Just another suburb in east L.A.

Essay by Martha And Ed Quillen

March 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine

That might be where Central Colorado is bound, now that the national media have changed us from “America’s Outback” into “Boom Time in the Rockies.”

Which gives us a choice.

We can sit back and allow the national media to define us and our landscape, with predictable consequences — consider what happened to Santa Fe after Esquire devoted a cover story to that small, idyllic place in 1979.

Or we can use the same tools to define ourselves and our region, to refine and cultivate our own visions of life in Central Colorado, so that we can preserve and enhance those qualities that make this a unique and special place.

With that in mind, we’re starting this regional monthly magazine.

We’ve decided to focus on this part of Colorado because, even though its population is dispersed, the communities have much in common — they’re not in the resort belt, but they’re facing a new real estate boom. All around, there’s a feeling that something is happening here to cause rapid change and widespread confusion.

Political boundaries don’t describe our region with any precision, but they’re easy to find on a map: All of Chaffee, Lake, Custer, and Saguache counties, as well as Park County from Kenosha and Wilkinson passes westward, Fremont County west of Parkdale, and the eastern fringe of the Gunnison Country.

This area extends from Leadville and Fairplay on the north, to Crestone on the south, and from Gunnison on the west to Westcliffe and Texas Creek in the east. It includes all of the northern segment of what Spanish Explorers once called the Finger of God, a vast passage of linking valleys cutting right through the highest of the Rockies. We have also included those communities which modern people have connected to that historical passage with highways.

For the most part, we have old towns, timeworn, but well-preserved — and proud of their history. These towns are located in counties where mining, logging, ranching, tourism and commerce have managed to co-exist — albeit not always without sparring.

Ours are the towns Denver newscasters chronically mispronounce — towns sitting right in the center of Colorado, but separated from the rest of the state, and from each other, by monumental geography. Stringtown lies a mere twenty miles from Aspen, Leadville a similar distance from Fairplay, and Crestone an equal distance from Westcliffe. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy to get from one place to another.

For our towns, geography has been destiny. They were more connected with the outside world in the 1880’s than they are today. Now, scheduled air service into this area is virtually non-existent, and even the bus lines miss most of our towns.

But times are changing. Better phone service, fax machines, cable television and satellite dishes are putting us back into the picture. Throughout this region, a boom is underway. Like prospectors after gold, newcomers are rushing in and staking claims.

People are drawn to this area because of what it has to offer — relatively undeveloped vistas surrounding picturesque small towns with historical integrity, reasonable real estate prices, and moderate taxes. But Aspen, Sante Fe, Crested Butte and Telluride prove that such assets can be as ephemeral as the golden aspen leaves.

Generally, Colorado’s history has been one of boom times followed by decades of damage assessment and repair. Past booms have left us with mine dumps, contaminated soil, displaced native populations, substandard water and sewage systems, dangerously overcrowded highways into once remote towns, environmental damage, and due to spiraling taxes and prices, more and more cities incapable of providing adequate housing for laborers, teachers, firemen, policemen and those people who were born there.

With Colorado Central, we want to keep people informed about developing problems before they’re insoluble. Central Colorado is where we’ve lived and worked for the past 15 years, and it’s a region that was exploited by outside mining and meat-packing industries for a century, then basically abandoned by mainstream America in the 1980s when commodity prices plunged. Those of us who were here went through some hard times together, and now we need to find ways to cope with changing times.

In the 90s, we’ll be seeing the “New Economy” of telecommuters and “lone eagles” — people who can make a living in a community without relying on the local economy. Right now, second-home sales are booming, along with the risk of turning wide open spaces into sprawling suburbs.

Often newcomers see underpopulated areas as essentially empty, and therefore seek to fill them — showing little regard for the citizens who already live there.

With Colorado Central, we want to make our culture visible. We intend to explore our rich blend of population by examining different viewpoints, including the newcomer’s, the rancher’s, the artist’s, the outfitter’s and the businessman’s.

Tourism has been a mainstay of this region for more than a century. Long before the brothels closed and the trains quit stopping here, tourists came to see our breathtaking mountain realm, rich in gold and scenic wonders.

But tourism has its drawbacks. It’s a low-paying service industry, which increases the population needing public services without proportionally increasing the number of taxpayers. Tourists want a place that’s fun to visit — so they worry more about the parks than the schools, more about the golf course than the library, and more about the hiking trails than the sewer lines.

Recreation is coming to the forefront, but if it grows unchecked, we could become a theme park where tourists expect to be treated as honored guests by citizens reduced to little more than animated entertainment. Such a fate has beleaguered northern New Mexico, causing both racial strife and economic disparity.

Even though our area doesn’t share New Mexico’s unique blend of Spanish and Indian heritage, our population does include cowboys, loggers, miners, and outdoorsmen who sometimes seem equally exotic to urban tourists. Unfortunately, exotic people are often viewed as both attractive and repulsive, and thus, in Aspen, development has led to fierce political battles pitting vegetarians against hunters, ranchers, and trappers, and environmentalists against loggers and miners.

In the years to come, one of our major challenges will be learning how to extend a hearty welcome without encouraging invasion, because personally, we don’t want to be wearing Disneyesque costumes in a derivative Frontierland or Adventureland or Main Street, U.S.A. Nor do we want to see our region turn into an elite enclave, with all of the old-timers pushed out the way the Indians once were.

We want an interesting, diverse population who share our “sense of place,” working in a diversified local economy where we have recreation and lone eagles, but also an honest rural economy which includes some ranching, logging, farming, and mining.

To achieve that goal, we need to build a sense of community in Central Colorado — in other words, a local culture.

What do we mean by culture?

Frank Browning, author of Culture of Desire, came closest when he said “That’s what a culture is. It’s a dream of a place on earth. That’s all it is.”

We all have our dreams of a place on earth, and we try to fulfill those dreams amid the peaks and valleys of Central Colorado.

Colorado Central will provide a way for us to communicate among ourselves, to share our visions and make this a better place to live and work. It’s important to consider both. Places where people only “live” are suburbs. Places where people only “work” are factories. A place where people commit to both is a community, and that’s what we need.

What will happen if we don’t build that sense of community? Recent water wars are a good example. While Aurora went after Union Park water on the upper Gunnison, AWDI was after groundwater in the San Luis Valley, and Colorado Springs announced plans to dam the Arkansas. Local opposition staved off those water projects for the time being, but new water diversions will be proposed — and they will be proposed before any meaningful conservation methods have been adopted by the front range cities.

Meanwhile, the ranching, fishing, and rafting industries need that water to stay right where it is. So why don’t the Front Range cities use zoning and economic incentives to discourage their overuse of water for its primary purpose — lawns?

As Randy Russell, a rural economic planner, points out, “Real conservation measures never go into effect until a crisis is reached.” And that is the crux of the matter. Whose crisis matters?

Surely not ours. Unless a tornado runs down one of our Main Streets, destroying everything in its path, the governor is not likely to notice such small towns.

And why should he, when we so rarely notice one another?

Some of the towns in Central Colorado have been rivals since the beginning, and they still play out their ancient feuds. An argument between Salida and Buena Vista over the placement of the county courthouse started in the 1880s and still comes into play today — even though the courthouse has now been in Salida for over half a century.

Such factionalism weakens us politically, and makes it possible for water grabbers, developers and exploiters to divide and conquer.

Besides, we have much in common. History, scenery, recreation, Victorian architecture and a new prosperity — these are what we should share.

In general we feel the towns in Central Colorado have been well served by local newspapers and radio. But standard journalism focuses on incidents, not trends, patterns, visions, causes and culture. They cover the meetings, but don’t provide a perspective. Or, as George Bernard Shaw said, “Newspapers cannot tell the difference between a bicycle accident and the end of Western Civilization.”

Shaw was unfair, because a bicycle accident might be more final than the end of Western Civilization — to the person on the bike. Thus, local events are important.

But the immediacy of newspapers and radio does distort news. A newspaper’s devotion to timeliness tends to make whatever happened most recently, be it Jennifer Flowers or Dan Quayle’s spelling of potato, rise out of all proportion. (Just through curiosity, does anyone else remember Gerald Ford’s shrunken trousers?)

At a national level a plethora of periodicals even out this tendency. On television there are Nightline, and many magazine-format shows like 60 Minutes. In print, there are news magazines and journals offering political commentary, such as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, National Review and The Nation. Such supplementary publications are needed, because small daily and weekly newspapers haven’t the time nor the staff to look at stories in depth.

We know, because we’ve been there. There’s just too much to handle — school lunch menus, car wrecks, city and county meetings, births, weddings, obituaries, calendars, school sports, bake sales, service clubs, awards, commemorations, holidays, crime reports, businesses, and legal announcements, until the big picture gets lost, since there’s no way to fit it in anyway.

We don’t want to compete with the existing media; we want to complement them. There are things they can do very well that a regional monthly magazine can’t do, and conversely, there are things we can do that just won’t fit into their formats and deadlines.

Our mission:

1 To provide an overview. To take an in-depth look at some of the issues facing our region, and to offer a forum for the people living here. Since we share many of the same problems, we need to get to know our neighbors, then maybe we can also share some solutions.

2 To build a sense of community across 8,000 square miles. All too often, there’s an interesting lecture, play or concert in Westcliffe, Crestone, or Leadville, but we don’t know about it in Salida, Coaldale, or Saguache. All too often, there’s a water grab or a mining scheme where nearby residents could use some help in preserving their community — except we don’t know about it.

3 To get a handle on the changes in the New West. We know real-estate prices are rising rapidly — but why? We really don’t have anything we didn’t have ten years ago, when low-priced property stayed on the market for years. Who’s moving here? Is it really cashed-out Californians, or burned-out Boulderites, or is it even safe to generalize? What do the new residents expect from local institutions like schools and law enforcement? What is their vision of this place on earth? Is our new prosperity here to stay, or could it leave us struggling once again, as it did after the Silver Panic in 1893, and after the collapse of several mining ventures in the 1980’s.

That’s why we’re launching Colorado Central. We keep hearing that “this area really needs a good regional magazine, something like the Texas Observer, Northern Lights, or High Country News, but focused on our part of the world.” And there’s a saying that “Those who can, must.”

Well, we can. Our editor, Ed Quillen, came to Salida in 1978 to serve as managing editor of The Mountain Mail, where he worked until 1983, when he began to write full-time. Ed is an award-winning regular op-ed columnist for The Denver Post. He’s written, co-written or ghost-written 15 books, and No. 16, Is Denver Necessary?, will be published in the next year by University Press of Colorado. Ed’s work has appeared in dozens of national and regional magazines, and he knows the computers and desktop-publishing systems that produce Colorado Central.

Our publisher, Martha Quillen, has been married to Ed for almost 25 years. She and Ed owned the Middle Park Times in Kremmling for three of those years, and she has worked as a newspaper production manager and classified advertising manager. She’s strong on details and bookkeeping, places where Ed is weak, her work has appeared in many newspapers and magazines, and she’s written several pseudonymous Westerns for the Trailsman series.

Others will certainly be a part of this enterprise; we’ve already been pleasantly surprised by the willingness of so many to contribute their talents to help us get started.

Colorado Central will be an attractive magazine, but not a slick one. For one thing, the only slick aspect of Central Colorado is the condition of our highways in the winter. For another, we’re starting on a shoestring that doesn’t allow for expensive coated paper and costly color separations. And we want Colorado Central to be a showcase for local talent, which means using the resources available here, rather than shipping it to a distant printing plant.

During its start-up phase, the New Yorker defined itself as “not for the little old lady in Dubuque.” We define Colorado Central as “the magazine that we, ourselves, would like to read about the part of the world we call home.”

With that as our guiding principle, Colorado Central should serve readers and advertisers in Central Colorado well. More importantly, it will help us create and nurture a regional culture that will make this an even better place to live and work.