Break open the gates

  • WHO GOES THERE? The front gate of the Stock Farm development in Hamilton, Montana, is closed to all who don't have the code

    (Lucy Capehart photo)
  • A DEMOCRAT AND HIS GUN: Marden Phelps, a candidate for the Idaho Legislature, proves Dems can love guns, too

    (photo courtesy Marden Phelps)

Former HCN staff reporter Florence Williams' cover story in this issue looks at an unusual topic - gated communities. What, you may be wondering, do these have to do with the West? Quite a lot, in our estimation.

The sequestered communities and neighborhoods that are springing up around the West represent a broader trend: the increasing division between the "haves" and the "have-nots," between the people who can afford a monster home on the hill, and those who can barely afford to rent a single-wide in the valley bottom. This is not a new divide, certainly, but gated enclaves are on the rise in the region. And don't think that the current economic doldrums are equalizing things any.

In a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine, Princeton political scientist Paul Krugman writes that we've entered "a new Gilded Age." He says, "By most measures we are, in fact, back to the days of The Great Gatsby when the wealthy few held an overwhelming chunk of the overall booty. The 13,000 richest families in the U.S. now reel in as much each year as the 20 million poorest, he says, and the gap is widening. (Ironically, the same magazine contains an ad supplement for "the best of luxury homes and estates," featuring the "River House" in Jackson Hole, Wyo., for $14.5 million, and a "wonderful four-bedroom, hillside house in a prestigious guard-gated community" in Paradise Valley, Ariz., for $2.2 million.)

Gates are all the rage these days because they give people a sense of exclusivity and security - never mind that any self-respecting pickpocket could get around most of them with ease. But those who research gated communities point out that gates fragment and polarize our society; they fracture the sense of community by creating socially homogeneous places, and sometimes by limiting access to public lands.

So consider this issue a rallying cry of sorts, a cry to keep the gates open, or not to build them at all. If we're going to protect the West's landscapes and communities, we'll need to foster community, create broad coalitions, and learn to be neighborly - even if, as one resident in the cover story frets, the neighbor's place looks like "an airplane wreck."

A call from HCN

By the time this issue arrives in your mailbox, you may have already received a phone call from High Country News. The calls are going out to several hundred of our roughly 23,000 subscribers, selected at random. If you get one, you'll be asked to take 15 minutes to answer questions about HCN, and about yourself.

The survey is our first attempt at taking a scientific look at our readers. Each year, you give us valuable feedback - and great story ideas - through our annual reader's survey. Each year, we get to meet a few hundred of you at potluck dinners around the region, or here in the office when you drop by. Some of you introduce yourselves with letters, calls and e-mails. So we know about you in a general way - you're land managers, educators and activists, you're educated, concerned and rooted in the West - but we don't understand you in any statistically accurate way.

This phone survey will give us a clearer picture of who we're reaching and who we're not. It will help us better serve our existing audience, and reach out to new ones. This is your chance to tell us a little about who you are, what you like about HCN, and what you don't like. We hope it's not too much of an intrusion - all the information you give us will be confidential, and if our interviewers call at a bad time, feel free to ask them to try again later.


Subscriber Ted Fellman passed through Paonia on his way to West Yellowstone, Mont. He'll spend the winter there, living in a tepee and working to protect Yellowstone's bison, some of which are shot each winter by Montana state wildife officers as they wander outside of Yellowstone National Park. If you want more information on the issue, he suggests the Buffalo Field Campaign's Web site:

John Drake, a former railroad switchman now living in Estes Park, Colo., visited with friend and new subscriber Kate Supinski. Kate had just emerged from a 10-day retreat at St. Benedict's Monastery near Aspen.

Larry Day and Catherine Haskins from Golden, Colo., stopped by on their wedding anniversary and birthday vacation. They took a break from the rain and took a hike around the HCN offices.

Ray Miller and Kathie Kuenzi said hello while in Paonia visiting friends. Ray lives in Grand Lake, Colo., on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, while Kathie lives in Parker, south of Denver. They shared with the interns some good spots for hiking and camping and were on their way, heading to Utah to check out some pre-Columbian ruins.

We found this note on our doorstep a few Mondays back: "Stopped by Paonia on our day off from the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute in Basalt. Beautiful town! May it stay forever small! Thank you for all the great work you folks do!" The note was from subscriber Becky Elder of Manitou Springs, Colo.

Gripes and guns

Ray Ring's essay about efforts by the Mormon Church to buy the historic - and publicly owned - Martin's Cove in Wyoming (HCN, 9/30/02: This land holds a story the church won't tell) continues to get reactions. Lloyd Larsen, an LDS stake president in Wyoming and the church's official spokesman on the issue, called to complain. He said the church has no plans to build a chapel in the cove, as Ring suggested, and that the Bureau of Land Management should dispose of the land. "Martin's Cove is not a Devils Tower," he said. "It's not a Yellowstone National Park."

Larsen also objected to Ring's suggestion that the site should include some mention of the behavior that led, in part, to the deaths of Mormon pioneers at Martin's Cove: "Do we go to the Holocaust Museum and talk about some of the bone-headed things that the Jewish people did?"

The debate continues in letters. Estes Park, Colo., subscriber Kay Gibbs sent us a postcard scolding us for using the word "tits" in Kevin Taylor's essay about Burning Man (HCN, 8/19/02: Chasing hope amid the hedonists): "I am chasing hope that this is only a passing trend of HCN's viewpoints & good writing & good taste, and not the path to becoming another hip-flip paper like one finds in Boulder, Aspen, ya ya ya - pul-ease."

On the up side, we had a call recently from subscriber Bob Grubb of Craig, Colo. He said he'd been in for an angiogram and got to talking with his doctor about environmental issues. He said he wished he had a copy of the paper on hand, and called to have us send his doctor a sample issue. The lesson of the day: "Next time you are going for an angio, don't forget your HCN!" (But in case you do, we'd be happy to send your doctor, or anyone else, a free sample copy; just call us at 1-800-905-1155.)

And finally, Montpelier, Idaho, reader Marden Phelps dropped us a note in response to Ed Quillen's essay, which asked, "When was the last time you saw a Democratic candidate skinning an elk or holding a deer rifle?" (HCN, 10/14/02: Democrats need to pick up their guns). Phelps found the question particularly poignant because, he writes, "I am running as a Democrat for the Legislature in Idaho," and, as the photo above shows, he hunts.

Phelps isn't the only pro-gun Democrat running for office in the West. New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Bill Richardson is marketing himself as "the choice for New Mexico gun owners and sportsmen," according to The New York Times. No word on how the gun-totin' D's are faring as we go to press, but we'll let you know with an election follow-up in the next edition.

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