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Localizing the Code of the West

Letter from Mark Emmer

Code of the West – November 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Localizing the Code of the West


Some suggested local additions to the Code of the West:

The climate varies considerably throughout Central Colorado, from heavy snowfall and long winters in Leadville to Salida’s semi-desert. Reduce your expectations if you’re a serious vegetable gardener — cold mountain nights don’t count as full growing days. When planning your building design and site layout, consider the winter winds, which often blow from mid-morning until dusk and can make outdoor activities unpleasant.

Solar energy is abundant — house designs must be well thought out to take advantage of it in the winter without overheating in the summer. If you’re from an area of the country where it’s gray and cloudy all winter, and compass directions are interchangeable, learn about the direction South.

Our semi-arid climate has implications for landscaping and water needs — trees, windbreaks, and privacy screens are very slow growing.

Be aware of the fragility of native grasses and vegetation. People from wetter climates where things grow back quickly may be disappointed at a field of noxious weeds after a bulldozer has scraped and re-contoured a site. Successful developments minimize soil disturbances and work with the site.

Recreational activities vary throughout the year. Boating, fishing, hiking, hunting, snowmobiling and skiing activities that you do not see at one time of year may be intensive in other seasons, and may interfere with the enjoyment of your property. If your property borders a watercourse or a popular hiking or winter activity area, inquire as to the amount and timing of these activities.

If your property includes or borders a stream or river, be aware that under state law, you do not own the surface of the water, only the ground beneath it. You cannot exclude members of the public from floating through or by your property on the surface of the water, provided they do not touch the bottom.

Some local commercial rafting companies make noise, water fights, and general exhilaration a feature of the trips they sell. The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area works with local companies and landowners to resolve differences.

Trespass by recreationalists is an ongoing problem. Why do you think you see all those “Respect Private Property” bumper stickers?

Medical care: Chaffee County is fortunate in having the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, a financially sound and modern hospital. However, be aware that the range of services available and your choice of health providers are limited compared to a large city. Those involved in severe trauma who cannot be treated locally are evacuated to Colorado Springs and Denver by helicopter or ambulance, which may delay the time to treatment. The elevation varies from 6,500 to 10,000 feet — people with breathing or heart problems should consult their doctor.

Cultural Life: The range of plays, movies, and speakers is limited. Movies with subtitles, while not unheard of, are extremely rare. Salida-Aspen Concerts brings professional classical music here in the summer. There are an increasing number of artists and galleries in Salida and Buena Vista, and several amateur theater companies.

If that does not satisfy your needs, expect to travel to Denver or Colorado Springs for museums, concerts, plays, and movies.

You are probably used to being anonymous in a large city. You will not be so in a small rural community. Get a speeding ticket, and acquaintances will comment about it to you when they read your name in the newspaper’s court proceedings. Remember too that personal behavior tolerated in a large city may not be acceptable to existing residents. Fast driving, cutting people off, and general rude behavior are frowned upon. Besides, you moved here to slow down and find a sense of community, didn’t you?

Consumerism: Shopping here may mean higher prices and a more limited selection than in large cities. Despite that, existing residents recognize the need to support local merchants so they’ll be there when you need something in a hurry. And local merchants support the community through their many public and volunteer efforts. You don’t see Denver stores contributing to the Library Building Fund drive, do you?

Guns and motorheads are part of the established culture. Deal with it.

Finally, you’re moving here because you liked what you saw when you visited. But what you saw in casual visits is only a small part of the area’s culture and values. Show some good sense by really getting to know the area and its people before deciding you want to change things.

Mark Emmer