Naive and idealistic notions

Essay by Ed Quillen

Colorado Central – December 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine

First, an apology. In this edition, we had planned to publish the second installment of an article about the future of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Central Corridor” in Central Colorado.

Alas, there’s only so much space, and Martha’s article about the social, economic, and cultural effects of the “art boom” hereabouts just kept growing. It’s a topic that could turn into a book if you’re not careful. And since this is book-shopping season for many people, we also wanted to run plenty of book reviews this month.

So look for the speculation about the railroad’s future next month, and note that we did manage to publish, on schedule, the second installment of Steve Voynick’s saga of the Climax Molybdenum Mine.

I learned two lessons from Steve’s work:

1) If there ever was such a thing as a “sustainable mine,” it was Climax before the 1958 merger with American Metals. While all mines eventually exhaust their deposits, Climax was then managed for orderly and sustained production. By keeping the price low, the company was assured of markets, and thus continued production.

2) The global market is a treacherous and volatile place. Once Climax got into that game, there was no escape, and this area suffered some brutal consequences.

But do those lessons mean anything? Perhaps. There’s a growing movement called “Wise Use,” led by “People for the West” — our congressman, Scott McInnis, belongs. They want public lands managed for more production, be that beef, minerals, or timber. Since much of their funding comes from multi-national mining corporations, you know they’re not talking about ma-and-pa operations.

The general problem with that approach is that when you’re producing commodities for the world market, you’re subject to those volatile price swings that killed Climax. It might be fun while it lasts, but these days, it’s not going to endure. Somebody somewhere will find a way to undercut you. There’s no way to bring back the “good old days” of such industrial jobs that offer good pay and benefits.

But what’s the alternative? To turn into a big version of Frontierland speckled with a few Disney Main Streets, or perhaps some upscale suburb?

Many of us live here because we cherish open space. One way to maintain open space is by governmental action. The recent election made it clear that we want less, not more, governmental action.

But perhaps we can maintain open space if we work toward an honest rural economy. If we encourage local production for local markets, then the open space is profitable, and it will remain without governmental involvement. And since the markets are local, not global, we’ve got a great deal to say about how they operate.

It is toward that goal that we run articles about places like Green Earth Farms in Saguache, or Len Lankford’s forestry in the Wet Mountain Valley (with the hope that Custer County will approve his small sawmill proposed near Wetmore).

We hope to do more — Scanga Meat near Salida, another maintainer of open space, innovative ranchers Mel Coleman and John Mattingly near Saguache, Steve Steinhoff’s potato crop outside Salida, small quarries, etc. We want to promote profitable open space and improved local producer-consumer links. If those efforts succeed, we should enjoy both open space and a thriving local economy.

Granted, that’s naive and idealistic, and perhaps an impossibility in this global era. But it’s a path worth exploring, and this is the season for some naive idealism.

— Ed Quillen