I recently read a short article about a community that has come together to improve their small town. A quote from the article stated, “Somewhere along the way the message became: ‘We can’t. We’re not. We aren’t.’ And it needs to be ‘We are. We’re doing.’”
This struck a chord. I’ve attended a lot of meetings since starting this position, and throughout a majority of the meetings there’s always discussion of improving our communities, marketing what we have to offer, revitalization, etc. While I’m in complete agreement that these are important issues and they require discussion and brainstorming, I’m not convinced that just having these discussions is what will make change happen.
Let me explain.
When someone is coming to Colorado for a vacation, they are usually coming to the mountains to go skiing, hiking, biking or rafting. They might visit Denver for a festival at Red Rocks or they may even be interested in visiting places like the Royal Gorge, the Palisade wineries, or Fruita’s Grand Mesa.
Tourists are looking for activities and locations that offer unique experiences, beauty and opportunities to explore nature and history. Who can blame anyone for wanting to go to those locations, right?
When people are considering moving to Colorado, they tend to primarily look at Denver, the Springs and Grand Junction. These are the central “hubs” of the state, and there’s unlimited opportunity and activities in these areas. There are also unlimited lines of traffic (mostly in Denver) and the hustle and bustle of city life.
Some are cut out for that, but others are looking for a bit slower pace. So where do these people look?
If you drive from Limon to Denver on I-70 and get to the once-almost non-existent town of Deer Trail, you’ll notice that there is a huge housing development being built. One might think, “Why on earth is Deer Trail booming?”
The answer: people want to live in smaller communities. They want their kids to go to smaller, more secure schools, and they want to be able to get away from the never-ending traffic, smog and hectic chaos in larger cities.
So, what does this have to do with us?
When people think of Southeast Colorado, they tend to think that we all might as well be part of Oklahoma or Kansas. We’re so far down here that we’re completely removed from the “real world” and there’s absolutely nothing to do here. Why the heck would anyone want to live there?
Unfortunately, people think and say that all the time, and rarely does anyone ever correct them. There are not many people actively marketing what we have, or the benefits of living here.
Here’s the bottom line: If the locals who live here aren’t willing to spread the word about all the great things that there are to do here - the wonderful festivals, parades and fairs that we host, the irreplaceable historical treasures that are in our backyards - and if communities aren’t willing to pull together and get actively involved in making our small towns more vibrant and functional, then what’s ever going to change?
What I want to know is, when did this happen?
I’ve spoken to some locals who have lived here their whole life. They always bring up the “good ol’ days,” which they miss, and say that they wish things could go back to the way they used to be.
But why is that the sentiment? Why are we not thinking of new ways to make our communities fresh and appealing? Why are the “good ol’ days” long gone?
I believe it’s because, in general, our communities have taken on this mentality of “We can’t. We’re not. We aren’t.”
We’ve bought into this illusion that we have nothing to offer. We sit by idly as people drive through our small towns without so much as a glance around to see what they may be missing.
I’m not disillusioned that everything can just happen tomorrow. I know change takes money and time. However, if we’re all convinced that there’s nothing to offer the world from our little corner of the state, then that change will NEVER happen.
There are small groups of people and organizations who are trying to change the way we are perceived, but there needs to be a major mentality shift in our communities from “We can’t. We’re not. We aren’t.” to “We are. We’re doing.”
WE ARE a community that offers friendly neighbors and safe neighborhoods.
WE ARE a place that has irreplaceable historical locations, such as Boggsville, Fort Lyon, John Martin Reservoir, the Santa Fe Trail, the John W. Rawlings Heritage Center, Bent’s Old Fort, the Sand Creek Massacre site, the Amache Museum, and the Koshare Indian Museum.
WE ARE an educated community that is made up of thriving schools and community colleges.
WE ARE an agricultural powerhouse made up of nearly 3,000 farms that contribute a large portion of the nation’s wheat, melons, peppers and onions.
WE ARE also a large producer of beef for the nation, as Winter Livestock and La Junta Livestock make up the second largest cattle market in the country.
WE ARE just as important to the landscape and economic structure of Colorado as anywhere else.
If we all start thinking in terms of what we are capable of and share the pride that we have in the communities in which we live, then the outside world may just start getting curious about what’s going on down here.
Once we all start seeing ourselves as the lucky ones to be living where we live and start promoting THAT sentiment instead of reminiscing about days gone by, we’re going to start seeing the changes that everyone keeps talking about in all these meetings that I go to.
It’s going to take a community: Let’s BE that community.
Sammie George is executive director of the Bent County Development Foundation.