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for people who care about the West

The new West is as restless as the old

  The new West is as restless as the old

Most people move to the rural West in search of community, says sociology professor Pat Jobes, who teaches at Montana State University in Bozeman. What they find rarely measures up to their enthusiasm and optimism.

"It's a predictable, unchanging pattern," says Jobes, who has studied migration patterns in the West since 1972. Ask someone where they are from and they will say Boulder, for example. "Then I ask them where they're really from," Jobes says, "and it's a city somewhere else."

In the last four to five years the influx of new people has accelerated, he continues, and this often confuses town officials. They see real estate changing hands, new faces, and think their town or county is booming. What is actually happening is more like churning, Jobes says, since eight out of 10 people move on within a decade. Some relocate to yet another Western town; others return to the place they left.

What's ironic, he points out, is that the more an area tries to plan or zone to somehow control the growth, the more attractive a place becomes. That increases the rapidity of the turnover, he says. He doesn't even think "going rural" helps - piling up old cars and other junk outside a house.

What can old-timers do to stanch the flow? Not much, Jobes concludes. "If people want to move, they will. It's sometimes sad to watch if you've lived in a town for a while or were born there."

Jobes is currently evaluating data about the current move-in, move-on phenomenon. In 1992, a book he co-authored, Community, Society, Migration, was published by University Press of America. It sells for $48.50 (800/462-6420).

" Betsy Marston, HCN editor