Guidelines for a Healthier Community


Urban Land Institue Panelists at Lamar High School

“You’re community has to be different, unique, in order to provide future growth for Lamar.”  That was the overview of a weeklong interview and assessment project presented by panelists from the Urban Land Institute.  The findings were derived from a comprehensive group interview of 60 volunteers listing what they felt were the strengths and weaknesses of the health-oriented amenities available to Lamar residents.  The advisory services panel also conducted a comprehensive tour of the city during their week long visit and presented their findings to the general public Friday morning, April 26, at the Lamar High School.  The study was sponsored by High Plains Community Health Center, Livewell, Colorado Health Foundation and PUMA. 

Lamar Community Members Considering Panel Findings

Ed McMahon of ULI said a community’s economic growth is tied to active and public health lifestyles of its residents.   He said the panel suggested that Lamar use its park and recreational facilities to market itself as a hub for sports, outdoor recreation and healthy activities on the High Plains.  Panel recommendations included focusing on four  areas for future development:  the North Side of Lamar, the Civic Center Buildings along Main Street, Willow Creek and the ballfield complex at the county fairgrounds.  Another potential development was termed, the “Lamar Loop”, a series of connected walking trails, seven miles long, circling the community.  The path would run along the Greenbelt near Escondido Park, the ballfield complex at the fairgrounds, out to the college, around Willow Creek to perhaps include the levee system and back into town.  Some of the pathways would also be constructed to accommodate horseback riding.   Other suggestions included constructing a skate park, an indoor pool and completing the remaining two ball fields at the Sports Plex.  The panel recommended working on the draw of the city’s parks by increasing some of the amenities to turn them into a community magnet.  Suggestions included staging a series of simple events such as a community pot-luck dinner one night, provide live music another evening and let families become accustomed to having something to look forward to in their neighborhood park.  Other ideas included closing off some city streets to traffic and sponsor a bike day along the routes; use volunteer parents to form a ‘live school bus’ in which elementary students are chaperoned for a walk to school on a regular basis. 

Panelist Laura Burnett

The economic overview of the city showed a downturn in population as well as retail economic outlets.  Basic amenities for recreational walkers are few and far between.   “You’re going to show a general forty year lack of population growth by 2017,” one of the panelists told the crowd.  “The city’s population in 1960 was 7,369 and by 2017, it’s projected to be 7,428, a downslide from its peak about 20 years ago.  Since 2001, 945 wage and salaried jobs have been lost in the community.  People are leaving to seek jobs elsewhere and young graduates from the high school and college system are not finding any job growth for what they’ve been trained.  Other factors included a generally deteriorating downtown for storefronts, streets and sidewalks, some neighborhoods are lacking connected sidewalks as well as providing the appearance of homes and yards that are being maintained.   

Some of the challenges focus on overturning a mentality to drive three blocks instead of walking, a climate of extreme temperature ranges, drought and dust, lack of lighting along pedestrian routes, continued high vehicle traffic along Main Street, cultural and language barriers in the community and the economic impact of the by-pass that’s been hanging over the community’s head for several decades. 

“There are no easy answers here,” the panel concluded, commenting on the by-pass’s impact to Lamar.  “The by-pass, if it goes through to completion, should add to the town, should be used to bring people into the community, and bring you more than it takes away,” the recommendations advised.  Other suggestions included constructing a two lane highway and use the money saved from the down-sized plan to create a pedestrian and equestrian trail circling Lamar, creating a strategy to prevent the by-pass from cannibalizing the downtown business district, moving businesses away from downtown Lamar, and offer travelers a reason to stop in the city beyond food and gas.  Another necessary ingredient for any plans and improvements to move forward was, “Building the strength of your local leadership particularly at the neighborhood level.”  That translates to creating neighborhood associations, organizations of citizens working together to solve problems just in their own neighborhoods.  At that point, the city should be in contact with those organizations, hear their concerns and develop with solutions together. 

A complete report on the panel’s finding will be available in about 45 to 60 days from this week.  Lamar was one of three communities selected in Colorado to be targeted for up to one million dollars in grant funding to bring some of these suggestions to fruition and the only rural community chosen in the state.  One last suggestion to the community at large was to prepare to take advantage of the second annual Pedal the Plains event, set for this September.  Lamar will play host to several hundred bicyclists for one day out of the three day event.

By Russ Baldwin


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