When first lady Laura Bush mentioned the transformation of an old power plant into a city facility in a White House speech Thursday, shivers went down Arianthe Stettner's spine.
Steamboat Springs was one of eight communities honored in a White House ceremony Thursday as part of the Preserve America initiative. Bush recognized Steamboat and the transformation of the old Carver Power Plant into a city meeting room, office space and cafe as exemplary historic preservation work.
City Council President Paul Strong and Stettner, president of Historic Routt County and a former City Council member, flew to Washington, D.C., to accept the national designation.
"It is pretty darn exciting," Stettner said. "It really is a credit to all of us."
The designation is part of the Preserve America initiative, which Bush launched in March to encourage local efforts to preserve cultural and natural heritage. Thursday's ceremony celebrated the first eight communities to be given the Preserve America Community designation, awarded for their commitment to protecting their historic heritage.
"That we are one of the first eight communities really shows the vision and hard work of the citizens of Steamboat Springs and Routt County for history and cultural preservation," Strong said.
The other communities chosen were Augusta, Ga.; Castroville, Texas; Delaware, Ohio; Dorchester County, Md.; Key West, Fla.; Putnam County, N.Y.; and Versailles, Ky.
"Preserve America communities demonstrate that they are committed to preserving America's heritage while ensuring a future filled with opportunities for learning and enjoyment," Bush said.
Ann Pritzlaff, who works for Colorado Preservation Inc. and is a member of the president-appointed Advisory Council of Historic Preservation, gave Steamboat a strong recommendation when it applied for the honor.
"Steamboat, to me, is a nexus of Colorado and it is also a nexus of historic preservation," Pritzlaff said. "It has everything Colorado is known for, from mining and ranching, then health improvement with the hot springs and of course, skiing and tourism."
The city's Department of Intergovernmental Services applied for the national designation in November. One of the criteria was the completion of a public-private historic preservation project; the Carver Power Plant meets that criterion.
The city took political heat for purchasing a historic property downtown that sat as a storage building for more than 50 years instead of buying a cheaper property at the edge of town. But, it also had partnering and funding from local nonprofits, state organizations and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
"We turned it into a community landmark," Stettner said.
To apply for the designation, the city also had to meet criteria in three categories: discovering heritage through historic places, protecting historic resources and promoting historic assets.
The city met the criteria through its ongoing inventories and surveys of historical properties, financial support of the Tread of Pioneers Museum, the use of the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission and a historic preservation ordinance.
The city had help in its historic preservation projects from Routt County, Historic Routt County, the Tread of Pioneers Museum, the U.S. Forest Service, Yampatika, Colorado Preservation Inc., the State Historical Fund and the Colorado Historical Society.
"A lot of people do good work. We are very fortunate," Stettner said.
Bush's speech Thursday also announced that her husband, President George W. Bush, would include $10 million in the proposed budget to help communities preserve cultural and natural resources.
She also announced the Preserve America History Teacher of the Year award. A finalist from each state, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories will receive $1,000 and an archive of history materials for their school's library.
When Bush talked about the importance of education in historic preservation, she cited Steamboat's celebration of May as Historic Preservation Month, which area schools recognize through walking tours of the city's historic sites.
Strong and Stettner invited Bush to visit Steamboat and presented her with a Robert Dieckhoff painting of the city.
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