Maybe size matters in community efforts, but should it?

Smiling faces, lots of joyful shrieks and laughter, families lining up to get into two important, brand-spanking-new public facilities. My first thought Saturday was that maybe the big city up the road might learn a few things from its smaller neighbor.

If we tracked a little mud into the new recreation center/library complex Saturday, I apologize. We were checking out Fruita’s latest civic accomplishment after a burger and fries at Munchies that likely negated any physical improvement resulting from a hike that got a little sloppy on the back side of Dinosaur Hill.

Color me impressed and envious at what’s been done 10 miles to the west of Grand Junction. And let’s not leave out the activity a similar distance to the east in Palisade.

There, an old school is being turned into a civic center. There’s a brand new plaza downtown and a previously ragged section of riverfront has been turned into a park that hosts crowded music and wine festivals.

As we walked into the bluegrass festival last summer, there was Palisade Town Manger Tim Sarmo greeting arrivals at the gate.

Out in Fruita, manager Clint Kinney doesn’t mind being photographed doing a rather poorly executed version of the cannonball to help christen the pool inside the new rec center.

In the big city between Fruita and Palisade, as well as the county that includes those two municipalities, we’re awash in controversy.

To be fair, it hasn’t all been peaches and cream in Palisade or Fruita either. It took a second election for voters to OK building the rec center Bonnie and I tracked up last weekend in Fruita. Palisade has a new mayor after a recall election in November. But somehow they manage to fill those holes rather than dig them deeper.

But, you might argue, problems are bigger and the stakes are higher in a county of 150,000 residents or a city with a population of about 50,000 than in communities of a few thousand. I’d suggest you’d be wrong, that at the scale at which Fruita and Palisade operate their issues are just as big in the relative scheme of things.

So what might be different? Fruita residents take up collections to supplement public funds to build a community rec center after splitting roughly 50-50 in both elections to fund it. But voters in Grand Junction overwhelmingly reject the same sort of facility by a 3-1 margin?

Palisade cobbles together the money to fund an impressive list of civic improvements. In Grand Junction, our best outcome is several blocks of vacant and ragged looking downtown property surrounding an aged library and outdated public safety facilities and hundreds of acres of undeveloped park lands that include at least a couple of logical sites for a public recreation center?

Maybe size does matter in one important respect.

Perhaps in a smaller community, the very word “community” becomes more meaningful and there’s more of a feeling that “we’re all in this together.” In a big city or a large county, it might be easier to split into factions more interested in getting their own way than in what’s good for the entire community.

Not that I’m under any illusion that issues and politics in a small town are any less heated than in a big one. In sports parlance, my observation over the years is that there are just as many hip checks and elbows thrown in the minors as in the majors.

But I also recall times when county commissioners could be fierce political opponents but set aside those differences and govern cooperatively without the kind of behind-the-scenes intrigue that feeds distrust internally and out on the street.

When city council members could consider the political pulse of their constituents as well as city infrastructure needs and tailor financing plans that satisfied both parts of that equation.

When a chamber of commerce could be more of a community partner than the sort of advocate that prompts a former chair of the organization to say recently “I don’t know who they represent, but they don’t represent me.”

Maybe, just maybe, there are some lessons to be learned 10 miles on either side of those big buildings in the 500 block of Rood Avenue.

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