Home, home on the cyber-range

by Sandra Fults




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. © High Country News