Beautiful Crested Butte, Colorado. Settled as a mining town, CB has turned into a haven for outdoor sports year round. With a quaint grid of homes and businesses, Crested Butte appears to exist within a vacuum of time, only yielding to the latest technologies in snow skiing. I would have not ever made the trip out over Monarch Pass without the invitation of good friend Jesse Blumenthal, long time resident and talented metal sculptor. Thank you my friend for the invitation to this special place, I'll be returning someday soon!
There is a saying in Crested Butte, "Local since now", meaning it is hard to know who is really historically from the area and who has came and not left. Unlike the resort towns of the I-70 corridor, Crested Butte is a destination off the beaten path. Once getting out there you realize that the local is much more interesting than the wider world. And why not? The natural beauty, the outdoor activities, enough of everything to go around, and ample generosity make it very attractive in a time of amplified widespread strife. Alas, Crested Butte is not without its transitioning issues and growing pains.
As par of my visit, Jesse recruited me to participate in the 2nd Annual Crested Butte Community Iron Pour in conjunction with the local Arts Center. What a great event, with much credit going to Jesse and Arts Center Director Melissa Mason for putting it all together. In speaking with Melissa, I learned a lot about the community and the challenges it faces. Just like everywhere else in America, little Crested Butte is experiencing gentrification too. In my observations from city to city, Crested Butte isn't quite suffering the "riptide of white-flight" where people are moving back into parts of town they abandoned because of racial fears. No, Crested Butte is almost completely homogenous. This community is being gentrified by affluence, second homes/rentals, and big money, mainly from Texas. So much so that there is a low income housing shortage in the community because outside money is snatching up all the little houses and turning them into short term rentals. This leaves no where for the "local since now" folks to live. Of course everyone likes the additional tax revenue and visitors cash infusion to the community, but it comes at a cost of being able to have people in the community to serve the rich. It is a precarious balance that forces the less affluent into housing further down the valley, necessitating this small community into public transportation, thanks to the efforts of Councilman Roland Mason.
In a community of 1500 people, Crested Butte is taking a proactive approach to the growth. Roland explained that monies have been put towards low income housing, but part of it sits vacant because of federal regulations on income threshold to qualify. This is problematic, but not anything that can't be overcome, says Roland. The issue that faces the community now is how to write regulations that favor the locals and respect the folks who simply own property and visit twice a year. By and large the community works well together takes care of one another, but as it happens with big money, they send lawyers to contest the regulations for their interests. The community is changing. Gone are more simple times, but also gone is the mining industry and its' threat to the natural beauty, which makes the community very happy. Crested Butte lives in a beautiful bubble, but not one void of awareness. The community knows how to take care of itself, knows how to keep their beautiful bubble intact.
It was a little more difficult to engage the community about national politics, the going ons of the wider world. Most everyone I asked kinda gave me an exasperated sigh and lamented their slacking effort on getting enough wood chopped for the oncoming winter. I suspect that's where much of their political disgust gets alleviated, swinging an ax, insuring themselves a comfortable season.
I did have a nice dialog with Bob, a gentleman assisting in the iron pour. Bob conceded that most people avoid the political discussion and the ones that do are often a little more of the radical internet obsessed type. Bob was not impressed with either candidate, but finds some of what Mr. Trump resonates within the valley. Gunnison Valley stretches from the town of Gunnison to Crested Butte, with Gunnison being home to WCU, industry hub, and coldest winter temperatures in Colorado. Bob explained to me that Gunnison has many more big city problems: meth, prostitution, unemployment, petty crime. "Why is that?" I asked. "Mexican mafia. They run the show down there." Bob went on to explain that the notion of a boarder wall is exactly what many people in Gunnison see as a cure to their community ills. I asked if he thought that element, the mafia, was coming up the valley to Crested Butte. "No. They have no interest in tourism and all jobs here are spoken for, even the lowly ones." It is merely 35 miles between the two communities, but the difference in attitudes is strangely similar. They both want the outsiders to go back where they come from. Certainly Crested Butte enjoys the trappings of privilege of wealthy visitors, even if it is a hard lifestyle for the proletariat, while Gunnison wants the problems of a tourist mountain town without the plague of organized crime. Despite the remoteness of both communities, their respective problems reflect their political dispositions: one wants to build a wall and the other wants to work together to stay a tight knit community.