Boom times shift to northern Front Range
DENVER ” Once sleepy farming communities in Weld County are quickly emerging as Colorado’s newest boom towns.
Growth is shifting north of the Denver area, with eight of the 10 fastest-growing towns in Colorado in Weld County, according to figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Quiet farm and mining towns like Frederick, Firestone and Milliken have seen growth shift into overdrive, doubling or tripling in size since the 2000 census.
“Weld County has lots of land,” said Cathy Schulte, interim director of the Greeley/Weld Economic Partnership. “It’s our turn now.”
The latest figures show that Firestone grew more than 201 percent since 2000, adding more than 3,800 residents.
Frederick has grown by 144 percent, as more than 3,500 people decided to call that town home. The census figures show that Severance had the largest percentage change in population growth in Colorado from 2003 to 2004. As of July 1, 2004, the population is 1,519, up from 1,142 the previous year.
The towns are still dwarfed in size by fast-growing south metro communities such as Castle Rock, which has added more than 12,000 new residents since 2000.
But Weld County has advantages that are drawing many newcomers.
“You can buy more home for your money in Weld County,” said Schulte.
Prices in the county vary, with the more expensive areas closer to Denver.
Schulte said the median home price in the southwest part of the county was $247,000. In Johnstown, homes typically fetched $212,000; in the Greeley area, the median was just $170,000.
Prices like those are music to the ears of people deterred by Denver’s expensive housing market.
“That’s a big sell to a lot of people,” said Schulte. “They want the biggest bang for their buck.”
Others like the small-town feel that much of Weld County still has. Even with the fast growth, towns like Frederick have a down-home feel.
“The small-town atmosphere draws people,” said Nanette Fornof, Frederick town clerk. “There’s a warmth here. One person told me all her neighbors came to help her move in.”
Fornof said most of the new residents work in the metro area and commute to Frederick.
“On our town board, most of them go to the Boulder area (to work),” said Fornof. “It’s about a half-hour drive on Highway 7.”
While there has been a backlash against growth in much of the metro area, Fornof says Frederick still welcomes development.
“I think the town wants to grow,” she said.
“We feel it’s something that’s going to come, and we might as well grab the bull by the horns and make it the community we want it to be instead of a bedroom community.”
A trail is being planned that will eventually connect the town to Firestone and Dacono.
Frederick also has two arts commissions that work to draw live performances and visual arts, as well as an annual Miners Day festival celebrating the town’s roots in coal mining.
“It shows the community is involved,” said Fornof.
Colorado state demographer Elizabeth Garner says the shift of growth to the north of the metro area is something that will continue for years.
Several factors are driving that, says Garner, including proximity to Denver International Airport, the construction of E-470, and nearby university campuses.
“You’re fairly close to CU, CSU and UNC,” she said. “That puts it in a prime location.”
Garner adds that Douglas County will continue to grow, but she expects more and more of the region’s growth will be north of Denver.
One additional factor is water. While Douglas County and Aurora have struggled to secure adequate future water supplies, many northern communities already have supplies in place.
“Adams County and southern Weld County have water,” said Garner. “That has a big impact.”
The north metro area marked another milestone as Thornton swelled to 102,072 residents, a six-figure number that places Thornton among the largest cities in the state. The city grew 23.9 percent since 2000, adding more than 19,000 people.
“We expect that within the next 15 to 20 years, our population will come close to doubling,” said Thornton spokeswoman Jan Blunt.
Thornton also has plenty of water to accommodate future growth.
And the city knows where that growth is headed.
“Part of our growth area is in Weld County,” said Blunt.
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