By Lisa Young

Staff writer

Hotchkiss Community Chamber of Commerce held its annual business meeting and awards ceremony Nov. 18. The small socially-distanced meeting, due to COVID-19, took place in the ballroom at Memorial Hall.

This year’s award recipients are Marlene Searle — Citizen of the Year; Bank of Colorado, Hotchkiss Branch — Business of the Year and North Fork Recreation District — Non-Profit of the Year.

Searle was honored for her 28-year career as the Town Clerk of Hotchkiss. She is credited for keeping the town “running well and staying within budget for all of those years.”

Mitch Swanda and his team at Bank of Colorado were honored for the bank’s willingness to always be involved in town projects and for providing numerous donations around town.

Kathryn Oxford accepted the non-profit of the year award on behalf of the North Fork Recreation District. Last year, the district was crowned the non-profit of the year by the Crawford Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s truly amazing what the North Fork Recreation District has accomplished in the last few years,” said Kim Shay, representing the Hotchkiss chamber.

“Kudos to Lenore Cambria for making it all run smoothly and for getting an amazing amount of grants to fund projects that all North Fork residents are able to enjoy. Also special recognition to Sven Edstrom and Ben Graves for all their hard work and dedication to see the bicycle trails happen,” she added.

In addition to the bicycle trails, finishing touches on four new ballfields at Crossroads Park is fervently underway despite COVID-19 related delays.

In a recent interview, Cambria highlighted the unique iron work on a number of gates at the ballfields by artist Ira Houseweart. The Hotchkiss-born artist also created a fun interactive sculpture of a lizard clinging to spinning baseball.

Work on shade for the bleachers is underway as well as finishing up the batting cages. Cambria, district director, is still hoping for a June opening date for the two baseball fields and two softball fields.

“We have to do some more work on the grass, but that should be finished in the spring,” she said, adding that a grand opening celebration is in the works. Naming of the four fields will probably honor the major donors of the $1 million dollar project.

Cambria hopes to attract regional baseball and softball teams to the area for two-day tournaments that will have a positive economic impact on local businesses. She said the COVID-19 pandemic did impact the delivery of materials, supplies and the availability of construction crews working on the collaborative effort.

With the long awaited opening day in sight, the district is soliciting money from local businesses for sponsorship banners to be placed strategically around the ballfields. Cambria said the banners will help the district recoup about $30,000 in unexpected overages.

On being named the Hotchkiss chamber non-profit of the year, she said, “I think this (ballfield complex) is really going to benefit Hotchkiss so I am really glad they recognized that. It’s a really big asset.”

Also, in the works is a trails system that will allow pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the North Fork of the Gunnison River at the Hotchkiss Fairgrounds and on to Crossroads Park. While the details haven’t been revealed, the county is working to purchase land and negotiate rights-of-way through private properties for the trail system.

Following the Hotchkiss chamber awards ceremony, members voted Mitch Swanda, Bank of Colorado-Hotchkiss, as president and Kim Shay, Ace Gambles owner, as vice-president. The chamber thanked outgoing president Nathan Sponseller for his 25 years on the board (17 years as president).

Sponseller will still be engaged but is stepping down to pursue other business opportunities. Sponseller was hired by the board as a part-time paid position to handle communications, advertising, and numerous other things to keep the Hotchkiss Community Chamber of Commerce running, Shay said.

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