Town of Frisco: Then and now
FRISCO ” As Frisco evolved from a its beginnings as a trade center and railroad town into the leisure community of today, one thing stayed the same, according to former Mayor Bernie Zurbriggen.
“If there’s a tie, it’s that Frisco is still a place where necessity is the mother of invention,” Zurbriggen said, scrunched into a old wood desk at the town museum.
Sipping coffee and fingering the vest of his cowboy garb, Zurbriggen recalls the hardships faced by the old-time pioneers and settlers, who clawed a living out of hard rock in deadly avalanche country, tried to ranch through June blizzards and kept the railroads running across the highest passes in the country.
Current town residents will have to combine that good work ethic with classic American traits like pioneering instincts, a spirit of inventiveness and self-reliance to meet today’s cchallenges, he said.
Attracting commercial activity has always been a prioity. Early town fathers addressed the issue of economic viability in their own way. An early move to legalize prostitution was probably a conscious step to bring financial resources to the town that they otherwise could not find, Zurbriggen said.
Good instincts for land values paid off for the town’s founders, who knew of the coming railroad, and laid out from the beginning a somewhat orderly plan for the town’s development.
Doffing his brimmed hat and rubbing his beard, Zurbriggen looks a little like one of those old-time ranchers after a hard day chasing calfs. In Zurbriggen’s case, it may have been the four years of his mayoral term that felt like a roundup.
While he described his term overall as a time of reconcilation, he said there were also several passionate battles worth fighting about that affected town finances and quality of life. Zurbriggen was in the middle of both.
“When I was elected, my goal was that I wanted Frisco to be a community where the citizens think as much of their town government as they do of their town,” Zurbriggen said. The town council had been a cauldron that bubbled over often, he said, recalling how the town was embroiled in a law suit with previous Mayor Tex Etie over varying interpretation’s of the town’s charter.
Part of the plan was to put out fires.
“My goal for 2007 was to not have a contentious election,” Zurbriggen said
The town also had a reputation for doing things behind closed doors, Zurbriggen said. One his main goals was to dispel some of the dissension and make citizens more a part of town government.
“I won’t take any credit for having done that on my own, but we’ve made progress as a team,” he said, adding that there hasn’t been a lawsuit against the town in the past three years.
Zurbriggen makes no bones about his early support for Home Depot. The town bought the land to generate revenue, he said, and town government has a responsibility to make fiscally responsible decisions.
Shaking his head at the memory, Zurbriggen acknowledged that the Home Depot battle stands out as a defining issue of his term.
Though was an advocate for the project, Zurbriggen said that, in the end, he’s glad the proposal failed.
“I kind of got thrust into it three weeks into my term,” he said, recalling an early meeting on the proposal, when a citizen turned to him in a meeting and said, “You’re the mayor, you have to do something about this.”
“I said, there’s nothing for me to do. The man is just trying to show you some ideas,” Zurbriggen said.
“I campaigned hard for it, based on the fact that the town’s last significant economic expansion was in 1986, when Wal-Mart came in,” he said. “In retrospect, after it was over, I changed my opinion. I’m glad it didn’t squeak by and pass,” he said. The reason for his change of heart is that he felt the company wasn’t committed 100 percent to the project, that they didn’t want it bad enough.
The other big political fight during Zurbriggen’s mayoral tenure came over the relocation of the Colorado Mountain College main campus.
It was a passionate battle for Zurbriggen, who focused his advocacy for education on the plan to bring CMC to Frisco.
The town was the preferred site for the facility, but many residents didn’t want to see the college build or encroach on peninsula Forest Service land or open space.
“I am friends with the people who led the charge against CMC, but I’ll never forgive them for depriving this community of the rich cultural and educational resource that we could have had. Frisco will never have this opportunity again,” Zurbriggen said.
“It was a selfish act,” he said of the CMC opposition. “They told lies. They said that, if you vote against it, it will be built on the 10-acre parcel.”
That wasn’t true, he said.
Despite the controversies, Zurbriggen said he and the council did a good job of honoring the town’s past, managing the present and pouring energy and passion into planning for the future.
New Mayor Bill Pelham said he sees a couple of direct connections between Frisco’s past and present. The current pine beetle epidemic can partly be attributed to intensive logging during the mining era, when miners cleared every hillside for timber.
“We’re seeing that denuding again now, as we try to mitigate some of impacts from the beetles,” he said.
Pelham also drew parallels between the establishment of railroads to the area and today’s efforts to address I-70 congestion. In both eras, transportation was a key ingredient to economic vitality, he said.
Mismanagement of resources, whether it’s water or forests, is likely to have a negative effect on the area’s tourism economy, he said.
“I have this theory, unproven, that the way a town is born carries through its history,” said local historian and author Mary Ellen Gilliland. “Frisco is different from the mining towns around it. It started as a planned community,” she said, contrasting the town’s orderly beginnings with the rough and tumble origins of the mining camps.
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