Battlement Mesa and Parachute: Energy to Grow
From the terraced hills of Battlement Mesa you can look across the freeway and see the activity that’s driving the local economy. In Parachute, the trucks that lumber through town remind residents that energy is king once again. The two communities share a freeway exit, a school district and a history of survival in spite of the ups and downs of the energy industry.
Energy has been a fickle king; Exxon created the community of Battlement Mesa as a residential area for its oil shale workers in the early 80’s. Thanks to Exxon, Battlement Mesa has a 53,000 square foot activity center with an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool, basketball courts, racquetball courts, exercise machines and meeting rooms. Not bad for a community of 5,000. When Exxon pulled out, Battlement Mesa survived by reinventing itself as a retirement and recreation mecca, as well as a vibrant, covenant-protected community for workers who were willing to drive up the valley to Aspen and Glenwood.
Although Battlement Mesa looks like a town and has some town-like amenities, it’s really a series of neighborhoods and a few shopping areas in unincorporated Garfield County. With a few neighborhoods of luxury homes on the golf course, a few neighborhoods of modular homes, and several neighborhoods in between, it’s an area that appeals to a wide variety of ages and pocketbooks.
“There’s certainly a retirement component, and we have plenty of products and neighborhoods for them,” says Eric Schmela, VP of Land Management with the Battlement Mesa Company, the community development company, “But the main focus in the main core area will be a younger demographic.”
To accommodate the young families who are moving to the area, the Battlement Mesa Company has donated 25 acres of land for a new school. A bond levy was passed earlier this month to build a new middle school on the Battlement Mesa side of the freeway and turn the old middle school into an elementary school. The district currently has 1,156 students enrolled, but that number is likely to increase as local jobs attract more families to the area.
Energy companies like EnCana and Williams have large facilities and good employment prospects in Parachute. Other energy-related companies are working in the area, as well, drawing from the labor pool and creating worker shortages in the service sector.
“Our problem is a lack of people to employ,” says Diana Lawrence-Tompkins, co-owner of Outlaws Restaurant in Parachute. With its highly visible location right off the freeway, along with good food, good coffee and an appreciation for the workers who contribute 80 percent of the restaurant’s business, Outlaws is perpetually packed, serving more than 500 meals per day.
The situation is the same in Battlement Mesa, where the White Buffalo is the only sit-down restaurant and the take-out pizza place is scrambling every night to bake 60-80 pizzas.
“I’ve had more than 200 employees and I’ve only fired seven,” says Dick Ciprich, who’s owned the White Buffalo about three and a half years. The White Buffalo, tucked away in the same shopping center as City Market, is a little harder to find, but that hasn’t slowed business. Ciprich estimates that 70 percent of his business comes from the energy workers, who often work long shifts and keep the restaurant busy.
The town of Parachute has quite a few capital projects going on, including renovation and expansion of the town hall, street improvements and wastewater lines. The town recently approved the annexation plan, with plans to extend growth further up Parachute Creek. The area’s rapid growth within the last few years underscores the need for other services, as well.
“We have a tremendous need for medical people,” says Juanita Satterfield with the town of Parachute. “From dentists on up the line.”
Although there is a medical clinic with a doctor on staff in Battlement Mesa, neither community has a dentist. Neither community has much shopping, either, although a Family Dollar store just opened on the Battlement Mesa side of the freeway. Available housing is also in short supply.
“Anything that is built is sold,” Satterfield says. “It doesn’t stay on the market, people are standing in line waiting for housing.”
The shortage has driven up prices. Four years ago, Diane Haines with Coldwell Banker had a two-bedroom ranch home that she couldn’t sell for $157,000. Today, a similar home would probably be snatched up for $220,000.
“We have maybe 14 homes on the market,” says Colorado Heritage Realtor Mary Lee Mohrlang. “A year ago we had 60.”
Because Battlement Mesa was a community planned for growth, the current boom isn’t stretching the sewer and water capabilities nor is it overcrowding the golf course or the activity center, which recently received a $35,000 grant from EnCana to expand its weight room.
Yes, the growth is driving up prices and creating a housing shortage, but all the energy activity is also creating jobs and generating revenue for local businesses. It’s hard to find fault with that.