In area anyway, Silver Cliff is area’s largest town

Brief by Central Staff

Population – December 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

One cold and windy night, our car was making strange noises as we returned to Salida from Trinidad, through the Wet Mountain Valley. We hadn’t seen another car since Gardner, so we were relieved when we spotted the “Silver Cliff City Limits” sign. But we still had to drive for a while before we actually saw even a street light of Silver Cliff — the town limits extend far beyond the town’s habitations.

Indeed, by that measure, with 15.62 square miles inside its incorporated boundaries, Silver Cliff in Custer County is the largest town in Central Colorado, using numbers based on the 2000 census. The closest competitor is Cañon City, 12.02 square miles, and no other place even comes close to 10 square miles.

Nationally, Sitka, Alaska, has the largest area, 2,874 square miles. That was the result of a 2000 consolidation of the city and its borough, and now there are glaciers and ice fields in the city limits. Geographers call this an “overbounded city” because its boundaries, like Silver Cliff’s, extend well beyond its developed area. In the lower 48 states, the largest city area belongs to Jacksonville, Florida, with 758 square miles.

So if Silver Cliff has 15.62 square miles, and only 512 residents, for 32.8 people per square mile, surely it must have the lowest population density in Central Colorado?

Not in 2000, anyway, the most recent year for which such statistics are available.

That honor belonged to Bonanza in Saguache County. It has 0.44 square miles for its population of 14, or 31.9 people per square mile. But just one person moving in would raise that to 34 people per square mile. So we’re inclined to give the honor of “least densely populated municipality in Central Colorado” to Silver Cliff, since the distinction seems more stable.

As to the smallest area, both Crestone and Hooper in Saguache County list 0.25 square miles — about 160 acres — as their areas, followed closely by Pitkin in Gunnison County at 0.27 square miles.

Now let’s look again at density — people per square mile. Colorado averages 41.5. Denver has 3,616.8. The densest zone in the state is the Denver suburb of Glendale at 8,241. Nationally, New York City leads at 26,403.

The highest density hereabouts is the town of Center, which straddles Saguache and Rio Grande counties, at 2,854.3, followed by Leadville, 2,659.5; La Jara, 2,481.2; Salida, 2,480.1; and Monte Vista, 2,390.1. They’re all denser than Colorado Springs at 1,942.9.

Among the least dense, after Bonanza and Silver Cliff, are Moffat, 82.3; Blanca, 219.6; South Fork, 255.2; Crestone, 367.1; Westcliffe, 414.3; and Poncha Springs, 414.3.

Population density has its good points (cheaper public services) and bad (congestion). But if we like open space outside towns, we need density inside towns.