EDWARDS, Colo. - A luxury condominium complex is going up here - not an unusual phenomenon in one of the fastest-growing counties in the state of Colorado.
But this development is affecting me.
I hear voices as I drive by the construction site. Voices from this
They are not the voices of Ute
Indians, trappers, lettuce growers, or ranchers that may have been
in this area 100 years ago or more, although I am sure they would
have something to say about the changes around here. Much more
recent voices haunt me: the residents of the trailer park that
stood on this land until about a year ago.
any given day as I drive by, this is what the voices say: "People
just think, "It's a trailer park, who cares? White trash. They'll
find somewhere else to go." "''''... "The people coming in are
buying the condos. The people in the trailers, we have to leave the
county, the state. The question is, is that a good trade-off?" ...
"We don't have any in-between property. They're running all the
working people out."
I did not invent these
voices. I heard them loud and clear when I visited the trailer park
on a cold, dull day last spring. They have stuck with me ever
I was drawn to the park after reading
about the fight 39 families were putting up to be able to stay in
their trailers. A steering committee had arranged benefit concerts
and appealed to the county commissioners to deny the new condo
development. The developer's team argued that the project was
needed to fill a need for affordable high-density housing. It was
an emotional battle.
One of the county
commissioners said at a meeting that the decision was his most
difficult as an elected official. He said that he had worked with
some of the people being evicted and that they represented to him
the kind of person trying to live the American dream of owning
one's own home and being one's own boss.
end, the residents were told to clean up and clear
The April day I came by was one of the
organized clean-up days. When I arrived mid-morning, residents,
friends, members of church groups and the housing organization,
Habitat for Humanity, were already absorbed in the task of tearing
down the trailers too old to be moved to other locations. Everyone
was busy with sledgehammers and bulldozers, ripping off siding and
hauling away trash in the hope of meeting a rapidly approaching
deadline. If the residents cleared and vacated the park by May 1,
they could begin to receive some of the settlement money promised
to them by the condominium developer.
the need for haste, everyone there that day took a moment to talk
with me as I wandered the park trying to piece together what this
development said about our valley. For almost 20 years, the trailer
park sat in the nether world - at least a 15-minute drive from the
nearest ski area or golf course. Its neighbors were empty lots and
the Eagle River.
Then the resort areas of Beaver
Creek and Arrowhead were developed nearby. With skiing and golf now
within easy reach, builders responded. Where there had been empty
lots, there were now movie theaters, hotels, dry cleaners and
antique stores. And, a trailer
"I'm not surprised about
it," said a woman who had shared a double-wide trailer with her
boyfriend. "The land has become so valuable. There's just nowhere
for people to go." She said she was one of the lucky ones because
she had been able to sell the HUD-approved trailer and move to a
house. "But it's hard for people to leave the homes they own after
15 years and pay $1,200 rent."
that her family back East had always found it hard to believe she
lived in a trailer outside of Vail,
"But once I started
explaining that's the only option for affordable housing, their
response was that really makes sense. You can then actually have
money to do other things. You might have to work only two jobs
instead of three. You can have pets, a nice community around you
and your own little home."
While growth is good
for economic reasons, she said, a line must be drawn somewhere.
"We're building $500,000 houses, $1 million houses, and then
throwing people out of the trailer park. We won't have anyone to
run the ski resorts and businesses. Everyone will be gone, pushed
The next person I met
was finding herself in just that position. She was moving her
family to Leadville, 44 miles away, because she said there was no
place to put a mobile home in the Vail Valley anymore.
"They don't want us here,"
she said as she directed customers to her yard sale. She said she
will now have a two-hour commute instead of a short walk to work
"This," she said,
motioning to a yard full of her belongings, "tells me we have a lot
of problems here. The growth is too much for our valley."
Her children, who were going to finish the
school year with a long commute from Leadville, agreed. "Sooner or
later, it's going to seem like Denver-in-the-mountains up here,"
they said. "It will be one big place."
came across a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit
organization that has the explicit goal of eliminating "poverty
housing and homelessness from the face of the earth." He was having
trouble pulling off the side of one of the trailers when I arrived.
He told me he wanted to help out because he works with some of the
people who are being forced to leave. "People are taking housing
like this, very affordable for certain populations, and converting
it to high-priced condos. It's economic displacement, I'm sad to
Another volunteer, a local minister,
explained why she was spending the day tearing down affordable
"We are here to be in
solidarity with these people. This is a case where poor people were
off the beaten track, kind of forgotten in the growth of this
valley. But then this became prize property and the property became
more important than this community," she said. "Development
continues that sense of erosion of community."
As we talked, a 5-year-old boy belonging to one of her parishioners
played in front of a gaping hole in one of the trailers. Through
it, a slice of life could be seen: An open carton of milk sat on
the kitchen counter, a broken chair lay on the floor. The minister
explained that even as a kindergartner, the boy could "bear
witness. His eyes are being opened to the fact that people are
being displaced from their homes."
I had been to the trailers once before this
demolition day. It was Thanksgiving and I was helping deliver
Salvation Army turkeys and food baskets. I ended up making all my
deliveries to this trailer park. One of the turkeys was going to a
housekeeper I knew, but not well enough to have known she and her
family lived in the park, crunched into a narrow but bright
trailer. She beamed when the turkey - and I - appeared at her door.
Her trailer and the others I saw had a cozy feel to them. On this
frosty day, people were still out chatting with each
Now over a year later, it will soon be
hard to tell that the condominium complex wasn't always here.
People with over $200,000 to spend will soon call this spot on the
Eagle River home. But the voices of those who came before them will
stick with me, and help me to remember that a community gives up -
something and somebody - even as it gets.
The writer is a documentary filmmaker and
journalist living outside of Vail, Colorado.