Read Part One
As I was writing Part One of this article early Friday morning — less than 18 hours after the Town Council majority (Ross Aragon, Darrel Cotton, Don Volger, Kathy Lattin, and Tracy Bunning) voted to approve a package of Reservoir Hill amusement park installations as presented by Town manager David Mitchem, and to authorize staff to develop funding packages to execute the plan — I was pretty upset.
And I wondered if our Town Council was worshiping some sort of “god of money”. My research led me to some information about "Mammon" — the God of Money.
According to Wikipedia.com:
It seems that our Mammon-worshiping Town Council majority is oblivious to the fact that we are in a global recession, and that an amusement park on Sacrificial Hill (aka Reservoir Hill) will not noticably change the momentum of that economic force. The fact that Pagosa Springs has reportedly experienced a 27% increase in "room nights booked" since 2007 is a statistic of which the Town should be proud... but it isn't good enough for David Mitchem and the Town Tourism Committee (TTC). David Mitchem on Thursday claimed, “While tourism has been increasing [during the recession], the increase has not been enough to offset the economic losses resulting from the declining construction and real estate market segments.”
Mammon is a term derived from the Christian Bible used to describe material wealth or greed, and is most often personified as a deity, and sometimes included in the seven princes of Hell.
...Christians began to use the name of Mammon as a pejorative, a term that was used to describe gluttony and unjust worldly gain in Biblical literature. It was personified as a false god in the New Testament. (Matt.6.24; Luke 16.13) The term is often used to refer to excessive materialism or greed as a negative influence.
So let’s create a government-subsidized construction project on Reservoir Hill! Do we know any construction companies?
The Pagosa Springs Town Council's fantasy is to reverse the tide of the global recession and restore our local economy to its pre-2008 conditions, via the installation of an amusement park — sacrificing our existing Reservoir Hill wilderness park.
Who'd've thunk that such a talented think-tank — one that could reverse a global recession — existed right here in Pagosa Springs, consisting of our Town Tourism Committee (led by Bob Hart), Town management (led by David Mitchem) and Town Council (led by 34-year mayor Ross "El Jefe" Aragon)? English translation: Ross "The Boss" Aragon.
Instead of further tightening their budget belt, these desperados are now looking to our publicly-owned wilderness park for new revenue sources — revenue sources that are currently unfunded, but that might be funded by mortgaging that very same public park? Mortgaging our park or other publicly owned assets doesn’t seem to concern Town Council; in their minds, increased tax revenue will make up for it. This is a bubble that needs to be burst — pronto.
I’d like to begin by addressing the TTC's claim, delivered on Thursday by TTC executive director Jennie Green, that a “healthy occupancy rate” in a tourist town is between 55% and 60%. Ms. Green then told us that Durango's occupancy rate, last year, was over 57% — while Pagosa's occupancy rate was only about 42%. This, in spite of the fact that Pagosa's booked room nights have reportedly increased 27% since 2007.
Here's the corresponding slide from David Mitchem's Thursday presentation:
To repeat, Ms. Green claimed that Pagosa’s occupancy rate, last year, was only 42.3%.
From that number, David Mitchem deduced for us, and for the Town Council, that Pagosa is currently unable to attract enough tourists.
But that is not necessarily the most sensible explanation of Pagosa low occupancy rate — even if the Town Council wants to accept, without question, David Mitchem’s claim. A more plausible explanation (not suggested at Thursday's meeting) is that Pagosa has an overbuilt lodging industry. Over-eager hotel developers have simply constructed too many rooms for the number of tourists our little mountain town can attract.
Simply stated, David Mitchem and the Town Council are now proposing to come to the rescue of a seriously overbuilt lodging industry by providing a government-subsidized amusement park that is projected to increase booked room nights by a staggering amount — that is, by 50% or more.
Like Obama coming to the rescue of a greedy banking industry, our little Pagosa Springs Town Council is proposing to rescue an overbuilt lodging industry — via increased taxpayer subsidies (federal, state or local) or by increased government debt (federal, state or local).
Let's look at another aspect of David Mitchem's presentation, which began with a quote from the Colorado Springs Gazette (TRAVEL: Pagosa Springs has hot springs and so much more, August 2, 2012, by R. Scott Rappold):
The downside to staying near the [Pagosa] hot springs is there is not much to eat or do within easy walking distance, as the development that has occurred outside of town has yet to spawn much urban renewal in the downtown itself.
David Mitchem then explained that the term “urban renewal” is synonymous with “downtown amenities.” I've never before heard anyone equate the term "urban renewal" with "amusement parks", but there's always a first time, I guess.
Mr. Rappold’s article, which you can read here, also mentions hiking in Pagosa Springs:
To call Pagosa a “hiker’s paradise” is an understatement.
The Weminuche Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in Colorado, is just a few miles’ drive down the many forest roads accessed by [U.S. Highway 160]. You can explore the rugged San Juans for a few hours, a few weeks or a lifetime.
From the West Fork trailhead near Wolf Creek Pass, take a long day or short backpack trip 4 miles each way to Rainbow Hot Springs, where natural warm pools wait along the west fork of the San Juan River. Or go farther and link up with the Continental Divide Trail, which runs along the spine of the continent. Or take a shorter, more kid-friendly stroll to Treasure Falls, the 105-foot waterfall along Wolf Creek Pass. Or visit a much more remote waterfall, Fourmile Falls...
Did Mr. Rappold mention the hiking trails in our downtown wilderness park, located right across the street from the Hot Springs? He did not.
Why is that? Could it be partly due to the fact that the cheap xeroxed maps of the Reservoir Hill hiking trails are not available on the brochure racks at the Visitors Center, but are stashed behind the counter, out of sight, and because the Chamber Diplomat to whom I spoke last Wednesday didn’t even know those maps existed?
All other nicely-designed glossy hiking brochures are openly displayed where tourists can help themselves. One of those glossy brochures is published by the TTC; it mentions nothing about Reservoir Hill. Nothing at all.
In the past, I've had a couple of brief, informal conversations with David Mitchem in Town Hall. Two statements made by Mr. Mitchem during these conversations were:
"We're not going to do anything with the chairlift"...
...and, after I questioned David Mitchem about the obvious lack of marketing of Reservoir Hill, as is — as a quiet hiking and biking wilderness park, right downtown — he responded, "You're right. We should change that..."
Why do I get the impression that David Mitchem is one of those schmoozy politicians who tells you what you want to hear, just to get rid of you?
Oh, but there's so much more...
Read Part Three...