He stands before his office desk somewhat incredulous of what he sees from the upstairs window. Looking out over the alley rooftops of Elk Avenue businesses beyond to Paradise Divide and Red Lady Mountain, Jackson Petito grins big, shakes his head and says, “This is the most accomplished I’ve ever felt. I had a goal to get back to Crested Butte and I didn’t know how I would get there—but here I am.” Jackson took the long way home.
Born of a legendary mother, Lynda (Jackson) Petito, Jackson arrived in Crested Butte from the Montrose Hospital when he was three days old in 1979. “I’m definitely a product of Petito sisters’ upbringing,” he chuckles. “It took a whole family plus a town to raise me.” Jackson remembers the way Crested Butte had a built-in, town-wide, parent patrol. “I loved growing up here,” he says of his mountain town childhood. “I had nothing to compare it to but it was great. You could be unsupervised. I loved it until I was about 12 or 13… then it became small. It’s hard to get into trouble because everyone knows who you are and what you’re doing. As a parent, I now appreciate the town being so small and able to keep an eye on everyone’s kids, but when all you wanted was to get away with stuff, you don’t appreciate that everyone just wanted to protect you. It’s not that I got into trouble,” he adds emphatically. Some of Jackson’s fondest memories come from the freedom that Crested Butte kids have growing up in a safe environment that allows them to be inventive. “We had the run of the town and the willow bushes created sort of a hollow so they were our forts, like when you hide inside of a clothing rack in a store as a kid. You could hide kid paraphernalia in those forts, like one time we found the cab of a bulldozer up on The Bench, just the cab, with a four-foot stack of Playboy and Penthouse magazines… which was pretty rough and more than little kids could handle,” he laughs. “We stashed them in the fort and then could never find them. They’re probably a pile of pulp now in some willow.” Jackson confesses that he wasn’t a big skier or athlete and noted that those kids never got bored. “They’re always on the hill or on a bike. I wasn’t a big active guy. We all skied from the time we were two years old but I wasn’t as gung-ho about it. I regret that now because I feel I didn’t take advantage of where I lived.” But he was in many local children’s plays, working with the Creative Arts Institute, which he thoroughly enjoyed. As he matured, Petito was a judge at the Crested Butte Reel Fest. The Community School hadn’t been built yet when Jackson started classes at the Crested Butte Academy, from which he graduated in 1998. He could have gone to Gunnison schools, but it was almost a two-hour bus ride. At that transitional crossroads twixt juvenile and adulthood, as all kids do, Jackson began to want independence and decided the big city would be a perfect life, even though he had never actually lived in a cosmopolitan setting. “I really wanted to live in a big city because anonymity appealed to me,” he says, and so he went off to college. “My college years were so formative for me,” Jackson says of his times at St. Mary’s in the bay area of California. “I immediately gained an appreciation for Crested Butte and what I had left. When you live here as a kid, you don’t know anything else, you take it for granted. I thought everywhere was like this, with beautiful views and a supportive community. I didn’t have a sense of what it was like to live anywhere else. I thought I was more like a city boy but once I got out into the world, in the context of real life, I realized I was actually more of a mountain country boy.” Jackson graduated from St. Mary’s in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in integrated liberal studies, which, he says, has nothing to do with political viewpoints. “It’s what they used to call a classical education, starting with Aristotle and going through Freud. They did that with math too, from Archimedes through Stephen Hawking. There was crazy science stuff too. It’s a seminar style… reading and discussion and then you had to write papers. It was a great pre-law program.” In 2003 he moved to Alameda, Calif., a man-made island in the San Francisco Bay area, on to Oakland, then to Los Angeles, where he worked for an early online dating service called Spark Networks, which was Matchnet. As part of their marketing department, Jackson tracked the effectiveness of their online advertising. “They were very successful and then they went public, which was good for me since the stock options paid for my wedding to Leah in 2007.” Their daughter, Luna, arrived in September 2012. His perspective began to change—having children has a way of tweaking your vision forever. As soon as Luna was born Jackson started thinking about how he could get back to Crested Butte. “I realized what a great place Crested Butte was while I was in college and I thought, if I ever have kids I want to raise them there. When I got out of college I got a realistic view of what adult life was like and I realized living in Crested Butte would be very difficult, given housing prices and the job market, but it remained a goal. They say you can do anything with a law degree, which is what they tell you when they’re trying to get your tuition in law school.” He graduated from the University of Maryland with a law degree in 2012, passed the Maryland bar later that year and went to work for Janet, Jenner & Suggs law firm, practicing environmental mass tort law, which basically means an injury done to a lot of people with one act of negligence. “We sue on behalf of the residents of the neighborhood. These cases are huge and take sometimes years before they even go to trial,” Jackson says of the arduous work in learning the specific facts of each case, but he also happily points out, “I wouldn’t be here back in Crested Butte if I hadn’t gone to law school.” Coming from a predominately arid mountain climate, Jackson never quite adjusted to Maryland’s humidity. “I liked Baltimore as a city. A really surprising percentage of the city is very engaged civically. Everybody knows and cares about the local politics. And it had a great art scene. I wanted a few years of law practice under my belt. I had been in contact with Jim Starr, who was my Cub Scout leader growing up, and his sons Brendan and Jamie, who were in my class throughout most of school. Jim called me in October and offered me an opportunity to come home,” he says. So he took and passed the Colorado Bar in May, put their Baltimore house on the market, and by July this year Jackson, Leah, and Luna moved into the Crested Butte house that Jackson was raised in. He describes the extended family home as the “Petito-Chlipala Compound,” which includes his mom, Lynda, Ron Chlipala, his aunt Bonnie, his cousin Maggie, a blind hound, and a bold terrier. “Luna’s bedroom is my old bedroom when I was ten years old. I’m just thrilled that she gets to grow up here,” Jackson says, still reeling in the magic of it all. As a teen, Jackson had his own radio show on KBUT and he’s anxious to get back into the air chair. “I had my own show here all through high school and summers in college. Bonnie called it the Psycho Teen Show but it was later known as the Two Guys in Acapulco Shirts show, with me and Tristan Boyd, who also grew up here.” The two played an eclectic mix from Frank Sinatra and Snoop Dog to Metallica, one right after the other. “I’m real excited to get back on KBUT, filling in, and hopefully if there’s a slot available I’ll have my own show. I like the idea of a show with no format.” Jackson’s law practice is far more diversified here. “So far I’ve just been thrilled with all the different kinds of law I get to practice here—everything from wills to criminal defense, which I also did in law school, transactional law, real estate, business service, estate planning, family law, personal injury, and workers comp,” says the new associate with Starr & Associates. “I had a creepy buzzing fluorescent cubical and now I have this,” he gestures toward the window view. “I’m excited to get to know the town as an adult because I don’t have any experience of that. My last experience of living here was at 18.” Jackson is already planning and thinking of ways to contribute and give back to his community in the near future. “If possible, I want to make this an even easier place to raise a family, especially for kids like me who left. If I can help by getting involved in local politics, then I will,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities for technology, whether it’s communications or green energy,” even here at the end of the road. “I want to get out on the streets and start asking people what they’d like to see changed and if they have any ideas on how to change it—what kind of problems face the community and how the community can come together to solve those problems. There are probably great ideas out there but I’ve only been back for nine days and I don’t know what all those issues are yet… but give me another nine days,” he laughs with more than a hint of seriousness. “I’m here to help because this was my home for 18 years, but it will be my hometown for the rest of my life.”