Main Street leader eyes big ambitions for downtown Woodland Park -Rick Langenberg

Since assuming the reins of the Woodland Park Main Street downtown revitalization effort only several months ago, new head program coordinator Darlene Jensen has “hit the ground running,” according to board officials.

From organizing events and meeting regularly with business operators and merchants, to forming community coalitions and doing some strategic planning for the downtown, the new Woodland Park Main Street chief is off to a superfast start. Probably one of her biggest challenges, though, involves educating folks about the Main Street program itself. Now overseen by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the program basically tries to revitalize downtown districts of small cities by promoting the community’s heritage and strengthening its business core. It was originally launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

If the effort moves forward, Woodland Park could land a multitude of significant grants and garner major national and state publicity. “It will really put us on the map,” said Jensen. Woodland Park became an official Main Street candidate last summer.

And although Woodland Park is the “new kid on the block” in the Main Street effort, which now involves 14 communities in Colorado, Jensen sees no reason why Woodland Park can’t duplicate the successes of other prime Main Street towns such as Steamboat Springs or Granby that have similarities with aspects of Woodland Park.

“We are not Breckenridge or Salida,” admitted Jensen. “But we can draw on some of these Main Street communities,” she added in touting the success of several Colorado towns that are considered Main Street graduates.

And like so many local leaders, Jensen is not abandoning the dream of turning Woodland Park into a mini-destination area. “We have 30,000 motorists traveling through here every day. We have to find a way to get them to stop here and spend time in our shops and restaurants.”

But that said, Jensen admits that the time for devising “pie in the sky” plans are over. Instead, she sees Woodland progressing by strengthening its current retail and business core, highlighting its often forgotten history and collaborating with other local groups and nonprofits. “We want to bring everyone together,” said Jensen. “We are not in competition with anyone.”

She cited the recent July 4th celebration in Woodland Park as a good example during which the Main Street group played a key role in co-sponsoring and running the event with the North Teller Build A Generation organization. Jensen would like to see the town do more events and use pop-up tents for mini-festivals in certain sections of the downtown.

Building a pedestrian-friendly hub
Ultimately, one of her main goals is to make Woodland Park more of a pedestrian-friendly town by getting visitors off the main highway and developing a walking tour with the help of business kiosks and better signage. The idea is being explored again of turning many of the back doors of current downtown shops into the front entrances, as part of a pursuit for a historic walking district and a more pedestrian-friendly hub. But this plan could hinge somewhat on the results of a current transportation study, orchestrated by the city of Woodland Park.

This idea was mulled in the past when the town lost its Hwy. 24 parking, but it never progressed.

In addition, Jensen believes the town’s history and its railroad legacy is often overlooked. “We want to bring that back,” said the Main Street Program Coordinator. “That (historic element) really adds value to our downtown.”

Currently, Main Street, which has a board of directors, is strongly involved in forming a coalition with the Woodland Park Arts Alliance, and its campaign to sponsor a 145-foot historical mural, entitled “The Story of Us,” which will be located on the east wall of the Ute Pass Cultural Center. It is being done by Lois Sprague, an 18-year local resident, and will encompass a 28-foot wide and 25-foot tall area. The final mural will give a detailed look into the town’s history from the time of the Ute Indians to its rodeo and Old West legacy.

Main Street has received a grant to help facilitate the $25,000 project.

Jensen also sees much potential for the downtown business corridor, with its 90-plus assortment of various shops and businesses.
With the help of a volunteer from Colorado College, Main Street is doing a business analysis, outlining successes and failures of the current retail core. This involves many meetings with local business owners and managers and getting feedback from merchants. “People are pretty passionate about their businesses,” noted Jensen.

They also are exploring ways to add new businesses local residents want to see in the community. During a recent meeting before the Kiwanis Club, Jensen stated that she was surprised to hear the types of services people wanted. Topping the list were more specialty shops, a shoe store, sports bar, community center and art galleries, just to name a few.

Jensen is no newcomer to the local planning arena and has done considerable work with historic preservation and conservation programs. She served as the director of the Catamount Institute and lobbied for conservation district statewide, along with working with the El Pomar Foundation.

Jensen, who lives in the Ute Pass area, also has a knack for community activism. When Jensen first came to the area, she helped launch a campaign against a then bid by Waste Management to build a large transfer station in Crystola, right next to Hwy. 24. This became one of the more notable successes of a local citizens group in lobbying against the pursuits of local elected leaders. In this case, the citizens won handily and gave the Teller County commissioners a hearty lesson in civic affairs.

Jensen admits she has a love for the area and wants to see the town prosper in a quality way. “This is my home,” said the Main Street Coordinator.