Crested Butte: 2020, What Comes Around Goes Around: Transitions Part 2

By Mark Walker

Impacted by the coronavirus and what is perceived as “social unrest,” Crested Butte and Gunnison Valley may be luring people away from urban areas, according to Mark Reaman’s recent article in the Crested Butte News, “Signs That Crested Butte Is Attracting A New Wave.” According to Crested Butte finance director Rob Zillioux, “home sale prices in town are ‘skyrocketing,’ as are the number of sales. All of which resembled the influx of newcomers in the 1970s although on a far more modest level.”

Also, the Black Lives Matter protests in July led by Chloe Nicole Bowman in Crested Butte reminded me of the anti-Vietnam War protests in the early 1970s. Ms. Bowman was moved by the deaths of people who “looked like me” and was part of young and old, as well as white and black protestors. Consequently, Crested Butte Town Council members wanted to make sure the town was aware of some of the top issues being discussed around policing and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Council member Mallika Magner asked many of the important questions: How do we support racial justice in our community? Why is the community so white? We should have a community and council conversation to be part of the solution to what the nation is experiencing with systemic racism. How can we help make change? What can town government do?

By August, the Town Council was dealing with many of the issues coming out of a protest in which approximately 26 million people around the world had participated in so far, probably far exceeding the number of protestors of the Counterculture in the early 1970s.

In 1971, one of my mentors, Dr. Hubert W. Smith of the Law Science Academy in Crested Butte, as well as one of my favorite professors at Western State College, Dr. Duane Vandenbusche, signed recommendations for me to join the Peace Corps. A timely option since my request as a conscientious objector was turned down by my draft board in Lakewood, Colo. Soon after, I left for training in Ponce, Puerto Rico, which launched a 40-year career in the field of international development, but I would continue to find excuses to return to Crested Butte.

Several years ago, I visited Crested Butte on vacation with my Guatemalan wife and middle daughter, Nicolle. Nicolle has worked with the International Rescue Committee, supporting millions of refugees around the world as well as in the Phoenix area, where we now live. She and her significant other, Ed, keep us actively involved in many of the protests that never seem to end these days.

We stayed on the “Hill” (first time for me) and came into town for a book signing of Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, which I wrote in memory of Dr. Smith, who died months after I left Crested Butte in 1971. We had lunch at the historic Forest Queen Hotel overlooking Coal Creek, visited the Heritage Museum in Tony’s old Conoco station, then hiked up to Gothic to appreciate the multi-colored collage of wildflowers.

And much to my surprise, cannabis had been legalized in 2014, resulting in increased state revenues as well as a decrease in violent crime, although homelessness has increased. I was amazed to learn of several retail dispensaries. Durango Organics offers a variety of marijuana strains, concentrate edibles, topical solutions and so much more. Backcountry Cannibals was established 2009 and promotes high quality edibles and concentrates. The Durango Crested Butte outlet offers Cheeba Chews, Scooby Snax, Purple Monkey Tea and Keef Cola. Would someone please just hand me a joint!

In retrospect, we were on the right side of history, railing against an unjust and poorly managed war in Vietnam. At the time, who could have imagined that 2.7 million American troops would pass through Vietnam, and that the conflict would claim 58,000 Americans, not to mention the 500,000 hooked on drugs and the 3.5 million Vietnamese killed.

Now, I am encouraged to see the number of people marching in the streets of Crested Butte protesting social injustice and violence in its many forms as well as the response of the Town Council. And hopefully like me in the 1970s, the protesters will also take the time to appreciate the amazing history and natural wonders that make Crested Butte such a unique place.

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