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Dig into four decades of news and community

Revisit some gems from High Country News' forty years of reporting on the West and join the discussion — share your memories!

40 Years in the West

Putting the 40th Anniversary Blog to Bed

Robyn Morrison | Jan 13, 2011 04:46 AM

2011 marks 41 years that High Country News has been in existence. While another year is certainly noteworthy, especially in this age of disappearing print publications, it won’t carry the fanfare of the past year.

This last year was anything but ordinary here at High Country News. To celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary, subscribers hosted fabulous potlucks and house parties around the region, readers submitted photos and essays, Senior Editor Ray Ring profiled High Country News’ fiery founder, Tom Bell,  and articles about the institution’s 40 years of reporting on the West cropped up in several newspapers.

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Cows, coyotes and a revelation

Robyn Morrison | Aug 31, 2010 01:55 AM

Reporting on the West’s public lands and environment can be a gloomy task. The news from four decades of High Country News - battles over massive strip mines, ancient forests decimated by greedy timber companies, the sorry state of public grazing land, gas wells popping up like a pox and recreation enthusiasts trampling the land they love - can leave even the most optimistic person feeling a little grim. Readers often plead that we “find some good news to report.”

Former High Country News publisher Ed Marston says one of the job’s greatest challenges “was the emotional weight of being the undertaker of the West.”

To be sure, High Country News finds plenty of bright spots around the West - the success of wolves in the Northern Rockies, the signing of a wilderness or land-conservation bill, or the drama of a federal land management employee bucking the status quo.

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From prom queens to dam dialogue

Robyn Morrison | Aug 11, 2010 01:42 AM

“She kept us out of trouble,” is how former High Country News publisher Ed Marston describes the first intern to take up the post in Paonia. Mary Moran arrived in the fall of 1983, just a month after the organization moved from rural Wyoming to rural Colorado and Ed and Betsy Marston took over as publisher and editor.

Mary had worked as a geologist, knew biology, and had traveled by bicycle around the Rocky Mountain West. She wrote and proofread articles, researched stories, spent every other Saturday in the darkroom. Her broad knowledge proved indispensable to the Marstons.

Transplanted from New York, Ed had worked as a physics professor and Betsy as a television news journalist before moving to Colorado in 1974. Once settled in Paonia (and bored), they founded and ran the North Fork Times, a community newspaper that covered school board meetings, prom queens, and potlucks.

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What about Watt?

Robyn Morrison | Jun 15, 2010 07:12 AM

Whenever the national media turns its attention to the Interior Department, I can't help but think of James Watt. Since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the ensuing gush of undersea oil, the agency has certainly been in the spotlight.

As the Interior Secretary under the Reagan administration, Watt's brash quips, unabashed partisan politics, disdain for environmental protection and penchant for controversy made him anything but a media darling.

In the Sept. 19, 1983 issue of High Country News, Peter Wild wrote in an article titled "Albert Fall pirated the Navy's oil" that throughout history Interior Department secretaries have consistently been colorful, if not always admirable.

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The summer the dam almost didn't

Robyn Morrison | Jun 08, 2010 12:00 AM

"We could as well have been sticking two chewing gum companies together, or merging an anti-vivisection group with a professional society of biology teachers," wrote the new staff in the Sept. 5, 1983 issue of High Country News, the first published from its new home in Colorado.

Ed and Betsy Marston, the publisher-editor team selected by the board of directors to take over the High Country News operation, were busy buying phones, merging mailing lists and sorting a blizzard of paperwork following the organization's arrival to Paonia in the back of a pick-up.

Meanwhile there was a paper that needed to go to press every two weeks. The first issue published in Colorado carried a feature by Ed Marston reporting that the era of massive federally funded dam projects was over.  Water users from around the region had gathered for an annual meeting in Gunnison, Colo., which became a wake of sorts, wrote Marston.

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Pack the truck.....we're headed to Colorado

Robyn Morrison | May 21, 2010 07:55 AM

A rather unimpressive photo of former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart accompanies the headline "You gotta have Hart" in the July 8, 1983 issue of High Country News.

Reported by then-editor Dan Whipple, the article is set in Snowmass, Colo., at the Sierra Club's First International Assembly where presidential candidates and environmentalists mingled to talk about the environment.

"If the gathering could be said to have had a unifying theme," wrote Whipple, "it would have been 'Daffy Duck is preferable to four more years of Reagan,' Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.) said in his opening remarks to the 800 assembled Sierra Club members."

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Psssst…everyone… jobs in North Dakota.

Robyn Morrison | May 02, 2010 12:35 AM

It's a common theme here in the West -- during boom times, more workers flood into towns than can be housed. Workers loaded with cash they've made in the oil and gas fields or uranium mines can't find an apartment to rent, while hotels are booked for months, even years in advance. Many end up living in a temporary man-camp or a tent or cramped trailer without electricity. Then overnight, the economy tanks, energy prices plummet, and the jobs evaporate.

It's a story that High Country News has covered dozens of times in its 40-year history, but each time it's with a different twist or a fresh perspective.

Former High Country News publisher Ed Marston wrote in April of 1983 about the spectacular nose-dive that oil shale development took the previous year when Exxon shut down its 'Colony' project in Western Colorado, wiping out thousands of jobs.

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Out of tragedy, High Country News soldiers on

Robyn Morrison | Apr 21, 2010 03:50 AM

"1978, the year the Senate shortchanged Alaska?," asked the cover headline of the Sept. 8 High Country News issue that year.  The article outlined the Senate "horsetrading" over the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the bill that in 1980 ultimately created or expanded 15 of Alaska's national parks and preserves.

The article contained only seven paragraphs, short by feature story standards, and the normal 16-page issue was pared to just eight pages.  Below a photo of snowfields and volcanic calderas on the Alaskan Peninsula, the column "Dear Friends" explained that the small Lander, Wyo. staff had been shaken by a tragic car accident that took the life of news editor Justas Bavarskis and injured three other staffers.

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An age-old story of the high cost of coal

Robyn Morrison | Apr 08, 2010 10:40 AM

The news from Appalachia coal country, where at least 25 miners died and four more remain missing in a huge underground coalmine explosion earlier this week, is unimaginably grim. Not since 1984, when 27 perished in a fire at Emery Mining Corporation's Orangeville, Utah, mine have so many died in a mine accident.

It's even more appalling that Massey Energy, the company operating the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where the explosion occurred, has a recent history of serious safety violations at the mine. The AP reports:

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Readers wield their fiery pens

Robyn Morrison | Mar 29, 2010 07:13 AM

High Country News readers have always been an opinionated bunch.  You weigh in on whether you agree or disagree with what's been reported, provide unique perspectives and often set us straight with additional facts and details about complicated issues.  For 40 years, your letters have encouraged and inspired the staff, connected the far-flung community of people who care about the West, and provided news tips for our writers to dig into.

Lately I've been perusing musty copies of High Country News from the mid 70's to get a feel for what got readers riled up during that first decade.

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