MONTROSE – Set to the melody of “This Land Is Your Land,” the song chronicles a Vietnam veteran’s journey to the Montrose skyway, where freedom calls, rivers sparkle and the mountains beckon.
Written by Montrose residents Paul Chamberland and Melanie Hall, it will be sung by a Montrose group Saturday, in Denver, at the National Civic League’s 64th All-America City awards at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The song is just part of the story delegates to the convention will tell about why Montrose deserves to be designated an All-America City. Part of the 20-minute presentation by Montrose residents and civic leaders to the 12-member jury, it addresses the theme for this year’s awards, which is promoting communities in the U. S. whose members have gone above and beyond to honor, help and promote veterans and military families.
Melanie Kline, founder of the Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans, known as Welcome Home Montrose, said Montrose deserves the honor as the only city in the country “that has taken it on as a city mission” to work with veterans as they reintegrate into society.
The grassroots community initiative “takes as its goal to make Montrose Colorado a ‘no barriers’ city and invite America’s wounded troops to live in this community where they can have the opportunity to thrive,” according to its mission statement.
The All-America City award, described as a Nobel Prize for civic accomplishment, has been bestowed on 600 communities nationwide since its inception in 1949.
The award would give Montrose national exposure – and, Kline said, might lead to the Welcome Home Montrose model being used by other communities
"I think it is wonderful for me to represent and set an example for our community as a whole when we go to Denver,” said Chamberland, who served with the U.S. Air Force, 1971-75, in Vietnam. The judges will “get to see someone who performs in the community, as a musician,” as well as discover that “we do have some really good musicians here.”
Members of delegation worked this week on multiple drafts of the presentation, focusing on the Welcome Home Montrose Warrior Resource Center, the closure (and now the reopening of the Montrose timber mill) and on efforts to revive downtown Montrose being made by the City of Montrose and the Downtown Development Authority.
Montrose joins Brush and Colorado Springs as a Colorado finalist in the competition in which and 20 communities across the nation (some with large military installations like Norfolk, Va., and Birmingham, Ala., whose delegations feature hundreds of participants compared to Montrose's delegation of just 15) will participate.
Montrose was a finalist was in the 1990 All-America City Competition, finishing 11th out of 20.
"It's a real David versus Goliath," Montrose City Councilmember Carol McDermott said of the city’s role in the contest, for which the delegation has been preparing since March.
"We've haven't had a consistent script for more than a week; it's constantly evolved," Hall said.
Montrose has already presented the NCL with a written presentation describing the area's history, culture and economic makeup, as well as the struggles, achievements and specific details about the city’s dedication to veterans, that will touched on Saturday (and fodder for the 10-minute Q&A that follows).
"The judges already know everything about Montrose, from what's been sent in,” said delegation member Dee Coram. “We're just hoping our presentation attracts the right kinds of questions."
To that end, the Montrose delegation’s Saturday presentation will include information about the city’s history – about the closure of the timber mill that dramatically affected both local and state economies, the growth of its southern end (and the concomitant closures of mom-and-pop stores) and about the actions of the DDA to bring local businesses back to downtown.
Montrose delegate, former U.S. Staff Sgt. Beau Miller, will recount his experiences in Iraq and his re-entry into civilian life, and the key role played by the Warrior Resource Center as he fought to find a job and a home for his family. "Montrose is where we have found purpose and meaning for our family," he said Tuesday.
City Planner Kerwin Jensen will describe the city’s Uncompahgre River Corridor plan, highlighting its whitewater park and miles of hiking and biking trails, and its emphasis on connecting residents with the outdoors that surrounds them.
"It's kind of a quirky, crazy presentation," Coram allowed. "The criteria this year is really based on veterans, and the energy Main in Motion has brought back to downtown. The fact that we have the DDA and more movement downtown,” he said, has led to more new businesses “opening in downtown.
"When we first came to Montrose we were looking [for] ways to get people back downtown,” Coram will tell the jury. To that end, "We formulated an idea for a weekly Main Street festival and called it Main in Motion. Instead of talking about change, we decided to be the change.”
Coram said the entire presentation will unfold in front of a large photo of the San Juan Mountains.
Private and public donations have gone toward funding the delegation's travel and accommodations. McDermott, who has collected over $1,500, and signed up more than one-hundred supporters (donations will be accepted tonight, at Main in Motion).
"I believe that Montrose is an All America City," McDermott said.
An $8,000 donation from Montrose City Council will be put toward travel expenses, although McDermott is not planning to use the entire amount.
The Montrose delegation presentation starts Saturday, at 9:40 a.m.; other towns include Birmingham, Ala.; Downey, Calif.; Brush and Colorado Springs, Colo.; Fort Lauderdale, Miami Lakes and Sarasota, Fla; Peoria, Ill.; Dubuque, Iowa; Owensboro Ky., Natchitoches, La.; Canton NY, Dunn, Garner and Thomasville, N.C.; Folly Beach S.C., The Colony, Texas; Norfolk Va. and Platteville, Wisc.
All American City updates can be viewed online at www.Twitter.com/@AllAmericaCity.