Award-Winning North Fork Airport

Dec 24, 2012

Mike Clawson.
Credit Marty Durlin

Colorado Pilot’s Association for exceptional service and facilities. Last week, airport manager Mike Clawson accepted another award from the Delta County Commissioners, noting the accomplishment. KVNF’s Marty Durlin has the story.

The small airport, owned and funded jointly by the County and the Town of Paonia, has garnered a reputation throughout the state for its friendly service and low gasoline prices. Mike Clawson has been managing the facility for about three years, but his parents Dick and Martha Clawson ran the airfield for more than 30 years before him. When his dad died in 2009, Clawson, formerly a coal miner, took it over. Under his watch, the airport has grown.

"The internet makes the world a small place. People will plan their stops around this airport. They’ll plan their stop around competitive fuel prices…plus the produce, the wineries, the Black Canyon, the hunting."
The 4500-foot runway can accommodate turbo jets and helicopters – one hangared there is owned by Bill Koch. But most of the traffic consists of light planes owned by local farmers, ranchers and business people, as well as recreationalists and those stopping to refuel on long journeys. The bustling airport is attracting new fans -- Paonia’s mayor Neil Schweiterman just got his pilot’s license. Clawson says many people have misconception about the airport.

"People think it’s a playground. But it plays a vital role in the community. See that tank there? Four years ago we had some fires here local, they used this, loaded water out of here and dropped it on the fire. About two weeks ago, the BLM did aerial seeding, up to Oak Mesa and beyond Paonia. It has in the past been used for medical flight. So it’s not just fun and games, there’s a business side to it as well."

The airport has a large hangar, which belongs to the county and serves as the maintenance area, plus 11 hangars privately owned. Larry Garrett, a commercial pilot and flight instructor, houses his five small planes at the North Fork Airport.

"I tow gliders, I also have towed banners out of that airport, I’ve given instruction, lessons, but really what I like to do most is conduct scenic tours around this awesome valley. In an hour I can cover Grand Mesa, the Ragged Mountains, the West Elks, the Black Canyon and then be back home."

Clawson sold nearly twice as much fuel this year as in 2010, which he attributes to his gas prices. Being the only airport employee allow him to keep the prices low. He also recently added a courtesy car and two courtesy bicycles he lends to pilots and their passengers who want to go into town.