Consider this issue’s cover an early April Fools’ prank of sorts. We took inspiration from Outside magazine, the home of the "Top 10 Secret Getaways" that are obviously no longer secret by the time the issue comes off the press. Those headlines are the bane of our cover story’s author, M. John Fayhee, who has spent the last year searching for a refuge from Colorado ski country.
years, we’ve gotten calls from reporters from
Outside and other glossies, wondering if Paonia,
Colo., HCN’s hometown, is worthy of a Top
10 designation. "Oh, yes," is our standard reply. "If you
don’t mind the coal trains that rumble through the middle of
town 24 hours a day from the mines up the road, it’s a great
place to live. You’re not chemically sensitive, are you?
Because the mosquito district sprays malathion once a week all
summer long, whether we need it or not. And there is the matter of
Delta County’s crystal meth problem — we’re tops
in the state. Just tell your readers that if they buy land, they
should check that they own the mineral rights, too, because
there’s a natural gas rush on …"
By the end
of the conversation, the writer usually wonders if we have any
other towns to suggest. We’re happy to point them in another
direction, preferably to one far away.
that we don’t love this town of ours — coal trains,
problems and all. And it’s not that we couldn’t use an
economic shot in the arm. There are empty shop fronts on the main
drag, and businesses come and go with the seasons.
problem is that people tend to see Paonia — and other small
Western towns — as an escape from the world’s ills.
They’re not. As a medic on the local ambulance service, I can
tell you that our small-town smiling Mayberry façade hides all
the darker issues — poverty, domestic violence, drug abuse,
suicide — that plague larger towns.
doesn’t help that an increasing number of people see places
like this as a part-time escape. They buy second
homes that sit vacant for much of the year, driving housing prices
out of the reach of local working people. They pay their property
taxes, but contribute only sporadically to local businesses and
civic organizations. (Ambulance driver, anyone?)
was with some horror that we read the latest
Forbes magazine, which declares Delta County to
be "the best-kept secret in Colorado’s second-home market."
The writer waxes eloquent about the former residents of Aspen,
Vail, et al, who are bringing us "the cultural and social
atmosphere, plus that unique Western lack of pretension, that made
their former hometowns so attractive in the first place." It quotes
the county’s tourism coordinator as saying that "outdoor farm
parties under moonlight with a string quartet playing and food and
wine" are commonplace.
Uh, right. You can hardly hear the
coal trains over the cellos and violins.
Of course, the
attention isn’t all bad. Just ask my former neighbors, Corky
and Arlene. Corky grew up on a farm in Arvada, Colo., back when it
looked more like Paonia does now, and less like Denver sprawl. They
sold their house in Paonia recently for a handsome profit. Last I
talked to them, they were headed east, to a moribund farming town
on the Plains, where the real estate is dirt cheap. They plan to
live the rest of their days there, on the money they got from
selling high in one of the West’s most recently "discovered"