DeBeque decides to grow with times
Although DeBeque declared itself a Wild Horse Sanctuary City in 2001, holds Wild Horse Days every August, and has erected a statue in honor of the mustangs that make their home in the nearby canyons, DeBeque is becoming more than just a small town with a fondness for horses.
“We were pretty much a retired and bedroom community,” says Mayor Don Cramer. Then natural gas started heating up the area. Real Estate prices have gone up 30 - 40 percent, housing applications have gone from 2 - 3 a year five years ago to the current 14 - 16 so far this year, and the town is making plans for major annexations and a lift station across the Colorado River to extend sewer service south of the river.
“I think this time next year, the building might boom up,” Cramer says. “These things are so hard to predict. We sure have a lot of talkers.”
The growth is more than just talk. A new subdivision of 24 single-family homes recently received approval. In a town with a population of 600, that’s a significant subdivision. A few new townhomes have sprung up on the western edge of town. Although prices have grown, they haven’t caught up to the Grand Junction area yet.
“There’s not been one sold in town over $200,000 that I’m aware of,” says Broker Associate Wayne Klahn, although that could change quickly, since he has a home for sale in town with incredible views and landscaping for $213,000.
For years, the prevailing attitude in DeBeque was, “we’re a small town and we don’t want the growth,” according to Klahn, but in the past year, the town council has made a conscious decision to grow with both residential and commercial annexations. “As commercial property becomes available, it will be gobbled up pretty quickly,” says Klahn. DeBeque’s proximity to the Piceance Basin and the natural gas activity make it a prime location for the energy industry.
The town doesn’t have a lot of businesses. There was small grocery store, but it closed in February of 2005. Roger Warren bought it and re-opened in July of 2005, and added a gas station, which the town hadn’t had for years. The deli he added four months ago has been a hit with natural gas workers, and locals appreciate having both a small grocery store and a gas station.
The Mustang Bar and Grill is the town’s only bar and restaurant. Although the bar business is bigger than the restaurant side, owner Ryan May has seen the restaurant business grow, thanks to the natural gas activity near town. The Mustang is also popular with bikers, who make it one of their stops when they do charity rides.
There is no flower shop, no shopping boutique, and no hotel in DeBeque. There is, however, a wholesale shirt company that ships men’s high-end sports shirts all over the world. Unusual business to be in such a small town, but the owner lives on a nearby ranch. The company needs internet access and a UPS pickup, so it could just as easily function in Los Angeles or DeBeque. All manufacturing is in Istanbul, and the shirt is sold only in men’s boutiques. Although you could find one in Eagle, Vail, or Aspen, you won’t find one sold anywhere else on the Western Slope, not even in DeBeque, where the company operates out of the historic bank building.
The DeBeque School District is small, with just two schools and a library that also functions as the DeBeque branch of the Mesa County Public Library during non-school hours. The secondary school, built in 2000/01, has just 85 students, while the elementary school has 100 students. The football season was cancelled at the high school this year due to a lack of turnout, and despite talk of the town growing, the enrollment numbers are down.
Graduation rates, however, are high. According to Al Baumgartle, the counselor with DeBeque School District, the graduation rate has been around 96 percent. The largest class ever had 21 graduating seniors, but the average ranges between 12 and 15.
“The biggest challenge is trying to offer the students enough of a variety,” says Baumgartle. “We have to supplement with online classes. Teachers multi-task, nobody teaches just one class, they all have several different preps.”
Class sizes are small, in both the primary and secondary grades. There is a separate class for each grade in the elementary school, with class sizes between 8 and 15. Music and P.E. teachers work in both the elementary and the secondary schools. Secondary class size averages around 12. With such small classes, students in the DeBeque School District get more individual attention than students in larger school districts elsewhere.
It’s not hard to get out of town and in the middle of beautiful country from anywhere in DeBeque. ATV trails abound, and are legal to drive on the streets of town. There may not be many city amenities, but the area is close to recreation on both the Grand Mesa and the Bookcliffs. Those who have to have their morning Starbucks may not like it, but for those who enjoy life in a small town, and want to be able to ride their mountain bikes or ATVs right outside their doorstep, DeBeque could be the town of their dreams.