“Buying Pagosa,” Part IV orginally appeared on pagosa.com, March 11, 2005

Pagosa Springs is a living postcard, and it is being mailed more frequently these days.

The realtors I spoke with: Mark Espoy (Jim Smith Realty), Mike Heraty (The Source), Stephanie Hill (Jim Smith Realty), JoAnn Laird (Galles Fine Properties), Susie Long (Galles Fine Properties), Lee Riley (Jann C. Pitcher Real Estate), Todd Shelton (Century 21) and Jim Smith (Jim Smith Realty) all mentioned the recent bevy of media coverage on Pagosa Springs as one of the sparks fueling the real estate boom.

A discussion of media coverage must include the number one reason for the recent exposure—the potential development of the Village at Wolf Creek. Stories about Red McCombs’ and Bob Honts’ “Village” have surfaced in newspapers across the country, from Denver to Minneapolis, Casper to Vail, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio to Albuquerque—the Village at Wolf Creek is news.

Jim Smith said he is not for the development. “I’ll be surprised if it happens. There’s so much resistance to it.”

“The national publicity on Wolf Creek is big,” Todd Shelton said. “But I don’t see how it can happen. They don’t have enough water. And how are they going to get the planes in here?”

“The Village development will impact Pagosa Springs, both positively and negatively,” said Andy Knudtsen of Environmental Planning Systems, the company hired by the Community Vision Council (CVC) to provide an economic study for Pagosa Springs. “It’s something we have to look at.” The EPS baseline study will be complete by the end of April.

A front-page story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on August 25, 2004 with the headline: “In Colorado, Red vs. Green” details the struggle between Red McCombs and the environmental groups fighting the Village at Wolf Creek. “We still get calls from Minneapolis because of that coverage,” said Laurie Heraty, Mike’s wife and business partner at The Source.

“Pagosa is showing up on radar screens,” Mike Heraty said. “With the internet you can easily shop for a vacation or things to do or places to live. Pagosa is off-the-beaten-path, which is an attraction for some of us. It’s isolated.”

Aside from the media coverage of the Village at Wolf Creek, the number one trigger all the realtors mentioned was the article in the Rocky Mountain News, Saturday August 16, 2003 with the headline: “Paradise Found.” That article pointed out that 24 percent of the population of Archuleta County is 55-years-old or older, and that during the peak summer season, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 visitors double the population of the County.

The Baby Boomers

As Mike Heraty put it, “The number one investment for the baby boomers is vacation property or second homes; whether that is a time-share, a condo, a cabin, land to camp on, or a dream home.”

We know that 30% of the homes built in Pagosa Springs are second homes. Are these second homeowners any less local than those of us who live in Pagosa Springs twelve months of the year? It’s a question Mike Heraty posed: “How long do you have to live here to be considered a local?”

Ross Aragon told The Rocky Mountain News in 2003: “People are coming in and building 9,000 square-feet homes and living in them one month a year. They have zero negative impact. They are a blessing to us.”

“Second homeowners provide minimal impact to schools, roads and social services,” Mike Heraty said. “On average, a second homeowner provides jobs for 13 people in ongoing caretaking, maintenance and services.”

Not only are they a blessing in terms of low impact, but the second homeowner is also very likely to be someone who supports our local charities, nonprofit and arts organizations.

“Their generosity is recognized and the impact of that is more tangible,” Heraty continued. “We see the results of what they give. They enrich our culture and service organizations. It would be a little more difficult to provide art, music and support of our senior center without the participation of second homeowners.”

The Northwest Council of Governments presented a report in July 2004, “The Social and Economic Effects of Second Homes,” (www.nwc.cog.co.us). Linda Venturoni, the Northwest Council’s director of special projects, surveyed residents of Eagle, Grand, Pitkin, Summit and Jackson counties and a wide range of mountain communities including Avon, Vail, Breckenridge and Aspen to Glenwood Springs, Hot Sulphur Spring, Winter Park, Grand Lake, Silverthorne, Dillon, Frisco, Walden, Montezuma, Kremmling and Granby. What the study found was that second homes created 44 percent of basic or primary jobs in the four counties – significantly higher than the 25 percent of jobs created by winter visitors, 14 percent by local dollars, 11 percent by summer tourists and 6 percent by “other.” Second homes bring in 34 percent of outside money, with winter tourists providing 28 percent, local income 18 percent and summer visitors 14 percent.

While these numbers don’t apply directly to Pagosa Springs – which sees significantly higher dollar impact from summer visitors over winter visitors – it is interesting to note the effect second home ownership has on these counties. Incidentally, 67 percent of all homes owned in Summit County are second homes, 63 percent in Grand County, 55 percent in Pitkin County and 49 percent in Eagle County.

“Relative to some of the more well-known Rocky Mountain getaway destinations, Pagosa Springs is an outstanding value, has beautiful scenery, available land, rivers, the hot springs, and we are a small and safe community,” Heraty said. “Like it or not growth is banging on our door with a sledge hammer.”

“We just happen to be one of the last towns to have this type of growth happen,” Jim Smith said.

Last November, traveling through the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, I picked up the December 2004 issue of Cowboys & Indians because I wanted to know about “Colorado’s Best-Kept Secret.” Imagine my surprise as I settled into my seat (next to a woman from Aspen and a thoroughbred horse owner who had just watched his friend’s three-year-old win the Breeder’s Cup) to find a huge inside front cover spread suggesting I invest in Southwest Colorado Gold and let Herman Riggs help me find that just right gentleman’s ranch for an investment of somewhere between $1.2 million and $20 million.

Then on page 50, a beautiful photograph of the San Juan River advertising 41 acres available through The Source for Pagosa Real Estate, LLC. On page 96 I found an article about Leon Harrel and his cutting horse clinics at the Galles Ranch in Pagosa Springs. Finally, on page 98, I learned that Colorado’s best-kept secret is Pagosa Springs, my hometown, with a tag line that read: “There’s a lot more to this up-and-coming Colorado gem than a good steamy soak.” A smaller ad on page 103 from The Source offers the Lazy 8 Ranch for a mere $6,000,000. On Page 104, Galles Properties lists the Tierra Del Oro Ranch for $995,000 under the banner headline: “Live Where You Love to Play.”

Another ad from The Source on page 136, touts the “Real People, Unreal Lifestyle” slogan, claiming that Pagosa Springs has a population of 11,000. This is technically inaccurate. Pagosa Springs has a population of less than 2,000. Archuleta County has a population of close to 11,000. This ad directly compares Pagosa to Aspen, Telluride and Vail promoting how much a baby boomer’s dollar will buy—a two-bedroom starter home in Aspen for $1 million or a Hilltop home on 5 acres in Pagosa Springs for $625,000.

Media coverage is self-perpetuating. It fuels more media coverage.

“We don’t have to market and sell Pagosa,” Jim Smith said. “People are going to continue to come here because it is so beautiful.” Smith spends his money marketing to visitors by producing the Pagosa Springs Real
Estate Magazine and through numerous web sites.

In February, Wolf Creek Ski Area was mentioned in an article in The Wall Street Journal as having snow that surpasses rival ski resorts by feet, not inches. Google Pagosa Springs, Colorado and you will find 229,000 options. Our town is on Lance Armstrong’s website, because his “Tour of Hope” passed through on October 3, 2004. The writer describes us as “the friendly town of Pagosa Springs.” There are frequent mentions in Skiing magazine. An article from February 6, 2004 in the Pueblo Chieftan, “Spirit of the West: Comic strip cowpoke Red Ryder still rides range in Pagosa Springs.” I’ve found articles on Parelli Natural Horsemanship, Galles Cutting Horse Clinics, The Lodge at Keyah Grande. There’s even a racehorse named Pagosa Springs who came in first in a recent running at Santa Anita Park.

But it was still refreshing on a recent visit to Santa Fe, to have someone ask me where I’m from and when I told them Pagosa Springs, they said, “Where’s that?” Sixty miles east of Durango, I say, knowing no one ever asks where Vail or Aspen or Telluride is located.

“Pagosa doesn’t have a celebrity pecking order. It’s not attractive to celebrities. They will never be here. We’re not about ego and status,” said Mike Heraty. He believes that Pagosa Springs appeals to the baby boomers who are more interested in a community-based lifestyle as opposed to those who focus on buying acreage, putting up a fence and creating their own world.

“What is interesting to me,” Lee Riley said, “is that a lot of people now are looking at the larger tracts of land. That’s been a softer market the last couple of years.”

“Large land parcels are not looking as expensive,” Mark Espoy said. “You can spend $50,000 for a quarter acre lot or $250,000 for 35 acres.”

“The value is here,” JoAnn Laird said. “It’s prettier than most places in Colorado and 75% of the county is public land. We are getting more national exposure. We’re even on the Weather Channel now.”

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