“They want the workers to be invisible”

  • Bob Elder

  • Jim Zoller

  • Chet Gaede


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Bob Elder, a third-generation Leadville resident, worked at the Climax for 17 years as a mining engineer. He thinks the way people commute to resort jobs now is "exploitative."

Bob Elder:

"I just have to wonder how these resort areas are going to sustain themselves. If they keep trying to push everything over into these have-not communities, eventually, we're going to reach the breaking point. We won't be able to supply schooling, we won't be able to supply medical help, that kind of thing.

"(The worker who lives in a trailer) is an embarrassment to them over there. It's sad, because here are these people that are working for you (in the resorts), they're taking care of your establishment and everything else, but you don't want to live next to them, you don't want anything to do with them. The people that own those places, the people that come in, ski tourists and things like that, they don't want anything to do with (the workers). They want them to be invisible."

"Maybe we could solve a lot of these problems"

Jim Zoller worked at the Climax mine from 1973 until he was laid off in 1982. He found a job in hotel security in Vail, was hired as a Leadville cop in 1987, and has served as chief of police since 1992.

Jim Zoller:

"If you study the history of this town, I think a lot of our problems are because too many people came here and their motivation was to extract something - 'I'm going to take everything I can get and then leave.' Well, perhaps that's why we're in the trouble we're in. If everyone tried to give something back - I mean everybody, no matter what your station is - if everybody tried to give something back to this community, maybe we could solve a lot of these problems.

"Have I thought about leaving? Yeah, probably every day. Yeah, this is a difficult place, but maybe that's the challenge, maybe that's part of the fun of living here. Maybe we all sort of look at ourselves as those rugged individuals surviving here."

"We are a bedroom community"


Leadville Mayor Chet Gaede spent 20 years as a jet fighter pilot in the Marine Corps, then earned a University of Colorado law degree; he and his wife moved to Leadville in 1996. As he works to increase tourism and make the best of being a bedroom community, he says, the politics can explode and sometimes it's frustrating.

Chet Gaede:

"My wife and I chose Leadville. Before, we lived in Boulder and Hawaii, and we didn't want a place like that, or like Telluride. We didn't want explosive growth. We want to live in a place with no strip mall, and with warts.

"There are threads of progress here. We're finally moving on from mining. People say to me, 'You keep trying to change everything.' I'm trying to say we are a bedroom community; that's what we are. If you've been thinking for the last 20 years that you're still a mining town, I want to change that thought."

High Country News Classifieds