For many, a drive up winding U.S. Highway 24 to Woodland Park means a hike in the woods, or a dozen jellies at the Donut Mill.
But for the people who live there, the town's identity is more complex. As the April 8 mail election unfolds, candidates for Woodland Park mayor and City Council aren't engaged in red-hot debates. The controversial Wal-Mart has been built, and the furor over whether the Chicken Man (the Wild Wings 'n Things mascot) should be able to shake his tail feathers on the sidewalk has largely subsided. The town has a budget surplus of $2 million.
Some candidates say the lack of a defining issue in election season has caused everyone to ponder a big question: Who the heck are we, anyway?
Like an angst-ridden teenager, the growing town is beginning to wonder what makes it special, different, desirable. And what it will look like when it's all grown up.
Two candidates are vying for mayor this year, and four candidates for three seats on City Council. They're looking closely at a plan drafted by the town's Downtown Development Authority for consideration by private developers.
Envisioned is a revitalized portion of downtown, called Woodland Station, that would add a hotel and conference center, Old Colorado City-style retail in a town square setting, a spa, bowling and an eight-screen theatre. It is expected that the project will involve several developers and cost more than $70 million if it happens.
Others are calling for a city-funded recreation center costing as much as $15 million. Some want more local-serving business. Still others worry that high-priced housing will eventually force out low-income employees of small shops and restaurants.
They're all legitimate concerns, especially since Woodland Park will one day be full. Due to limited water and bordering national forest, it can't serve more than 11,500 to 12,000 residents. It has nearly 8,000 now.
Mayoral candidates Steve Randolph, who currently sits on Council and works in land-use consulting and commercial real estate, and Darwin Naccarato, a newcomer and college professor, both say some growth is healthy. And they both see challenges.
But listen to them long enough, and you'll notice Randolph's strong feelings about low-income housing, which he says the town needs to sustain itself. Naccarato, meanwhile, emphasizes getting citizens involved in government. He wants locals to redraft the city's master plan.
Meanwhile, incumbent Council candidate John DeVaux, owner of Alpine Auto Center, says he supports many sectors of growth, but his passion seems to be downtown revitalization, which he says will boost struggling business.
"You're not going to come up from Colorado Springs to walk through two or three little retail shops," he says.
But Council candidate Val Carr, a retiree, counters that retail was doing well a few years ago. He thinks most citizens don't want drastic changes.
"A lot of us moved here as a destination we chose," he says. "And they're trying to change it into a destination we would not choose."
Council candidate Betty Clark-Wine, who works for a Denver oil company, says she thinks Woodland Park will remain a bedroom community, but needs to find a way to be self-sustaining.
Incumbent Councilman George Parkhurst could not be reached for this story.
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