Longtime Hayden resident Forrest Frentress loaned an out-of-town friend his truck to drive into town. When the friend came back, he told Frentress everyone in town waved to him. "They weren't waving at you," Frentress told him. "They were waving at the truck."
Frentress' story is a perfect example of the closely knit community Hayden residents strive to hold on to.
A group of 36 concerned Hayden residents and officials gathered at Hayden High School on Saturday for the first of a series of forums meant to create a comprehensive Hayden master plan -- a guide to define what townspeople want for the future of a community on the verge of enormous population growth.
The forum participants agreed that Hayden's small-town atmosphere is what makes it attractive to them, and they want to maintain that atmosphere above all. They want people to live in Hayden because they choose to be there, not because of its affordable housing.
The forum opened with a viewing of the Hayden Community Video, a 30-minute documentary about the town, which premiered Friday in front of almost 200 people in the Hayden High School auditorium. After the screening, planning consultant Bob Perletz of Winston Associates led a discussion that echoed many of the sentiments expressed by community members in the video.
Perletz took notes on the discussion and will incorporate residents' comments into a draft of a comprehensive master plan. After the draft is complete, Perletz will set a date for a second community forum.
The town of Hayden is contracting Winston Associates to create the plan, in light of several development proposals that could triple the size of Hayden during the next 15 to 20 years. A $138,000 grant from the Gates Family Foundation to assist the town grow in a desirable and attractive manner is helping to fund the effort.
On Saturday, Perletz asked residents to define small-town atmosphere. The people said Hayden's atmosphere is a heritage of agriculture and mining. It is surrounded by pristine ranch lands, and above all, its people know their neighbors.
"Whenever there is a tragedy or a sickness, people around here come together like a family," said Donna Hellyer, chairwoman of the Hayden Planning Commission. "I know because I've been there."
School Board member Brian Hoza said people should live and work in Hayden because they want to, not because the housing market forces them to. Other participants agreed that should be the No. 1 priority for Hayden's future.
Frentress and others said Hayden is losing its neighborly atmosphere because so many residents commute to Steamboat and Craig, coming to Hayden just to sleep at night and never meeting their neighbors. Others said some people choose to live in Hayden as a stepping stone before finding a residence in Steamboat.
"Steamboat is marketed as friendly, but it is friendly in a different way," Hoza said. "Hayden is made up of working families. It is a friendly town because people really are friends with each other."
Several in attendance talked about how they see people they know by going to the post office or the town's only grocery store, the Hayden Mercantile. Many agreed the town should encourage commercial growth to be focused into one central hub for people to congregate.
Perletz directed the group to list Hayden's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, needs and other issues.
The economy was a big topic, with participants discussing ways it could develop through Yampa Valley Regional Airport and the U.S. Highway 40 corridor. Job creation from those two places was listed as the best bet for boosting the town's economic vitality. Hellyer, who also works at the airport, said providing some sort of promotional signage at the entrance of the airport could steer more visitors to Hayden and provide more dollars to town.
Topics of concern raised for inclusion in the comprehensive plan were: traffic, infrastructure, commercial and institutional facilities, schools, housing, recreation and open space, business zoning, quality of life, and health and safety.
Hellyer said she was pleased with the turnout at the planning forum. "It was a real diverse group," Hellyer said. "We got a lot accomplished. This was a very positive step."
She also said she cried when she watched the video for the first time.
"It was just the beauty of the valley, the song, the whole thing," Hellyer said.