The Clifton community is experiencing “a moment” — a term we use to describe when long-term investments suddenly seem to pay off at once.
Clifton will always be a work in progress due to its status as an unincorporated community. Until there’s some kind of community-wide buy-in to become its own municipality, it will struggle to have the kind of amenities that towns like Palisade and Fruita can provide to their residents.
But having recognized that Clifton faces big challenges, Mesa County has done an admirable job of meting out resources to propel a transition.
The biggest development to date is a plan to spend $16 million on a “community campus” next to Rocky Mountain Elementary that will include a community hall, an early childhood center and, potentially, a branch of the county library system.
Mesa County finds itself in a solid fiscal position — a combination of better-than-expected sales tax revenues and COVID recovery money from the federal government. In presenting a proposed $198 million budget, County Administrator Pete Baier said some of that money will be used to help boost economic development in select areas, such as in Clifton and with new communities centers elsewhere in the county.
But the county and an array of partners have been quietly giving attention to Clifton for several years now, largely under the direction of Mesa County Public Health, which employs a community organizer who coordinates the Community Transformation Initiative.
The initiative is a coalition of organizations and individuals who have tried all sorts of innovative ways to improve the social connectedness of neighborhoods in Clifton and other areas. The overarching goal is to help people help themselves to create healthier communities.
One of the byproducts of this effort is civic pride — or feeling good about where one lives. Social connectedness helps forge a community identity — a “soul” if you will — and now the county’s investment in bricks and mortar should further refine Clifton’s sense of self.
“I think one of the things that Clifton has missed for so many years is a sense of place, a sense of community,” County Commissioner Janet Rowland said. “There really is no downtown or gathering place. So, we did hope that by building this campus, not just the community hall, but other pieces of it, that it would encourage other development out there.”
We would argue that the community campus would not be nearly as transformative without the groundwork laid by the Community Transformation Initiative and Clifton Community Leaders, a group that was formed to work with nonprofits to foster more resident involvement in the future of their community.
Some of the partners in the initiative include groups as diverse the Hispanic Affairs Project, St. Mary’s Medical Center, Mesa County Libraries and the Grand Junction Housing Authority, the Colorado Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Trust for Public Land, which promotes walkable access to park spaces, has been focused on making schoolyards more like actual parks to be enjoyed by the entire community.
“I think people are so used to stuff not happening in their community that this huge project could be sort of like a game-changer for how people think about what’s possible,” said Sarah Johnson, a senior community health planner with MCPH. “Here we have our county and other partners making a huge investment in what in the past has not seen a lot of investment.”