A tide of change in Blue River
Ryan Summerlin February 3, 2013
Fifty years ago Blue River was a sleepy little village of second-home owners and peace-loving locals hidden on the southern rim of a county not yet discovered by the ski industry.
But surrounded by breathtaking vistas and miles of backcountry access, within range of local resorts and with somewhat lower real estate prices than neighboring areas, the tiny settlement wasn’t going to stay a secret forever.
Today, as Blue River approaches its 50th birthday, it is a town in transition.
“It’s flip-flopped,” Mayor Lindsay Backas said. “It used to be mostly second-home owners. Now we believe that it’s mostly permanent residents.”
Approximately 800 of them, according to the most recent census data. And while Blue River still doesn’t have any commercial businesses within the town limits, it is evolving and developing in other ways.
Perhaps the best evidence of the changing tide came last April, when the town hosted its first municipal election in decades. Since approximately 1978, there had been no need to have a vote in Blue River, because candidates for the board of trustees always ran unopposed. In 2012, two Blue RIver residents stepped up to challenge the incumbents, and one of them won a seat on the board in an election that drew nearly 150 voters to the polls.
At about the same time, the town finished construction on Blue River’s first park – now something of a community-gathering place – and began a public push for Summit Stage bus service to be extended to the south end of the county.
Now, with a growing number of permanent residents demanding more services, town officials are looking at bigger projects, including a recreation path that would run through Blue River and up Hoosier Pass, a contract for additional law enforcement and a comprehensive plan for the future of the town.
The comprehensive plan, a process of determining the community’s goals for future development, is still in the early stages, but will likely be completed this year with input from local residents, Blue River officials said.
“It’s sort of an overall municipal plan that deals with all aspects,” town Trustee Rob Theobald said. “We’ll be looking at immediate changes, three to five years and then 10-25 years.”
The plan will likely confront some of Blue River’s biggest questions: whether to allow commercial business operations in the town limits, how to address backcountry access and a possible three-mile plan examining how the town will interact with its neighbors in the future.
The plan is still in its infancy, but will likely be completed this year. Town officials say they do plan to incorporate the input and priorities of Blue River residents.
The process of evolving from the quiet cluster of vacation homes that incorporated in the 1960s to an active community of permanent residents has had its ups and downs.
Blue River officials have thus far been stymied in their ongoing efforts to give the town some autonomy in the form of a bus route and a zip code of its own.
For some residents, the growth and development come along with what might be an inevitable sense of apprehension that the nature of the town they love, and have chosen to live in, may change.
“When I was a kid I really remember Blue River being kind of a world away from Breckenridge. It was its own residential area where residents would go to really escape the bustling world of Breckenridge,” resident Toby Babich said. “I worry that making changes just for the sake of change may go against the character of the town.”
But while the comprehensive plan does have far-reaching goals, there are some things town officials say are not on the discussion table.
“I don’t think we’re envisioning any major change to the sort of mountain rural aesthetic,” Theobald said. “We’re not looking to become another Breckenridge or another Highlands neighborhood. We’re looking to improve what we have.”
Information on public meetings around the comprehensive plan will be forthcoming, Blue River officials said.