Those darn capitalist tendencies

  Dear HCN,

I appreciated George Sibley's essay, "How I lost my town" (HCN, 3/18/02: How I lost my town), and I can certainly empathize with his loss.

In 1981, I spent a month near Crested Butte as a student on an environmental policy field course. Locals were celebrating AMAX's cancellation of the proposed Mount Emmons molybdenum mine, the town planner spoke passionately to us about efforts to preserve the funky character of this cool "slum" town, where home-made mountain bikes * clunkers * were the hip mode of transport.

Four years ago, I returned to a much wealthier-looking (and sprawling) Crested Butte. My host at a well-known local inn talked incessantly with his friends - all of them residents since the kick-out-AMAX days - about real estate portfolios, rental income, property management rates and consistent double-digit returns on their investments. None seemed concerned in the least about recent news that AMAX might revive their mine proposal. The passionate town planner had long since emigrated to Park City, Utah, and most of the mountain bikes (mostly $2,000, full-suspension models) rode around atop shiny new SUVs. The hippies, as Sibley wrote, had indeed become real estate hipsters.

I've watched a similar story unfold in each of the mountain towns and regions I've lived in over the last 20 years: Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge, Colo., Truckee, Calif. I fled to the supposed hinterlands of Driggs, Idaho, a few years back, but sure enough, now I'm getting that Groundhog Day, dej`a vu feeling all over again.

Yes, I'm part of the problem. We newcomers bring capitalist tendencies (I got my piece of dirt while I could) and a desire for "just a few more" amenities, even as we profess an alternative, green ethic. Then again, many old-timers up here in Teton Valley bemoan the loss of rural values (values apparently incompatible with government regulation of any kind) while subdividing and peddling the family spread to the highest bidder.

As long as we allow community and environmental values to take a back seat to market forces, that special mountain town "sense of place" will continue to devolve into a something like the generic feeling found across the country and much of the planet: a high-altitude version of McWorld.

Rob Marin
Driggs, Idaho