A once-over is often a town’s only chance for a longer look


September 23, 2013 - 12:00 AM

An impromptu trip out west last week provided a good perspective of Iola and other towns our size.
We drove along Highway 54 west to Tucumcari, N.M., before going north to Santa Fe for a couple of days and then on up to Taos for the remainder of the week.
The marathon drive took us down through Oklahoma’s panhandle, a touch of Texas, and then through New Mexico’s northeast section.
Some lessons?
First impressions speak volumes.
Towns built around a central plaza function well and are inviting. Be it Iola, Humboldt or Santa Fe, a downtown square is the prime location for retailers, businesses and activities.
And though Taos sits at the base of a glorious range of mountains, its downtown suffers from a lack of planning for growth. Since the 2000 Census, Taos has grown by 9.8 percent and is one of the fastest growing cities in New Mexico.
Once a sleepy mountain village, Taos today is in a bustling region of 33,000 that relegates its commerce along one road that also serves as its main highway.
The result is no center of commerce and the creation of strips of stores and restaurants along a busy street with no bike lanes, inadequate parking and hit-and- miss sidewalks.
In essence, the art mecca  is a missed opportunity for a really nice experience for visitors and residents alike.

OUR ORIGINAL intention was to be in Estes Park, Colo., for the week, but the recent flooding made us change plans.
In 1982 Estes Park was similarly flooded, that time because a dam broke high up in the mountains and unleashed a torrent of water that swamped downtown Estes.
The city used the catastrophe to rebuild its downtown better than ever, creating multiple pocket parks with lots of seating arrangements surrounded by plants, trees, statues and water features.
The renovation sent a strong message: We’re open for your business and we want to make your visit a wonderful experience.
We came home on a more northern route, up through Raton, N.M., then on to Trinidad, Colo., before crossing over to Kansas.
Not to be critical of our neighbors, but Kansans do a better job of putting their best face forward.
Lakin, for example, is a little town of 2,220 that appeared very inviting by the fact its streets were clean, and its businesses and homes were neat as a pin. The immediate vibe is this is a community that has pride. And towns that feel good about themselves translate success.
As we came into town we gave Iola a once-over.
And were proud to call it home.

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