GRAND LAKE - This town may be one of five gateway communities in the nation involved in a pilot program conducting research on its "livability" capacity, such as housing, transportation, and economy.
The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and other federal agencies, plans to assess trends in livability associated with federal lands and their gateway communities, according to www.conservationfund.org.
"Gateway communities face unique challenges and must work in a symbiotic relationship with their public land partners to overcome these challenges," The Conservation Fund states online.
If Grand Lake is formally selected, a study team will assess the town and produce a report and action plan through the lens of the town's gateway characteristics.
Rocky Mountain National Park's Larry Gamble applied for the technical assistance grant with Grand Lake's blessing, and at the Town of Grand Lake's board meeting last week, trustees agreed to a "Pledge of Commitment to Participate" in the Initiative.
Since the town just completed a Downtown Colorado Inc. assessment, this Livability Initiative would "drill down to greater detail" one of the recommendation's of that assessment, which was to work on relationships with federal partners, said Grand Lake Town Manager David Hook.
The town of Grand Lake has an abundance of public land surrounding its borders, providing residents and visitors ample fishing, boating, and trail use.
But as the community tries to improve its general economy through more access to trails and recreation, it is a town constantly at the mercy of one federal agency after another.
The town wants to improve its winter economy, but has no control over Rocky Mountain National Park's ability to open Trail Ridge Road, the link to more than one direction into town.
The town hopes to connect area trails to the town of Granby via a bicycle trail, but a 2-mile stretch of Park land and a slow-moving study process impedes.
The town's economy depends on snowmobile access from town to U.S. Forest trails, but the Park's protection of a two-mile section of land can sometimes disrupt this goal.
The town hopes to expand its economy by allowing off-highway vehicles similar access as snowmobiles, but Park rules applying to that same stretch of land forbid it.
The Arapaho National Recreation Area Hilltop boat launch in town, beneficial to the recreation economy, has been closed the last several years for lack of state funds for boat inspections there.
The town wants to do improvements at the East Inlet boat launch, but that land is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and agreements first need to be made.
The layers of federal government affecting the town's actions seem more than what an average town might encounter.
But that comes with being a gateway town to one of the most popular scenic and recreation attractions of the nation, Rocky Mountain National Park, and near a federal recreation area, not to mention Reclamation land.
"I think our relationship with the Park is excellent," said Hook, who recognizes the many projects on which symbiotically the town and Park work together, such as wildland fire protection and use of the late Betty Dick's ranch in the Park.
But Hook says the town continues to look for ways to "dialogue about things we perceive to benefit both the town and federal partners."
The town's "economic strength depends on the activity on the federal land, and the federal land, to some extent, depends on the community to provide services for the people who come to visit the federal lands," he said.
"Gateway communities are often challenged with how to protect assets that make their places unique and attractive," states the Conservation Fund, explaining the technical assistance grant online. "Often issues pertaining to local land use, economic development and nature-based tourism are debated among local government officials, public land managers and community citizens."