Small towns, big change

In the Mountain West, building rural communities to last presents complex challenges: How to foster a robust economy and good jobs; healthy families and well-educated children; thriving forests and clean water; and a high quality of life for all citizens? How can this region prepare for inevitable change without sacrificing what makes it so special?

Over the next six months, seven news organizations in Colorado and New Mexico, including High Country News, will explore these urgent questions, surfacing threats to the long-term health of the region's small towns — and examining promising responses. This project is part of the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by the LOR Foundation.

In the Mountain West, building rural communities to last presents complex challenges: How to foster a robust economy and good jobs; healthy families and well-educated children; thriving forests and clean water; and a high quality of life for all citizens? How can this region prepare for inevitable change without sacrificing what makes it so special? Over the next six months, seven news organizations in Colorado and New Mexico, including High Country News, will explore these urgent questions, surfacing threats to the long-term health of the region's small towns — and examining promising responses.
A different boom-and-bust story
A different boom-and-bust story
Bridging the here/elsewhere divide in a country grown accustomed to failure.
For fossil fuel-reliant towns, a solar alternative grows
For fossil fuel-reliant towns, a solar alternative grows
A rural solar movement is growing, which focuses on local resilience.
Rural economies get high on legal cannabis
Rural economies get high on legal cannabis
For some small Colorado communities, recreational marijuana is generating much-needed revenue.
In New Mexico, a way out of the boom-bust cycle?
In New Mexico, a way out of the boom-bust cycle?
Lea County tries a different formula for rural success.
How a rural town recovered after mining’s death
How a rural town recovered after mining’s death
The disappearance of mining has hit many towns hard. But Raton, New Mexico is getting back on its feet.
A rural school shrinks—but grows its digital toolkit
A rural school shrinks—but grows its digital toolkit
How educators brought internet access to New Mexican youth.
When truancy laws don’t work
When truancy laws don’t work
A New Mexico principal ponders a tougher approach to keep frequently absent students in school.
West Obsessed: The fate of rural food and farms
West Obsessed: The fate of rural food and farms
The staff of High Country News tackles tough questions about small-town agriculture.
How independent libraries are transforming some New Mexico towns
How independent libraries are transforming some New Mexico towns
In Rio Arriba County, a community fix for a book deficit.
Digitally disconnected
Digitally disconnected
How rural students struggle to find internet access, and what one small college is doing about it.
How one tiny high school hacked Advanced Placement classes
How one tiny high school hacked Advanced Placement classes
Paonia High brings college-level coursework to rural students by partnering with its neighbors.
A helping hand for migrant students
A helping hand for migrant students
In the San Luis Valley, migrant workers build community around student success.
Big steps for small schools
Big steps for small schools
In the battle to train the next generation of rural Western leaders, schools are on the frontlines.
Native schools move forward by looking to the past
Native schools move forward by looking to the past
How a New Mexico network is building a new generation of native schools.
West Obsessed: How to fix a broken rural health care system
West Obsessed: How to fix a broken rural health care system
The staff of High Country News discuss the solutions small towns are trying to patch up their healthcare.
How do you beat hunger and food waste? Try compost
How do you beat hunger and food waste? Try compost
Reunity turns restaurant scraps into soil — and connects Santa Fe with rural farms in the process.
New Mexican farmers struggle to stay on the land
New Mexican farmers struggle to stay on the land
Can a tax break keep New Mexico’s struggling farmers from selling out?
 Northern New Mexico’s fight against food insecurity
Northern New Mexico’s fight against food insecurity
In the region’s most impoverished rural areas, food pantries fill gaps of grocery stores.
How to feed the masses in small-town America
How to feed the masses in small-town America
New business models bring food to towns too small for big box stores.
Is farming a public service?
Is farming a public service?
To build a new generation of farmers, one nonprofit wants states to forgive student loans.
Is there a way to revive drought-stricken soil?
Is there a way to revive drought-stricken soil?
In Colorado, potato-farming brothers are saving water by using cover crops innovatively.
Training programs teach farmers to do more with less
Training programs teach farmers to do more with less
Can blackberries and tilapia help New Mexico’s small farmers thrive?
Food, food, everywhere, and not a bite to eat
Food, food, everywhere, and not a bite to eat
Reforming America’s broken food and agriculture systems is possible, but it won’t happen overnight.
Rural hospitals pool their resources to survive
Rural hospitals pool their resources to survive
A group of ten New Mexico hospitals is making a go of it in tough times.
A cure for the ‘catch-all’ emergency room
A cure for the ‘catch-all’ emergency room
In Colorado, a new movement aims to provide an alternative for people experiencing mental health crises. But does it work?
Telemedicine shrinks the West’s vast health desert
Telemedicine shrinks the West’s vast health desert
In New Mexico, an experiment in treating stroke victims at a distance.
A different type of addiction
A different type of addiction
In Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, alcohol claims more lives than other drugs, but now an alternative treatment program could help.
Inside a small-town addict’s struggle to get clean
Inside a small-town addict’s struggle to get clean
Could an innovative new program help turn the tide on opioid addiction in rural New Mexico?
What New Mexico can learn from New Jersey’s approach to health data
What New Mexico can learn from New Jersey’s approach to health data
Healthcare providers are trying to get on the same page across diffuse networks of providers.
How to find its high-risk drug users before it’s too late
How to find its high-risk drug users before it’s too late
Rio Arriba’s health care providers are pulling together to treat patients and prevent overdoses.
A community curbs pain pill abuse, but heroin addiction grows
A community curbs pain pill abuse, but heroin addiction grows
Interventions intended to reduce over-prescription of pain medicine may unintentionally be feeding a rise in heroin use in southwest Colorado.
How a police chief used compassion to combat his community’s drug problem
How a police chief used compassion to combat his community’s drug problem
The approach taken by Gloucester, Massacusetts, might falter in New Mexico, where it’s desperately needed.
Española has tried everything to stop drug overdoses
Española has tried everything to stop drug overdoses
What we can learn from the fight against addiction in a small New Mexico town.
The San Luis Valley’s controversial needle exchange idea
The San Luis Valley’s controversial needle exchange idea
Local leaders contemplate a program to address drug-associated health risks with a rocky history.
Incremental progress, rather than quick fixes, will help the Southwest overcome substance abuse
How to get a drug treatment that works into every medicine cabinet
How to get a drug treatment that works into every medicine cabinet
State agencies are having success countering New Mexico’s overdose epidemic by increasing access to opiate antidotes.
The New Mexican clinic that makes rural healthcare work
The New Mexican clinic that makes rural healthcare work
Hidalgo Medical Services puts patients first, builds healthcare teams and attracts providers.
Can Alamosa find a fix for the ‘catch-all’ emergency room?
Can Alamosa find a fix for the ‘catch-all’ emergency room?
A new movement aims to provide an alternative for people experiencing mental health crises in Colorado.
After a national scandal, New Mexico’s veterans health care is looking up
After a national scandal, New Mexico’s veterans health care is looking up
Veterans are getting faster care, but new programs aren’t reaching everyone.
A video fix for rural healthcare’s challenges
A video fix for rural healthcare’s challenges
A program to connect urban specialists with rural doctors saves time and money on stroke treatment.
Rural New Mexico hospitals pool resources to survive
Rural New Mexico hospitals pool resources to survive
Will a new network be the difference for remote hospitals on the brink of financial collapse?
It’s all about access
It’s all about access
Rural healthcare solutions focus on connecting patients and providers.
Searching for solutions in the changing rural West
Searching for solutions in the changing rural West
A new project looks to answer how small towns can survive a new era.
After years of drought and overuse, the San Luis Valley aquifer refills
After years of drought and overuse, the San Luis Valley aquifer refills
How an over-taxed basin is getting its water use under control.
How rural New Mexico shares water during drought
How rural New Mexico shares water during drought
Centuries-old traditions offer guidance for water managers seeking resilience in an uncertain future.
Local woodcutters pitch in on forest health
Local woodcutters pitch in on forest health
How mobilizing a small army of locals could nurture grassroots support for large-scale thinning efforts.
Can cutting down trees protect New Mexico’s water?
Can cutting down trees protect New Mexico’s water?
A new collaboration seeks to ease wildfire’s impacts by thinning overgrown forests.
Can a ranch sawmill improve forest health in rural Colorado?
Can a ranch sawmill improve forest health in rural Colorado?
Cutting timber on a billionaire’s land could boost the San Luis Valley’s economy.
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    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
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