Steamboat Springs Through the windshield of the school bus driving to Steamboat, over the tops of a group of small cowboy hats sitting on small cowboy heads, the backside of Sleeping Giant emerges.
The mountain looks nothing like the Sleeping Giant one can see from Steamboat Springs from north Routt it looks more like an overgrown kneecap.
The two communities, Steamboat and north Routt, see things differently, having grown in different ways over the past decade.
Debates over a charter school in north Routt recently approved by the district school board have highlighted some of those differences, bringing out what some see as a long-standing resentment.
Colorado charter schools
Charter schools are by no means a new concept in Colorado, though they are relatively rare in the northwest part of the state. There are 79 charter schools in Colorado, many of which are situated in rural communities. Both Eagle and Grand counties have charter schools.
Eagle County Charter Academy Principal Patti Anderson said the school was created in part because the local district was not meeting the needs of the students.
The school also attempted to involve the community in its programs, she said.
"We definitely use our community's resources in enriching our curriculum," Anderson said.
She said the charter school, which enforced more rigorous behavioral and academic standards and encouraged parental involvement, eventually influenced the rest of the district to follow suit. The charter school now has a waiting list over 800 students long, Anderson said.
Based on the results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests, charter schools have flourished in many communities in Colorado.
An evaluation study completed on the 1998-99 school year by the state department of education showed that charter school students consistently scored higher than their peers from the rest of the district and the rest of the state.
The high achievement of charter school students may be due to the high level of parent involvement in the education of their children, said Colorado Department of Education Charter School Consultant Denise Mund.
"Student achievement in charter schools tends to be higher than the district," she said. "They are often more focused and driven towards a particular mission."
One proponent of rural charter schools that helped the north Routt board develop its application pushed the board to make sure the north Routt community gave their input.
"The Clark community's input is essential," said Ginny Jaramillo, the program director for the Colorado Rural Charter School Network. "That has been the whole point of this, to respond to the community's need."
Jaramillo, who has worked with rural communities throughout Colorado that have attempted to create charter schools, said that, unlike charter schools in cities, which often specialize in a specific area of interest (like technology), rural charter schools are usually focused around a geographic area. That distinction means that community input becomes especially valuable, because the goals of the school are connected closely with the community's goals.
Some charter schools in rural areas, for instance, publish their community's newspaper, she said.
Clark said she hopes to invite local artists and naturalists, among others, to teach the students.
The mission of the charter school is in many ways designed to give the children of north Routt a closer connection to their community a goal that may be fueled in part by their parents' own sense of distance from the City of Steamboat Springs.
A 20-mile bus ride,
a world apart?
Some north Routt residents have expressed disillusionment with a process they feel has stacked the cards against them.
Members of the north Routt community, many of whom have attended the meetings on the charter school, were upset at the school board for what they feel is an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes by withholding money.
"People are extremely upset with the arrogance of the board," said Peter Bailey, who works at the Clark Store and has been dubbed the unofficial mayor of Clark. "The school board said yes in lip service with no intention of being supportive of the project. This is just endemic of Steamboat thinking it runs Routt County."
The school board, which heard similar comments at the Jan. 29 meeting, attempted to explain its need to protect the interests of the other four schools in the district and to make sure the charter school will take care of the children.
"The safe thing for this district is to put the conditions that we see as very significant in the motion," said school board member Tom Sharp.
While the two areas' residents don't always see issues from the same angle, they also don't experience the Yampa Valley in quite the same way.
Few would dispute that the north Routt area, like the west of Steamboat, is growing.
But how it is growing, and toward what end, is a more complicated question.
The north Routt landscape is still dotted with ranches, though few are up and running as such. Some, like the Dutch Creek Guest Ranch, offer horseback riding and other vacation amenities.
On top of that, there has been a burst of growth in recent years in the Steamboat Lake and Hahn's Peak areas north of Clark, Bailey said.
Local realtor Mike Autrey of RE/MAX echoed Bailey's comments, noting many of the homes he has helped sell in the past year have not been second homes for out-of-towners.
Many of the newest year-round homes in north Routt are located in the Willow Creek Subdivision just south of Steamboat Lake.
He noted the area attracts a "heartier" individual who is willing to deal with higher altitudes and deeper snow.
That, in turn, gives the residents a heightened sense of pride in their community, Autrey said. He himself lived in the area about five years ago when the area received "about 36 feet" of snow.
"The whole subdivision was like a luge run" he said.
The requirements to buy a home in Willow Creek, however, have begun to shift from "hearty" to "wealthy" or at least "well-off," Autrey said.
Lots in the Willow Creek area that sold for around $20,000 five years ago, now go for upwards of $50,000. Single-family homes now push past $300,000.
Autrey estimated the percentage of north Routt homes bought by out-of-towners has dropped from about 75 percent to about 25 percent in the last five years.
The north Routt charter board members maintain one reason they think the local populous will be able to fill the school as it grows is because the community is growing quickly.
"We knew the area was just growing sooner or later we'd need some sort of school out there," Watterson said. "We wanted it sooner rather than later."
Bailey added the center of the community has begun to move away from the Clark Store, with spots like Steamboat Lake attracting tourists and residents alike in greater numbers every year.
Steamboat Lake served 434,405 visitors last year, as compared to 375,283 in 1999 and 284,392 in 1998, most of them during the summer.
The burgeoning state park offers everything from water skiing to hiking and biking on trails.
The park employs north Routt residents and offers people in the area recreational opportunities in the opposite direction from Steamboat.
It has already been contacted by the charter board, which hopes to use it as a place where children can learn about the environment.
Autrey said that, despite some new opportunities for employment in north Routt, many of the north Routt residents, like residents of Oak Creek and Hayden, must travel to Steamboat every day to work.
Still, many north Routt residents are reticent of the term "bedroom community," which has been applied to towns like Hayden and Oak Creek that supply some Steamboat's workers.
"I don't believe there's a whole lot of people who work in Steamboat and live in north Routt," Clark said. She herself cleans homes in north Routt.
"There's definitely a local populous and it's growing fast," he said.