September 12, 2020
A group of Gilpin County residents has banded together to support reopening the county’s Community Center Campus. The facilities, at 250 Norton Drive in Black Hawk, were closed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic by the State Public Health Department and have been shuttered indefinitely as a result of budget shortfalls due to the immediate loss of gaming tax revenue. To support a re-opening effort, the county has placed Issue 1B on the ballot. It calls for citizens to vote in a three-year property tax mill levy of 2.57 mills. If passed, the increased property taxes will be dedicated solely to the Parks and Recreation Department for re-opening the center campus early in 2021. The funding will cover minimum staffing and other expenses to keep it open during the period of the levy. If the mill levy does not pass, current revenue and expenditure projections show that it could be as many as eight years before the center could be reopened.
Faced with long-term closure of this community resource, citizens began talking earlier this year about ways to reopen it. Their discussions led to the formation of the Friends of the Gilpin County Community Center (FGCCC), a non-profit organization. “Our goal is to support the mission of the Community center campus and its vital position in the life of our mountain community,” said Carolyn Collins Petersen, the group’s president. “We created FGCCC to be a support arm for Parks and Recreation and the community center because so many people want to see the facilities reopened, with all appropriate precautions and following health department guidelines. Our members live throughout the County and span the political spectrum. While we are supporting the passage of a mill levy in the short term, our long-term goals are to find ways to keep our community center open and expand its offerings.”
The Gilpin County Community Center campus opened in 2003 and is managed by the Gilpin County Parks and Recreation Department. It consists of a recreation building, barn, arena, ballfields, BMX track, and hiking trail. The main facility is a certified Red Cross evacuation shelter for families and livestock, and has a secure drop-off point for ballots during elections.
FGCCC plans to work with County leadership and the Parks and Recreation Department on issues related to the center, and to apply for grant funding for specific programs at the Community Center campus. The group also wants the County government to think of the FGCCC’s membership as a two-way sounding board, to facilitate communication about community center needs.
Many residents rely on facilities at the Community Center campus to meet their recreational and community needs. It’s a multi-purpose area with ballfields, a barn and riding arena, BMX track, and hiking trail. The main building has a meeting room, sports and wellness facilities, pottery studio, and more. The campus hosts after-school groups, youth and senior activities, quilting and sewing groups, classes, artists and potters, and a comfortable space for people to enjoy board games.
Senior lunches have always been a big draw. FGCCC group member Donna Okray Parman is a supporter of reopening the Center for all its diverse needs. “We are seniors who retired to Gilpin County five years ago, following our grandchildren! We moved from our home to a place where we knew no one,” she said. “The Gilpin Seniors invited us to lunch at the Community Center one day after we exercised, and voila — a new family, new friends for a lifetime. That pool is a lifesaver for me, and the fellowship with other seniors on a regular basis is a blessing we couldn’t have imagined.”
Member Steve Schwettman, who heads FGCCC’s Wellness, Sports and Recreation Team, pointed out that the center has always been important to County students, too. “I noticed the teens would hang out at the open basketball court in the gym after school, which was a safe place for them to congregate, he said. “It’s crucial to have our Center open for their activities, too.”
Other events include the County Fair, 4H shows and rodeos, the High Country Auxiliary Chili Dinner and Silent Auction, the Winter Arts Festival, Easter Egg hunts, dances, Farmer’s Market, and candidate meet-and-greets. In the past year, the center also hosted hearings about the FAA Metroplex plan, as well as political group meetings. Colorado State University maintains a presence for its Extension program, and offers programs about forestry, wildfire, wildlife, mountain gardening, noxious weeds and many other issues relevant to the region.
While the main campus is mostly closed, Gilpin County Animal Response Team (GCART), which is headquartered on the Community Center campus, has been able to get the arena, BMX track, and ball fields opened for very limited use, along with the barn for 4H activities through CSU Extension. The County has won a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, which is reserved for outdoor recreation only. The grant will not affect the larger closure issues. In addition, for Election Day this year, the multi-purpose room at the main Community Center building will be open, but otherwise the building remains closed.
“The Center is at the heart of our Gilpin community,” said Petersen. “It gets used for many events and purposes. With its closure, we’ve lost access to nearly all the activities it hosted that make Gilpin special. I know it’s tough to ask people for even a small tax increase for a few years. But it’s also hard to imagine Gilpin County without its senior lunches, the fair, the chili dinner, a place to exercise, to take the kids for activities, or even as a place to do some holiday shopping. A lot of residents agreed with that, and it’s why we all got together to form our group to support its complete re-opening and future operations.”
Friends of the Gilpin County Community Center’s Web site is at www.gilpincommunitycenter.org. It contains information about the group, how to donate to FGCCC, and news about the upcoming mill levy vote.
For further information about the group, including media inquiries, contact Carolyn Collins Petersen at cc dot petersen @ gmail dot com.