Early in the new year is a good time to take stock. I have been thinking about how we-in our community perceive ourselves. The familiar historical sentiment is that we are a small, rural county of 18,000 people, with a county seat of 6,000. But, I suspect most employees of Pitkin County and other commuters who sit in the traffic along Interstate 70 and Highway 82 know that quaint description of our community is a tired fiction. In 2024 it is necessary to acknowledge the extended community of more than 135,000 residents between Aspen and Battlement Mesa, with 55,000 people residing, commuting or visiting the upper valley on any high-season day, and upwards of 35,000 people per day during the off season.
The only way we can begin to manage our share of the local and regional housing crisis, the congested traffic on 82, and the busy ground and air transit serving our valley, is to consider that the community we depend on has grown and extended far beyond our county line. These more realistic population numbers are essential when planning for the years ahead.
Lately, our local newspaper columnists have been agonizing about the loss of our community soul. I believe these rumors of Aspen’s and Pitkin’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Instead of becoming downtrodden, these sentiments inspire me to think about the remarkable citizens who hold our community together. Shared recreational experiences play a role, whether they be from skiing, mountain adventures, or cultural festivals. But many other communities also have those attributes.
I think what makes Pitkin County special is the culture of volunteerism and commitment we see in the many non-profits and service organizations, and the legions of citizens who make them work. Our people are the glue that holds us together. We see this every year in many ways including when we award our Pitkin County Cares honorees. This culture of service extends to our county staff, whose dedication to quality and to our shared values was recognized in our recent Pitkin County Community Survey. Pitkin County is unique in that nearly 70% of our residents think the County is doing an excellent job. I’m going to attribute that stamp of approval to our amazing county staff.
In the year ahead we’ll be having complex conversations about workforce housing, the airport, the jail, land and building code changes, and growth in our county, all within the framework of a proactive climate action plan. We’ll depend on our partnerships throughout the county to make it all happen. For a community that prioritizes growth control in rural areas AND essential workforce housing and climate change, we will once again walk the dynamic and precarious knife-edge ridge of consensus and compromise. Thankfully, we have a supportive and engaged community, and a well regarded and effective county staff. Along with my fellow dedicated commissioners, we are roped up to address the challenges of the new year.
With special thanks to all county employees for your service. I look forward to serving with you in 2024.
Chair, BOCC (Pitkin County Board of Commissioners)