This is the Fourth of July issue. Normally I write something having to do with America and our obligation to maintain important elements of our republic.
Not this year. If you want a taste of local political speech, hit up Pete “the Gadfly” Giannini’s Facebook page. Instead, for me, the focus is on something that really matters here in the local bubble: The Gronk.
Spreading like wildfire the last couple weeks, the rumor du jour was that a greedy out-of-towner was buying the Gronk out by Peanut Lake to tear it down and put up giant houses. Given its relationship to the truth of the matter, that rumor sounds like a Twitter feed from you-know-who.
The paper received a letter to the editor from a local 10-year old who said he cried when he heard the news that a second homeowners was trying to destroy the Gronk. “I am proud of my town and this valley and what makes us different. If we keep chopping down trees and taking down old mining structures just because they are in the way of ‘progress,’ my small awesome town will soon be just like everywhere else,” wisely wrote Peter Dunn.
When people approached me in outrage last week and asked for the real story, I replied I did not know but would find out. Here’s what I found.
The people who own the land on which the Gronk stands love the Gronk. Love. They are preparing to retire from Kansas City and have started building a house south of the giant structure. I spoke with landowner Jim Utley Monday afternoon and his attachment to the Gronk is sincere and deep. He described the Gronk as a “wonderful artifact.” He said the whole family was attached to the Gronk and they had an “absolute commitment to preserve it.”
Now he did say they are trying to figure out how to eliminate the graffiti that has sprung up on the Gronk in recent years, “but the intent is to preserve it and we are committed as caretakers to the structure and the birds that live there.”
The Utleys were involved in a land trade with the Crested Butte Land Trust 14 years ago. The effort was meant to keep the Lower Loop trail easements through several Trapper’s Crossing lots. That, along with some of the Woods Walk trail, was preserved with their help. In a recent letter to some concerned locals, the Utleys this month made it clear that “It is our commitment to protect the structure from any commercial activity and to preserve it as a natural and important artifact of Crested Butte’s historical beginnings.”
They described the mining artifact as a wonderful structure and said they were “committed to its protection and preservation.”
The giant concrete structure stands guard over the scenic Slate River Valley and Peanut Lake. Gronk was the name of a great local band a few years ago. But aside from apparently being part of the mill and tipple operation of the old Peanut Mine or perhaps some antenna device for planetary aliens, no one is willing to say what it is absolutely is—so it is the Gronk. It is solid. It is a landmark. It is just there and a part of this place.
Depending on when you arrived in the valley you might remember the old Water Tower that is no longer standing in town. You might recall having to dial (yes, dial) only the last four numbers of someone’s phone number on an old-school phone to reach someone. There was the Bathhouse in all its nude glory and The Bench with no houses. There was once a beautiful barn and hay meadow instead of a school at the entrance to town. There were a lot of empty lots on Elk Avenue and the Four-way was a four-way and not a six-way. The ice rink was a pond with a telephone pole in the middle of it and the east side of town had no mature trees. It all means something to someone. And eventually it all changes somehow.
The Gronk is one of those things that hasn’t changed much. It is iconic and as 10-year-old Peter Dunn stated, it is something that keeps this place different.
It appears as if the Gronk could not be in better hands. The Utleys look at themselves as stewards of something important that keeps this place different and unique. I thank them and I believe now that people know the truth: The community appreciates their efforts.
So much for the rumor of the day.
So much for politics in our mountain village bubble.
Have a happy Fourth of July, everyone!