FT. COLLINS - While some love college students and others' opinions border on hatred, one thing people can agree upon is how busy things get in Fort Collins during the first few weeks of the fall semester.
After the slow hum of summer, there are more vehicles and bikes on the road. Wait times at restaurants are often longer, and the Old Town scene becomes rowdy enough to turn some away.
Quite simply, with the influx of thousands of Colorado State University students, residents and businesses alike adjust to a new normal.
"I pretty much forgot it was a college town in the summer," said Austin Day, who doesn't attend CSU but lives with several students in a house at the corner of Laurel Street and Grant Avenue.
Day, Kevin Chow, Daniel Hansen and others played ping-pong Sunday afternoon on a dirt lawn, as a green and gold-striped, Ram-pride flag waved gently from a nearby street sign. Their home sits directly across Laurel from a line of dorms on the CSU campus' north side and is an ideal vantage point from which to see the hustle and bustle of a new school year.
"It became, like, a city in a night," Chow, a three-year resident, said of dorms lit up by thousands of new, mostly freshmen residents.
It's hard to say just how many students stick around over the summer versus the number who return to campus each fall. While the September census will paint a more complete picture, preliminary numbers from CSU show roughly 4,400 freshman moved into the dorms Aug. 22, down from 4,544 last year.
This surprised Kat Mueller, who lives with her husband Geoff about a block north of campus on Monte Vista Avenue.
Geoff works from home, but Kat drives to work each day to The Screamin Peach waxing studio just down the road on South College Avenue. The drive that used to take 2 minutes has climbed to 10 minutes in the past couple weeks in "mega traffic," she said, and biking isn't an option because she travels daily between the 638 S. College Ave. and 4414 S. College Ave. locations.
Monte Vista Avenue is inhabited mostly by homeowners and is usually "pretty quiet," the young couple said. However, the number of parties (and party-related noises) seem to be more frequent and intense than last year, they said, joking, perhaps, it's become more acute as they've grown old and bitter with time.
"I think the swell just seems bigger after a quiet summer," Kat concluded.
Nearby on Pioneer Avenue, Becky Cramer and her husband Truby Voglund took a break from gardening and grocery duties to reflect on how their rhythms morph each fall. The answer? Not so much.
"I don't know that it changes our behavior," Cramer said, adding they "live in the thick of it" and expect a flurry of activity living close to CSU's campus.
Cramer said she made a point to welcome new student neighbors and told them parties are OK, as long as they clean up after. The couple also tells their three children to be extra cautious riding bikes around the neighborhood because Cramer said college-age drivers aren't always aware of cyclists in the road.
There are people who don't like students. Their parties are noisy. Drunken students stagger up streets around campus trolling for parties. And their trash often ends up in long-term residents' yards. All of these are things CSU and the city seek to end by educating students and long-term residents on harmonious living through programs such as Community Welcome, which took place Aug. 28.
But there's another downside, Voglund said: "Get rid of the university and the town falls apart."
The long-time residents' opinions were echoed in comments on the Coloradoan's Facebook page posted in response to a question about how life changes with the return of college students.
Several people said they change their routes to work and school, with some skirting more than a few parts of town. "Avoid Shields, Laurel, College, Old Town, Elizabeth, and the full zip code," Colin Garfield said.
Nikki Marlenee wrote: "I love the youthful vibe of a college town! The chaos that comes with it is a small price to pay." Miles Baker and Eric Sonnhalter said they steer clear of "all of Old Town and the entire College area" and Cafe Mexicali, respectively, but like the boost to the local economy students bring with them.
"We've seen a change in the overall demographics since school's back in session," said Christopher Lieb, a bartender/server at Black Bottle Brewery.
More groups of students have come in, said Lieb, adding, "We've been growing some new regulars." Located next to The Summit on College apartment complex, those at Black Bottle expect to see even more entering the brewery's doors in time.
Over at Momo Lolo Coffee House in Campus West, owner Colin Gerety took a break from playing the flute, alongside Lynnet Bannion on the piano, to chat Sunday. He said things get lively around Fort Collins this time of year but that might explain why his store is doing just OK at present.
There are two basic economies in Fort Collins, Gerety said: beer and coffee. When one is up, the other is down.
"When it comes to tests and studying, the coffee economy goes up and the beer economy goes down," he said, smiling from behind a music stand.
Right now, beer is winning. He knows, however, that students will fill his store come the semester's first tests.
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