For a while, Eagle was the town that people migrated to because it felt like the only place in the valley where they could afford to buy some land and stretch out, Mayor Scott Turnipseed said.

Residents put up with the upvalley commute to go to work or to get dinner and drinks in exchange for peace and quiet and the ability to call something their own.

Many people came to Eagle for this reason, doubling the population from 2000 to 2010, but what they found was a tight-knit community with small town charm and an unmatched love for outdoor recreation. It was a little rough around the edges with old buildings standing vacant and dining options mainly served fried or between a bun, but it was home.

Now, however; it seems that Eagle residents might just be able to have it all, longtime resident and renowned chef Kelly Liken said Monday. A lot has changed since she moved to town in 2005.

“I would say life in Eagle has changed dramatically like almost 180 degrees,” Liken said. “All the good parts we still have. It is still a really tight-knit community full of people who take care of each other and know each other’s names and honor each other’s differences.”

She added: “We have a really great mix of people, not only living in Eagle but working in Eagle now, too … That has brought new restaurants and new bars, new retail and I think really invigorated kind of the lifestyle of Eagle.”

These changes have been happening slowly over the past decade or so, but changes to the social scene have seemingly accelerated in the last 6 to 12 months, she said. New boutique retail and food businesses have been popping up left and right.

Business is booming

The town of Eagle issued 55 new business licenses in 2020, a slight increase over 2019 in a year when few could fathom launching a new venture. In the first six months of 2021, the town has already issued 48 licenses, according to data provided by town staff.

Liquor licenses for businesses are up this year as well with three already issued when the town typically averages less than one per year.

“It’s just so rare for a small town to have that kind of activity in any spurts,” Eagle Town Manager Brandy Reitter said Tuesday. “It might take 10 years for you to get a new liquor license.”

Now, in addition to Eagle’s pub grub spots that residents all know and love, they have local access to higher-end options like The Assembly on Capitol Street in Eagle Ranch and The Roaming Gourmet down on Broadway. The possibilities of where to grab lunch are endless from Pickled Kitchen & Pantry to Landshark Catering’s new venture, Roundabout Grill.

The Inner Light Juice & Wellness truck and Knapp Harvest provide hyperlocal access to fresh Colorado produce, a good way to balance out the killer burger you’re going to scarf down later at Boneyard or the finger-lickin’ barbecue you’re taking home from a staple of Eagle’s food scene — Moe’s Original BBQ.

The town is well on its way to becoming “a culinary center of the valley,” Turnipseed said.

Eagle boasts multiple locally owned retail shops now including Chics Couture and Evolve Spa + Boutique.

And more is yet to come, Turnipseed said. Co-owners Stephen and Kira Barczy are preparing to open Mauka Poke Bar next to Eagle Climbing + Fitness, offering fresh, healthy poke bowls.

Also on the docket is a wine bar with small plate offerings, Eagle’s second in-town wine bar after Katch of the Day Wine Bar & Market opened on Broadway in 2019.

This new wine bar is called Social Oak Wine and owner Christina Taylor said it will be a “community oriented” gathering place with an indoor-outdoor feel. Once it opens in January, the bar will serve wine and cocktails alongside small plates and family-style dishes, Taylor said.

Taylor recently closed on her space, which is where the Eagle Ranch Wine & Spirits used to be.

“I really wanted to lay down roots here and get to know the community and was trying to figure out something that made sense that I would like to see here,” Taylor said. “And this was one of the things that I saw as like a missing piece, I would say.”

As more young people and new families have moved into the town, they have created a demand for the more diverse social offerings that they themselves want to see, Liken said.

“I think it becomes a cycle, right? The more people that come they say, ‘well I love it here, but I don’t have enough retail.’ So, people start opening retail and it just kind of keeps going and then the town sees that their investment was really worth it and so then they continue to make investment,” Liken said.

After humble beginnings as a Western agricultural town, Eagle experienced steady growth until a population boom doubled its size between 2000 and 2010 from just over 3,200 residents to just over 6,500, according to the U.S. Census.

The town does seem to be getting slowly younger. The median age of Eagle residents in 2019 was 32.8 years old, marking a significant decrease from the 36.3 years median age recorded in 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. This is slightly younger than the statewide median of 36.7 years and the national median of 38.1.

Many attribute this shift to the relatively affordable real estate – which can no longer be described as such – but the town’s authenticity and early commitment to supporting infrastructure around outdoor recreation were also key factors, Turnipseed said.

In the town’s 2021 community survey, the top response for why people chose to live in Eagle is “quality of life” (74%), followed by its recreational amenities (56%) and it being a family-oriented community (53%). More than a third of respondents listed having a “sense of community” as one of their top three determinants of having a good quality of life.

Jaimie and Caleb Mackey, the owners of The Assembly in Eagle Ranch, were one such young couple who moved to Eagle four years ago in search of that sense of community that can be so rare in a region of transient mountain towns and tourism destinations.

From the start, they knew they were “in it for the long haul,” Caleb said.

They had always wanted to start a business and felt passionate, as Taylor did, about bringing something new and different to their community, Caleb and Jaimie said. In their case, it was fresh, seasonal and globally inspired food, served in a modern atmosphere perfect for anything from date night to happy hour to dinner with the kids, Caleb said.

“We started with the place that we wished was here,” he said.

“We kind of already felt the beginning of momentum in that direction of some businesses that were run by younger owners and people who are kind of paying attention to all of these new trends in food and in wine,” Jaimie added.

She said they were really inspired by the owners of Color Coffee Roasters, who have a café on Sylvan Lake Road in Eagle Ranch where they serve up premium, freshly roasted coffee with ingredients sourced from around the world.

“It was so exciting to see someone bringing that to our little town up in the mountains, and we didn’t have to go all the way down to Denver to find it and for us to be able to be part of that movement of bringing some more variety and sort of diverse cultural influences … was really exciting,” Jaimie said.

She and Caleb began the process of purchasing and renovating their space before the pandemic began, Caleb said. When everything came crashing down, they felt they had too much invested to turn back then, but now say they are immensely glad they didn’t give up.

“It’s been really incredible to feel our personal community grow over the course of the past two years and to feel like every day we’re becoming more and more deeply connected to Eagle,” Jaimie said.

Most of the town’s new restaurants and retail businesses have come from locals like the Mackeys, Reitter said, people who are passionate about adding something new to their community and have persevered despite a global pandemic and subsequent hiring crisis.

This has helped the town feel comfortable greenlighting new businesses without worrying about compromising those small-town values, she said.

The question of how to continue to cherish Eagle’s humble beginnings, and hold space for longtime residents, while also reveling in the new growth and demographic changes, is an interesting one to navigate for town staff and the Town Council, Turnipseed said.

Keeping the old with the new

“My comment that I tell people is I think there’s more Teslas running around Eagle than F-250 pickup trucks now, and that’s not the way it used to be, that is for sure, but that does not mean it’s a bad thing at all,” Turnipseed said.

There are certainly some residents who may view the soaring housing prices in Eagle Ranch or the increase in traffic a bit begrudgingly. A community survey question about Eagle’s top challenges garnered responses about the higher cost of living, “managing growth” and “overpopulation.”

The town has worked hard to maintain the slower, quieter lifestyle longtime residents came to love amid all this growth and change, said Turnipseed, who has lived in Eagle for 21 years now.

Eagle’s Downtown Development Association, which oversees the immediate area surrounding the Broadway strip, recently created a downtown development plan approved by the Eagle Town Council, which preaches respect for the area’s original character.

“Development should encourage preservation of character, redevelopment, and infill; and should include above average standards for design,” the plan reads. “Renovation of older buildings are encouraged.”

The plan’s strategic priorities also mention a goal to “engage locals to produce authentic and distinctive planning and develop programming to foster a local love of place.”

Similar language is used in the economic development portion of the town’s strategic plan.

These guiding documents aren’t just for show, Reitter said, but rather have formed a foundation that town staff and elected officials reference each time they are tasked with making a decision that could impact Eagle’s collective identity.

A tight-knit community

For starters, Eagle’s population is much less transient, contributing to a sense of authenticity and responsibility to care for the broader community, Liken said.

Just under 87% of respondents to the town of Eagle’s recent community survey indicated that they were full-time residents of the town as opposed to second-home owners or local business owners living outside of the community.

In Eagle, “the guy who pumps your gas knows your name and you have a relationship with him, and you know the people at the grocery store and it just feels good to be part of that sort of closer-knit community as opposed to working in Vail, which is so transient and touristy,” Liken said.

Outdoor recreation opportunities like the Eagle River Park or the Eagle Pool & Ice Rink, which the town is entering into a funding agreement to expand, are also seemingly a big part of this, Reitter said. The town owns over 1,000 acres of public open space, in addition to its public parks.

“Eagle has worked so hard to really build ourselves up as a place that welcomes people who honor the outdoors and health and wellness and community and I think people are drawn to that,” Liken said.

Reitter also pointed to the town’s emphasis on community events meant to bring neighbors together, events like the ShowDown Town concert series, the Second Friday Eagle ARTWalk, the Eagle Farmers Market & Art Show and the upcoming Eagle Mushroom Festival.

All in all, there is a reason why the town’s strategic plan calls Eagle “one of Colorado’s best kept secrets.”

Looking to the future

With a strong interest in maintaining the open spaces surrounding Eagle, there is not too much more room to grow, Turnipseed said. The town will focus on providing more affordable housing in key areas and building up infrastructure rather than building out.

For this reason, Turnipseed said he doesn’t worry too much about concerns of excessive or expansive growth in town because “there’s nowhere to go really.”

There is, however, still plenty of commercial space to welcome new business to town and that momentum is just getting started, Liken said.

“I really believe this town is going to thrive in a post-COVID world, not just survive, but I think we’re really going to see it thrive,” Liken said. “I honestly think the sky is the limit. This town is really poised to be a very cool place to gather with a lot of offerings and a lot of awesome food and beverage and retail and it’s already happening, but I think you look back in two years and I think we’ll see almost a different town.”