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Got plans? Check the history

So many ideas, so little background.

This part of the world has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, and the urge to change is ever with us.

To resist change is futile; there is no way, and no reason, to do it. To shape change is desirable, but hard to do. Exerting a measure of influence on change, encouraging productive and authentic change, requires an understanding of political reality and, just as important, a recognition of a community’s history.

With the arrival of new, large commercial concerns (remember, Pagosa was once dominated by huge commercial concerns) the area is being swept into a new era — one that unfortunately mirrors a too-common suburban model — a model that is counter to the history here.

Efforts should double to provide a valid alternative (i.e. a “small town” economic environment in downtown Pagosa Springs, with the creation of healthy, small businesses) and a look back at what the place once was is necessary. That look back — especially for anyone who has migrated to the Mountain West in the last half century or so — can be informative and can provide a calming influence on those who come here prepared to transform the place, to guide its future, to impose their expertise on the natives — confusing their fantasies for political reality while ignoring a wealth of history.

The Colorado of old grew and prospered due to three primary economic drivers  — ranching, farming and mining — and their offshoot industries. In Pagosa Country, one subtracts mining, minimizes farming and inserts a dominating timber industry into the mix.

We Colorado natives now entering the later stages of our lives are the last generation to experience the impact of mining (in particular gold and silver mining), with many of us finding roots in the state’s storied mining towns. Many, too, are connected to coal mining (and a steel industry) that flourished in southern Colorado on the East Slope.

Some oldtimers find roots in agricultural communities on the eastern plains. The occasional Pagosa Country oldtimer can relate to agricultural operations in the southwestern section of the county.

Some look back to ancestors in the livestock trade — the ranchers, buyers, producers of old.

The number of Pagosa oldtimers who can relate to the once-powerful timber industry is significant. Residents who have been here 25 years or more can make this connection, since the logging industry in Pagosa Country took a last breath during that time. (This is one industry that, in  revised and eco-friendly form, will hopefully be revived here.)

Many of us have roots in Colorado that wind back to its creation as a state, if not earlier, and have a particular, (some would say “peculiar”)  take on where the place has been, what it has become, where it is going, and who has done good and ill in the process.

We, however, are a distinct minority. We, whose grandchildren are the fifth, sixth and seventh generations of Coloradans will soon fade out. And the state, and Pagosa Country will be left to our descendents and, more particularly, to relative newcomers.

As it should be.

But, whether those who remain follow their line back in the history of the state or community, or have arrived in the last 25 years or so, all should take time, while there is time, to learn about the place and not assume the ideas they tote with them fit well or that their precious vision is, automatically, a gift.

To create unique, vibrant communities demands an understanding of how those communities were made, and by whom.

If you have ideas, ask some questions while you can.

Karl Isberg

This story was posted on August 1, 2013.