establishments is Chipeta Solar Springs Resort, built in 1992.
Most year-round visitors to the gorgeous in-town resort and spa come from surrounding towns like Grand Junction and Durango, and from Front Range communities, noted Chipeta Solar Springs Assistant Manager Marissa Brunner.
“It’s an easy quick getaway, and you’re not in the car all day,” Brunner said. “We are still fairly busy, but we are heading into the winter season, so we are running a lot of great rates. Come on up, and soak in one of our private, in-room hot tubs, or stay in a room without a tub and soak in our hot pool. And if you want to head up to soak at Orvis or Ouray, we have some great packages for those too!”
Ridgway resident Brian Scranton, a nationally-known marketing guru, former Ridgway Chamber Board President, and powerhouse local volunteer, believes that bicycles have something to do with Ridgway’s “status update.”
“One of the most important economic development projects in decades, perhaps ever, is happening in Ridgway: the creation of multi-use trails on BLM and State Park land,” Scranton said. “This project has already resulted in more than 10 miles of single track trails with another 15 to come over the next few years.
“People from around the region have come to enjoy the trails and as a result, were introduced to Ridgway in the process,” he said. “This happened through a remarkable collaboration between the County and Town governments, the Ridgway Area Trails (RAT/COPMOBA) group, the BLM and the State Park. Working together, these key stakeholders were able to find common ground, recognize the importance of recreation to Ridgway’s economy, and build a plan that addressed the many challenges involved in the creation of a world-class recreational asset.”
Meanwhile, Ridgway Town Manager Jen Coates credited some of Ridgway’s appeal to old-fashioned, non-partisan community leadership in an article published last year by Colorado Cities & Towns.
“Everyone is encouraged to actively participate in the direction of not only their own lives but the future of their shared community,” Coates wrote. “Working together, the Town of Ridgway is embracing the possible. Label it community and economic development if you wish. Ridgway, Colorado, 924 people.
“We are thinking outside.”