Moffat County Locals: Northwest Colorado Center for Independence improves access to highway-facing businesses | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County Locals: Northwest Colorado Center for Independence improves access to highway-facing businesses

Northwest Colorado Center for Independence Executive Director Ian Engle, left, service dog Montezuma ‘Zuma’ Engle and Gov. John Hickenlooper at the Shining Stars of Vocational Rehabilitation.

The Northwest Colorado Center for Independence, or NWCCI, was recently a recipient of Colorado's Shining Stars of Vocational Rehabilitation Awards for its work with the city, area businesses and organizations to improve access to businesses on U.S. Highway 40.

Executive Director Ian Engle and his service dog, Zuma, accepted the award on behalf of the organization during an awards ceremony Nov. 16 at the State Capitol, followed by a meet and greet with Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The effort to improve the highway began in 2015, when Craig resident Cathy Carlson, who uses a wheelchair, brought forward her concerns.

“I’m afraid to cross the main street, and in a lot of places, there isn’t a crosswalk,” she said in a 2016 interview with the newspaper. “You have to just kind of wing it and hope you don’t get hit. That can be pretty scary in busy traffic.”

"I'm afraid to cross the main street, and in a lot of places, there isn't a crosswalk. You have to just kind of wing it and hope you don't get hit. That can be pretty scary in busy traffic."
Cathy Carlson
Craig resident who uses a wheelchair

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The team at NWCCI, joined by local residents, toured the city in 2015 to learn what was needed to create safe, accessible paths to the businesses for pedestrians. Later that year, the group brought a proposal to Craig City Council, offering testimonials to the problem, along with proposed solutions. Many were later adopted.

Peter Pike, of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, nominated the organization for the award in the category of advocate/community partner.

In his letter of nomination, Pike wrote, "NWCCI partnered with local organizations such as Horizons and Sunset Meadows to examine accessibility challenges down Highway 40 through Craig, Colorado … NWCCI not only presented accessibility barriers but offered solutions … They highlighted solving this problem created universal access, benefits for all.

"The plan established sidewalk improvements around the town that increased accessibility and safety for all.

The city invested more than $300,000 in improvements, including:

  • Widening the sidewalk around an existing traffic light post to allow safe passage for wheelchairs;
  • Improving and creating 10 curb cuts, and;
  • Laying a new sidewalk for tone city block.

This resulted in improvements over six blocks — from Ledford Street to Ranney Street — on the north side of U.S. 40.

"These improvements not only increase safety for all using the sidewalk but allow safe access to the grocery store, mall and local pharmacy," Pike wrote.

The effort was aided by the cooperation of local business owners, such as Randy and Cindy Looper, owners of Elk Run Inn. The Loopers were recognized in October for giving a strip of their yard to the city so the sidewalk could be widened at the corner of Green Street and Victory Way.

The work continues. The plan includes connecting the east and west sides of the highway.

"These activities have led to greater collaborative efforts with NWCCI, the town council and the Colorado Department of Transportation. NWCCI serves as a resource regarding accessibility on additional sidewalk projects, hiking trails, and intersections," Pike wrote.

The awards, established by the Department of Labor and Employment and its Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, honor people and organizations who are making progress in reshaping the employment landscape for people with disabilities.

A news release from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment described such people and organizations as follows.:

"Collectively, these award winners are tearing down barriers and making significant advances in promoting employment of people with disabilities. The Shining Stars of VR awards are an acknowledgment and a celebration of their efforts.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.