In the first decade of the 21st Century, newcomers filled manufactured houses and million-dollar golf course mansions to make New Castle one of Colorado’s biggest boomtowns and Garfield County the state’s fastest-growing county outside the metro suburbs. But after two booming decades, the region staggered under the recession.
When the recession ended the boom times of the first decade of the 21st Century, it left the lights out in thousands of unoccupied homes across the region. In western Garfield County, where residents fled due to the recession and vanishing jobs in the gas patch, nearly one in three homes were left empty.
The biggest demographic shift in the region is the boom of the Hispanic population. It’s seen most sharply in New Castle, where the Hispanic population grew five times larger over the course of a decade. Two counties are a third Hispanic, and in some towns, Hispanic children outnumber Anglo children.
The region’s growing Hispanic population likely will force county clerks in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties to publish bilingual ballots. As Hispanics make up a larger population of potential voters, Democrats see Latinos, who helped push President Obama to victory in 2008, as a pool of largely untapped voters in this region. Republicans see them as value-based voters they could lure.
A sign thanks firefighters at the Fourmile Fire in Boulder, Colo. David Frey photo.
The Fourmile Fire became the most destructive in Colorado history, and a reminder of the dangers of living where civilization meets the wild.
Mark Wischmeyer looked out across Fourmile Canyon and saw smoke rising into the sky over Gold Hill.
A volunteer firefighter in Jamestown, Colo., 14 miles northwest of Boulder, Wischmeyer chalked it up to a Labor Day barbecue.
Then he saw another trail of smoke. Then another, with a peculiar orange glow.
It was nearly 10 a.m. Wischmeyer pulled out his fire radio for news, and he pulled out his cell phone to capture videos of the fire, already spreading. Gusting wind nearly knocked him over.
“I have a fire at 100 Emerson Gulch,” a witness reported to emergency dispatchers. “Trees are beginning to burn.”
When firefighters arrived, eight minutes later, the fire was raging. (more…)
The Democratic National Convention won’t exactly be in friendly territory when the curtain rises in Denver on Monday. Colorado is one of the hottest battleground states in the country, and as pundits point to the West as a critical region for the next president to win, the Centennial State, with its nine Electoral College votes, is rising to the top of the list.
Barack Obama was declared the Democratic nominee for president on Wednesday in Denver after the New Mexico delegation stepped aside to allow Obama’s former rival, Hillary Clinton, to ask delegates to name him the first black presidential candidate from a major party.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, one night before he is to appear at Invesco Field at Mile High to a massive crowd.
Top Western Democrats took the podium at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Wednesday, highlighting the region’s resurgence in the party. Few, though, made reference to the region they call home. From Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., to Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Wednesday night featured some of the biggest Democratic names in the West.
As gas prices rose, so did John McCain’s popularity. That’s no coincidence, agreed a panel of environmental thinkers gathered a few blocks away from the Democratic National Convention in Denver. And, they said, that’s the Democrats fault. “Average people paying $4 at the pump were saying, ‘OK, what’s the plan?’ and there wasn’t a plan,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a former two-term governor.
The Latino vote has never been as important or as heavily sought as in this election. That’s particularly true in the West, where critical battleground states also have large Hispanic populations. “The Latino vote is going to elect the next president,” says Federico Peña, the former Denver mayor and member of President Clinton’s cabinet who serves as co-chairman of Obama’s campaign.
Thursday may have been Barack Obama’s turn to light up the Democratic National Convention, but it was Colorado’s day in the sun. “It’s fitting to have the eyes of the nation on Colorado,” said Rep. Mark Udall, whose father Mo made an unsuccessful presidential bid and addressed the Democratic National Convention 32 years earlier. “It’s fitting that the change we need in Washington starts here in the Rocky Mountain West.”
The Democratic National Convention is in the West, and to at least some degree, the West is in the convention. As Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper greeted the delegates, he made much of the West and the lessons it offers Democrats – and not necessarily the ones you’d expect. “Remember,” Hickenlooper said. “There were a lot more barn-raisings than there were shootouts in the Old West.”
Marge Paraham wasn’t expecting Barack Obama to stop by her T-shirt stand in downtown Denver. And he didn’t. But it sure looked like he did. Meet Gerardo Puisseaux, a Cuban immigrant who shares Obama’s striking appearance, even his charisma, but not his gift for words. Not in English, anyway. Puisseau speaks mostly Spanish.
David Frey’s off-season journey through some of the Rockies’ premier ski resort towns took him in search of the “next Aspen,” whatever that might mean. “Aspenization” is seen as either a blessing or a curse in ski towns, and in this five-part series, David sets out to find out which is which in Western towns that along with their neighbors, have undergone some of the most dramatic recent changes in the West.
Where Are All the Ski Bums?
A week before the slopes are set to open for winter, Park City, Utah’s streets – wet with rain that can’t bring itself to turn into snow – are nearly empty. It is the depths of off-season, when tourists and part-timers are gone and resort towns turn themselves back to the locals. So where are the locals? As I walk down the street, I can’t help but feeling a little like this old mining town has become a ghost town. More…
A Five-Star Dilemma
At the foot of the Sun Valley resort, Ketchum, Idaho has avoided much of the glitz that has defined other resorts. It clings to a funky, middle-of-nowhere quality that attracted many here in the first place. Main Street still hosts locals’ watering holes and homey bookstores, not oxygen bars or fur shops. You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Gap. Besides the downtown Starbucks – which many locals avoided for years out of principle – major chains are just about nonexistent. More …
It’s a Community. Is It a Town?
Big Sky, Mont., is an awkward community. Ski bums, international workers, young professionals, retiring baby boomers and wealthy second-homeowners are strung out across scattered subdivisions below three ski resorts. There’s the canyon, at the bottom; the meadow, halfway up, and the mountain, where Big Sky Resort, Moonlight Basin and members-only Yellowstone Club lie. It’s a community, but is it a town? More…
‘Every Town Has its Song’
Jackson Hole, Wyo., has tried hard to cling to its Western heritage, even as it becomes an international playground for the super-wealthy. Boardwalks still line the streets and echo with a satisfying thud under foot. The downtown is lined with Old West facades, even if national retailers like Eddie Bauer and Coldwater Creek lie inside. Jackson, though, is a place that has struggled as much as any Western resort town with the price of popularity. More…
Devil or Guardian Angel?
Resort towns invariably look at Aspen, Colo. as the Glitter Gulch they don’t want to become. But as the resort economy sucks them in, they look to Aspen for the way out. The town they considered the devil becomes their guardian angel. More…
Workers add a length of pipe on a Garfield County drill rig. David Frey photo.
Susan Haire had taken just one step out of her pickup truck near her home above Battlement Mesa when an excruciating headache overcame her and she nearly passed out. She had been complaining of odd symptoms for months — chronic sinus problems, strange nerve sensations up and down her legs — but nothing like this.
“It came on me like someone had hit both sides of my head with boards and I started to collapse,” said Haire, who was irrigating near a gas well when the incident occurred last June.
She has since complained of dizziness, disorientation and chemical sensitivity, and has taken to wearing breathing masks and respirators when she works outside to protect her from fumes she says she notices when others don’t. (more…)
This western Colorado big-sky country has long been ranchland. In recent years it’s become home to urban refugees and retirees. Now, it’s the target of energy companies in search of what is believed to be one of the nation’s richest reserves of natural gas as the Rockies become central to the country’s energy future.
Landowners have complained that the increased activity has wreaked havoc on the rural area: New roads have scarred the landscape; equipment and traffic has created noise and pollution; wildlife has been scared away; massive compressor stations have been built to keep the wells pumping. They fear the drilling could damage or decrease their well water, and the industrial activity will harm their property values.
As the landscape is transformed by the gas industry, local officials are left with little control, with the state claiming authority over the industry. But a recent state Supreme Court ruling suggests that the county may have more authority than was ever believed.
As America’s energy appetite grows and its natural gas supplies dwindle, the Rockies hold an ever-growing importance in the nation’s energy strategy. Experts say the region may hold a quarter of the nation’s gas reserves.