The Rejuvenation of Pagosa Springs: Part Two
Norm Vance | 3/4/13

My friend Norm Vance graciously offered this article to me from the local Pagosa website where he is editor, This article was printed in the 2002 summer issue of The North American Sportsman Magazine.  CLICK HERE to read Part One which ran on Friday, March 1st.  

It is impossible to put a finger on the moment or event that started the pattern of rejuvenation for the town. There were stirrings going on in the early 1980s that would lead to a mix of activity by the end of that decade.

The Archuleta (County) Economic Development Association (AEDA) formed, insisting that things can be better. They pushed for more variety and health for the local economy. Pagosa’s economy had for decades revolved around the lumber industry. When the big mill closed, it dealt a crushing blow to the economy of the entire area. Promoting to tourist and sportsmen was slowly successful and became the main industry.

Town Board member Kay Grams and Town Clerk Jacky Schick attended a state level meeting and spoke of Pagosa’s needs and a short time later Pagosa was chosen to be aided by the Rocky Mountain Institute. A series of seminars was given to interested citizens.

The Institute designed its program to give both hard data and provide small town folks with the ability to develop vision. A few of the things that came out of these meetings were plans for a river walk, the Pagosa Springs Arts Council, increased recreation in town, improving the Chamber of Commerce, downtown beautification, and the idea to develop the hot springs as a tourist resource.

Pagosa Springs Colorado

In the mid 1980s local realtor Lee Riley put together a series of annual Think Tank Tours to other cities. Forty or so Pagosa area citizens went each year to learn how other towns developed positive changes. These trips were particularly valuable because Lee put diverse people and groups together in a bus for a long weekend. They learned, bonded, and created new and stronger energy. Many of the town fixtures loved by Pagosans today came from creative thinking and experiences on a Lee Riley bus trip.

Money slowly became available for improvement projects. Town Board members Kay Grams and Darrell Cotton convinced the County Commissioners that the town needed and deserved a chunk of sales tax funds. Grant and lottery money began to flow and during the mid-1980s, things began to happen. In 1986, a Gazebo in Town Park was built. 1988 saw a river walk started.

In 1990 the paved walking path along the river was extended creating Centennial Park. This walkway now extends throughout town.

Also in 1990 hot springs owner and developer Matt Mees started work in the river next to a hot spring vent. This area was a dark and lifeless place that caught trash and driftwood as snow melt water receded in summer. Matt built a dam holding the river out and collected mineral spring water, making a pond. Over several years he built fifteen organically shaped hot springs baths. The Springs Resort grew into the lovely vision and great experience it is now. Under the surface, The Springs Resort is hydraulic engineering, a maze of pipes and valves. Above the surface, it is a work of art wrought in sparkling water and the vivid colors of rock, mineral deposits, trees and flowers.

Because of these improvements, fishing has increased, rafting and tubing are more fun, and kayaking is a new sport on the river.

The river restoration involved placing boulders in specific shapes to cause a meandering effect and to scour the river bottom of sediment in places. Many truck loads of boulders were put in the river. A requirement of the project was that the flow had to remain and for every stone added to the river, a like amount of rock had to be removed. This caused deep holes to be dug that allow fish to winter over, thus returning the river to a healthier eco-system.

The summer of 2000 saw the fulfillment of the river restoration project. A new group, Pagosa Quality Fishing Project (PQFP), stocked the river in town with 16 to 26 inch trout. This instantly brought the fishery to high quality standards with a two fish take home limit per day. The San Juan River in Pagosa Springs has a variety of fishing from highly populated areas to quiet areas to a stretch that is very secluded. This in-town fishery provides a quality fishing experience that is within easy walking distance from lodging, eating, shopping and family entertainment.

While all of these projects evolved, the business community along main street responded with fresh paint and new construc­tion. Trees were planted and the district underwent a facelift. The courthouse and several businesses had appearance changes. The town installed street lights, and built a small deck overlooking the river.

A word, to the wise, about town rejuvenation. If you contemplate river restoration and or, dramatic changes to your town, you must realize that when you make your town appealing to you – you are also making it appealing to everyone else. Pagosa Springs’ rejuvenation resulted in rapid population growth with Archuleta County listed as having the second fastest growth rate in the USA for 1996. As part of a rejuvenation project you should appoint a committee of citizens to address growth and associated cultural and social changes. There are people that can help with zoning legalities and the sociological and psychological affects of growth.

A recent Fourth of July weekend inspired this article. The crush of people downtown was, as it has been for decades, the biggest crowd of the year. Standing on the overlook deck, in one panoramic view, one could observe fishing, tubing, rafting and kayaking, but also people scampering across boulders in the river, playing river fetch with dogs, bathers migrating from hot spring pools to the river and back, and strolling along the River Walk. The flowers and bright paint along Main Street and at The Springs Resort were lovely. The river and the springs gleamed in the sunlight, and the forest Pagosa is built in was pure green. A tourist walked from her car to the deck, did a 360 degree pan of the view and gasped, “This must be the most beautiful town in Colorado!”

 I have been involved in some of the civic work of the last two decades, described here, and have observed the other projects with keen interest. On that sunny Fourth of July day, I thought about the way Pagosa was when I moved here and about all of the work so many people contributed over the years. I thought of the successes and the failures, the joy and the pain of civic work. I walked down behind a restaurant’s dumpster and had a very private moment.

A brief history about Norm Vance:
Norm was born and grew up in Kentucky. He moved to Dallas, Texas to continue his education in the arts at North Texas State University. During a semester off he was drafted into the U.S. Army where he trained for and became a medic. Following the service, he began education in the medical field. He graduated and went on to extended education and a first career at The University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School at Dallas. Norm worked in the Coronary Intensive Care Unit at Parkland Hospital doing nuclear medicine research on active heart attack patients along with a host of related research projects.

Norm fell in love and married Ruth Jacober. Ruth had grown up in India as the daughter of missionary parents and moved to the states to go to nursing school. She also worked at the medical school on a pediatric hypertension research project.

After a decade in this intense and high stress job, as Norm says, “I turned gray and turned loose!” Norm and Ruth moved to south of Pagosa Springs, Colorado and began a new life building a self sufficient/alternate energy homestead. Ruth became a town nurse and Norm began a publishing business printing seasonal tourism/recreation/real estate magazines, The San Juan Adventure Guide and Pagosa Country Living.

Norm published for two decades when a cancer/surgery ended the magazine. Currently, Norm is involved with various printing projects and maps as well as writing articles for the
Pagosa Springs Journal and the  Adventure Guide on He has been involved with these online publications since 2003.


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