Home, home on the cyber-range


A different kind of neighborhood news now serves parts of Colorado’s Front Range, those high-altitude communities “up the hill” from Denver. It’s paperless, free-form, relentlessly local and increasingly popular. It’s a Web site called Pinecam.com, and for people living in the towns of Conifer, Pine, Bailey and Evergreen, it has become a fact of life for community exchange.

Pinecammers -- as we call ourselves – aren’t limited to these areas; we even get our share of vocal flatlanders from all over the country. I think these out-of-area people join us because they like the interaction of a very verbal community. We bicker, we support, and sometimes we console each other. We have even been known to gather in prayer when somebody needs it.

This readiness to jump in and help a neighbor is reminiscent of the days when ranches and mining towns were spread out all over mountain valleys, with long rides on horseback needed to get to a neighbor’s side. Pinecammers recently pitched in to cook for a mother who had to travel 80 miles every week to take her sick son to the hospital.

Back in the early days, 14 years ago, Pinecam was a one-man show founded by Wayne Harrison. He had a passion for wild mushrooms and named the site Mycelium. (For those who don’t hunt mushrooms, mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, and underground it looks like a mass of thread.) Harrison also installed a weathercam at 8,500 feet, which for years could boast that it was the highest-elevation weathercam on the Internet. Between spreading the word about mushrooms and monitoring the frequently changing mountain weather, Harrison’s site became known by more and more locals. Then, starting in 1996, when major wildfires began to break out in the area, Harrison found himself issuing fire alerts and raising money for fiefighters, as fires called Buffalo Creek, Hi Meadow and Hayman galvanized and frightened residents. In true frontier spirit, Harrison worked the site alone. His efforts changed the way people felt about Pinecam. Com: Afterward, it was considered a true community center and not just a weather vane.

Harrison has since allied with Web programmer Kurt Boyer to add a news feed and a headline service, but except for Google ads, there’s no paid advertising on the site. We can advertise our businesses, sell or barter goods for free. Volunteers moderate excitable sites called Living Room and The Study, where recent topics have included rants against a new Chili’s chain restaurant. Some writers worry about global warming and others insist it’s a myth. A really volatile debate erupted around snow-blowers, and, for some reason, a long-running discussion continues about those small gray rodents called voles: They’ve inspired 323 pages of comments, arguments and assorted hilarious hoopla.

As of this writing, the members’ list boasts 8,998 members, yet I don’t think anyone would say that Pinecam.com is a substitute for the two newspapers that serve the Highway 285 Corridor. It’s more a quirky addition that brings locals together. These days, the hottest topic on Pinecam is probably the same as it’s always been since old-timers stopped for supplies at our locally famous Yellow Barn – the name of which mystifies newcomers since the building is brown. If you guessed the weather, you’d be right: Nowadays, you can follow the rapidly changing weather scene along the corridor, using real-time Doppler radar, and with the help of several Pinecammers who offer their idiosyncratic forecasts.

When asked what they think are the most important local issues, Pinecammers quickly list water, wildfire, growth, and forest-destroying pine beetles as high priorities. Most people say that growth has the largest impact on the environment because it stresses our water supply, stops naturally occurring fires that thin forests, and leaves less room for wildlife.

With dozens of forums and countless threads, Pinecam offers such forums as the Pinecam Living Room, The Teen Scene, Views from the Porch and a lot more. As you ride the Pinecam cyber range, you might stop in at the Employment forum or Mountain Living FAQ, if you plan to put down roots. And if you spot a mountain lion, coyote or bear, your neighbors want to know about it. Beware, though. You might just get a lecture about leaving food outside or be scolded for not fencing your dog. We know our wild critters; we just don’t know you yet.

Sandra Fults is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She lives in Evergreen, Colorado, where she conducts interfaith dialogues.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

Apr 09, 2008 04:18 PM

I live in Evergreen too and am a journalist for the Web site, YourHub.com., where we welcome news from readers and encourage them to share what's happening in the neighborhood. There is no cost to post stories and photos. The Conifer hub would be the closest to the Bailey and Fairplay areas, and there is an Evergreen hub as well.


Apr 16, 2008 01:29 PM

While Pinecam occasionally does some good it is so filled with complainers, people with no lives, worthless threads and valueless replies it has become a joke.  The study refered to in the article is a typical internet forum where the anonymous or semi annonymous exchange insults like children until the thread is locked or people are kicked out, nothing accomplished.  It unfortunaltely is filled with too many people posting with strong opinions on matters they know nothing about, and many others who seemingly have no lives other than to post endless responses of no value and look at pinecam for hours every day.  Mostly a place to avoid.  

Apr 17, 2008 11:25 AM

Although I do not live in Pinecam Land, I grew up there. I actually am an Oregon resident but I do spend much time at Pinecam.com. The unity of the people is uncommon in other areas I have been. What is heartwarming is how everyone is so willing to come together and help their Pinecam neighbors. Yes, it is like a family! You will find serious, funny and silly, helpful information, fighting (in some places), and I love being a member. There is something for almost everyone at Pinecam.com. I believe it is a good, safe cyber place for anyone to check out!

Apr 17, 2008 11:39 AM

"The study refered to in the article is a typical internet forum where the anonymous or semi annonymous exchange insults like children until the thread is locked or people are kicked out, nothing. It unfortunaltely is filled with too many people posting with strong opinions on matters they know nothing about, and many others who seemingly have no lives other than to post endless responses of no value and look at pinecam for hours every day."

 Hmmm.  You mean sort of like your post above?

 As the Founder of Pinecam mentioned in the article and I can tell you that Pinecam is only what people think it is and what they get from it.  While you obviously get nothing from it, but feel strongly enough about it to want to complain about it here, many, many others find it adds to their life and is a daily part of their connection with their community.  You say it has become a joke.  They disagree and they far outnumber the naysayers.  I'm sure I will never be able to change your mind about Pinecam, and I'm sure your post did nothing to change theirs.

But the difference between our posts is I don't hide behind anonymity.  I'm signing my real name.

Wayne Harrison

Apr 17, 2008 11:45 AM

Woa what's with the PC bash, Pinecam has become a place where people who can joke around are willing to get together.  It has the feeling of a local bar where everyone knows your name.  Pinecam is a place to either blow off steam or joke around with people you may have met in the conifer community.

Apr 17, 2008 11:45 AM

From the Humble Writer:

But that is exactly what I love about Pinecam. It's REAL people, complaining, bickering, and all manner of cyber behavior. That's what families do. And here's the rub, to Anonymous 2, families only allow each to put one another down. When others do the same, the fur flies. And that happens on Pinecam too. So what? It seems to me that the types of complaints above come from a source that either also spends a goodly amount of time reading the threads (and perhaps creating a few?) or has not spent nearly enough time and, therefore, speaks from what he/she does not know.

Here's what I know and know it with absolute certainty, when the chips are down, there's no one like a Pinecammer for all manner of support and, dare I say, love? I can put up with foibles when they are liberally peppered with true community. If you haven't experienced this end of Pinecam, I'm glad because that means you have not had terrible troubles. If you ever do, we will be there. That's just the way this works.

Of course, you could always buy a paper and read that in the comfort of your favorite armchair. 


Apr 17, 2008 11:50 AM

Ha! Anonymous, (posted 4/16/08 @ 12:25:28) you must be the Jefferson County employee that was busted by the pinecam moderators for using Jefferson County computers to troll the pinecam website during working hours. Your writing style is so recognizable. Hopefully you're not trolling on this site, during working hours, on Jefferson County computers that my tax dollars pay for. Shame on you.

Apr 17, 2008 11:50 AM

well now--seems those that protest too much--perhaps were "banned" at some point?


Pinecam is a great information assett to the local community-and if those bashing it are NOT from the local community-well then we really don't care what you think.

We know what we do and what we are to each other every day- as far as 'getting a life'? seems too many go around bashing web sites in the comment section way way too much. Get a life, indeed! :lol:

Apr 18, 2008 02:49 PM

I do not live in Pinecam land anymore, but in NM.  I spend those hours you talk of, looking and commenting and playing with the others.  I am sorry that you are so bitter that you have no pleasant comments to share. 

 Pinecam was what allowed me to get out early enough in the Hi Meadow fire that I saved my animals and others.  Wayne did a great service for alot of us and it has become a family.

Apr 18, 2008 02:50 PM

I love Pinecame. If it was straight laced, it wouldn't be as fun.

People meet on occasions and have made some friends, as well as arch rivals.

I'll remain anonymous. its not about me ;)

May 05, 2008 11:52 AM

     We lived in Conifer for several years and visited Pinecam to get a feel for the area before and after moving to the area.  I found that Pinecam provides several important functions.  As already mentioned, Pinecam serves as a timely news source for local emergencies, weather, and road conditions.  There are also numerous webcams on the main page to see different areas which is quite useful to keep up with changing weather conditions.  I appreciate Wayne Harrison for sharing his website.

     Having said the above, I regret that we eventually stopped visiting the site’s forums because we had so little in common with the regular posters on Pinecam.  The Pinecam forums have a general feeling of “poorness” about it; as if garage sale people, ebayers, food stampers and handymen are the main forum population.  Someone once told me that Colorado was “hick”.  In general I did not find people I met in person either up or down the hill as fitting this description, but I sure get this feeling from many posters in the forums.

     There are several general themes that seem to continually reappear.  As someone already said, there is a lot of complaining.  A couple of fairly large shopping centers (well over $100 million dollars between the two) were recently built on hwy 285 near Conifer and the howls and teeth-gashing about light pollution, running out of water, running Mom-n-Pops out of business, traffic, commercialization of the area, high prices, taxes, and omni-present renditions of the late John Denver’s lyric about leveling a mountain dominated Pinecam for a time.

     Having lived near the top of Conifer Mtn before, during, and after this construction, I can attest to the fact these new businesses were sorely needed in the area.  Prior to this construction the existing supermarket, read one, for Conifer, Pine and Bailey was woefully undersized and outdated.  I was personally quite glad to have civilization catch up to me so I didn’t have to drive over an hour round trip to hit Quiznos.

     You will find regular posts from people asking (begging?) for rides to and from somewhere, even asking anyone for rides for their elderly/sick family members.  There are requests for information on where to buy cheap powdered milk.  People complain about snow (???).  As I mentioned above, any improvement to the area, such as refinishing a road, modernizing a business or building something new is invariably met with pseudo-nostalgic laments from people that I bet haven’t been in the area long enough to have any justification for it.

     The regular posters on Pinecam are cliquish, but reasonably accommodating to newbies.  The forums are sometimes over-moderated by the mods (all volunteers who do the everyday work of keeping the forums decent and spam-free).  The political forum topics are often over-the-top and so biased that they are unintelligible (but most political forums are I guess).

     I no longer live in the area, but I was quite disappointed with the Pinecam forum experience while I was there.  I am not rich, just a member of an average middle-class family that never found a kindred spirit or peers on Pinecam.  Hopefully your results will be different.