At Community Builders, a great deal of our work’s purpose is to inspire local leaders to make their community stronger. But, sometimes, it’s those leaders that inspire us.
Jen Taylor is one of those. She’s a deeply involved, local advocate in Grand Junction, Colorado. This is where I met her, while on a recent visit for our technical assistance project with Downtown Grand Junction, Vibrant Together.
Although Jen is currently settled in Grand Junction (GJ), focusing on real estate, there’s much more to her story than selling property. Growing up in a small town in Indiana, it’s her adventures in life that have carved her path and determined the fundamentals of how she operates.
Originally planning to study marine biology in California, a spring break trip to Colorado persuaded her to attend Denver University, instead (where she was the only student studying marine biology). After college, Taylor turned down a career opportunity at the Denver Zoo to move to Telluride and pursue mountain biking. She met her husband-to-be at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and later followed him to Grand Junction.
“I never intended to stay, but within a year of being in Grand Junction, I decided there was no other place I wanted to live and raise a family,” Taylor said. “What sets Grand Junction apart from every other community I’ve had the privilege to visit is the unrivaled access to public lands. And to back it up, we’ve got the most incredible advocacy community here—non-profits, private individuals, and public agencies that all work together. It’s a reflection of that triangulation that together advocate, create, and maintain this network of trails.”
With her cycling background and passion for outdoor recreation, her career path followed. From starting a manufacturing hub for DT Swiss, owning an outdoor apparel company, and branding the outdoor recreation company, Mountain Khakis, Taylor has first-hand experience with the importance of outdoor recreation in a community.
“There are people in places like Denver that are fed up with congestion, lack of access, and are spending a large portion of their day stuck behind a wheel, when they could be here, living five minutes from incredible access to world class open space,” Taylor said.
It’s because of this unawareness that Taylor has spent much of her career advocating for GJ. A large-scale project she started was the MOG Festival, which features an outdoor gear sale and bike swap. She wanted to bring outdoor-centric people and brands to the community to celebrate the town and potentially move their businesses there.
As an individual, Taylor never passed up the opportunity to advocate for GJ.
“Everywhere I went, wherever I travelled, I made sure people knew about Grand Junction and told our story,” Taylor said. “I was one of many who has beat that drum overtime, and it’s starting to catch on. You can feel the sand shift.”
It’s the community’s adaptation that has allowed for Taylor’s more recent endeavors.
She spearheaded the development of the bike park at the Lunch Loops trailhead, was a member of the Outdoor Recreation Coalition in GJ, and was asked by Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper to join the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.
Beyond all those accomplishments, Taylor has had a particular vision for the community—one that’s taken 16 years to come together.
It started on a vacation with her best friend and their families to Baja, Mexico, and Taylor was on a mission to find the best fish tacos. While she didn’t accomplish her goal, she had an “arrival of vision” for El Jet’s Cantina, a restaurant she wanted to open on the river in GJ.
On the way home from the trip, Taylor created the framework for a business plan. The plan has since been developed into a greater city plan for the development site at Dos Rios. Taylor has worked with the city over the past three and a half years to get the momentum rolling on the project.
“At the beginning, I got really frustrated. I felt like I was pulling this lead sled along. But, what I’ve come to understand is that the city was only playing their role,” Taylor said. “It’s not really the city’s role to be the visionary. It’s the private sector’s job to take these projects to the city and ask, ‘how can we do this together?’ And once I realized that, things started to come together.”
It’s this idea of togetherness within a community that Taylor firmly believes in.
“I have developed a very strong opinion on community involvement and it’s summarized into ‘show up or shut up,’” Taylor said. “If you’ve got thoughts on how your community can be better, you damn well better show up. And if you’ve got complaints about how your community isn’t to your standard, then get involved. There is no excuse.”