Latest News – September 11

Fall Colors “Take-Off” at America’s Highest Airport

There’s little doubt that North America’s Highest Airport has become a shining example of how grant, and tax-funded,  government projects, can not only drive responsible development in a rural community, but that the facility’s expansion has created sustainable revenue streams to help pay for those projects.


Over the last decade, the Leadville/Lake County Airport has seen slow, steady responsible development. Photo: Leadville Today

Over the past decade, the airport’s operations upgrades and expansions have demonstrated a slow, well-planned responsible growth. A new office, upgraded rental car presence from Hertz, upgraded fuel station after a relocation of tanks, extra storage facility for airport and emergency equipment, and the Hangar One construction, have this county-owned and maintained regional airport taking a “Top Gun” place.

But the truth is, that the success is more likely attributed to good old-fashioned common sense, along with a solid vision, good plan, and consist hard work that has seen the airport’s success stay the course. From the airport’s advisory board, to the Lake County Public Works (LCPW) department meeting construction goals, to steady commitment from the Lake County Board of Commissioners, all the way on up to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Leadville Airport is a good example of genuine collaboration with real results.

So what are the benefits to all the airport expansion? Whether its fees associated with using the facility for high altitude training, fuel sales, or parking and storage charges with the completion of Hangar One, the Leadville Airport’s budget continues to tally the revenue. Combine that with a staff that seems to have stabilized with the restructuring, opting for Co-Manager positions (SEE Meet The Staff Story below) has established a solid future for this county-owned facility.

So why not come and see it for yourself? Next Saturday, Sept. 16 the skies and the runways will be busy with visitors for the 9th Annual Fly In/Drive In Pancake Breakfast. In fact, if you love airplanes and airports, or if you haven’t been up to the Leadville/Lake County Airport in a while, the Fly In/Drive-In is a great time to check out all of the upgrades and meet the new staff. So join the party, next Saturday, the pancake breakfast kicks off at 8 a.m., serving up a delicious plate of breakfast fare for only $6. The event runs until 11 a.m., so get there early to see all of the planes arriving and taking off at North America’s Highest Airport!

Meet The Staff at the Leadville/Lake County Airport

Ladies and Gentleman, this is your pilot speaking. Please take a moment to get to know the staff at the Leadville/Lake County Airport!

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Leadville/Lake County Airport Co-Managers Kelsey Godonis (left) and Maddie Hafner (right) share responsibilities at North America’ s Highest Airport, with some help from their trusty companion, Lambeau. Photo: Leadville Today/Kathy Bedell.

While the airport has expanded at a slow and steady pace over the past decade, facility management has looked more like a constantly changing departure and arrival schedule, cycling through personnel on a somewhat regular basis. And while there appears to be no real reason other than the usual transient workforce, especially in rural communities, 2017 has seen the airport staff stabilize. 

This time around, Lake County Public Works Director Brad Palmer, whose department oversees airport management, decided to approach the situation differently, creating two co-managers, with more shared responsibility to help with possible future transitions should the trend continue. So far, the new model seems to be working.

“We’ve got two great people up there now and with new training under their belts, we’re ready for the next phase of the plan,” stated Palmer.2017_Fly In_Drive In_Airport

So meet Madeline Hafner and Kelsey Godonis, the Leadville/Lake County Airport Operations Co-Managers.

Madeline (Maddie) Hafner might have the typical ski bum story of arriving for work one winter at Copper Mountain nearly ten years ago and never leaving, but it’s her skill-set with big equipment that traced her path to North America’s Highest Airport. After leaving the ski industry, Hafner went on to work  at the nearby Climax Mine where she learned to operate a lot of the heavy equipment necessary to extract the minerals form the ground ; an experience which stacked the deck in her favor when it came time to apply for her original position of Airport Operation Technician in 2016. When it came to re-structuring the airport operations staff, Hafner was a natural to share the new position as Co-Manager of the Airport.

During her time in Leadville, Hafner went on to secure her Associate’s Degree from Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, met and married her husband Todd Presley, who she happily lives with in Leadville along with their three dogs.

Kelsey Godonis is a mid-westerner from the Chicagoland area, where she grew up there most of her life. Godonis eventually went to school at Minot North Dakota, “where I ended up working at the airport gaining lots of experience,” she exaplined during an interview with Leadville today.

“But I grew up going to air shows,” she continued. “I went annually with my father (who is a pilot) to the Oskgosh air show.”

After graduation Godonis moved in with her parents who had retired to Buena Vista, paving her path to North America’s Highest Airport. She has been on the job as airport operations co-manager for several months now.

So what’s next for the Leadville/Lake County Airport? Both women agreed that continuing to expanded the high altitude and military testing and training operation is a big part of the plan. Not only do those types of operation provide a sustainable revenue stream for the airport, but the community sees the benefits through lodging and restaurants reservations.


Wasting no time in making a return on the investment, the first jet owned by a group from Kentucky, found shelter in the new Hangar One immediately after the Grand Opening held Jan. 17, 2015. Photo: Leadville Today

And certainly as Colorado’s popularity and population continues to expand, regional airports in the high country feel that traffic and Leadville could continue to see some spill-over benefits from neighboring airports as small jets choose Leadville over more congested runways and hangar space.

But the number one reason that people fly into Leadville had been the same since the beginning, it’s that special “passport stamp.” The one that says you’ve just landed in North America’s Highest Airport!

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