It’s different up here…

Admittedly living in a small town does not come with the same ‘big city’ issues that most of America has to deal with. We like that. We have our problems and our issues and while they sometimes take a backseat to our normal priority of getting out on the trail, river or peak or gathering with friends, they are real to us…

Let me start with a small town newspaper gripe. I have seen participation at almost every local government meeting increase noticeably over the last year because of the technology of things like Zoom. COVID eliminated most in-person meetings and people flocked to the alternative of participating in their local government at their kitchen table while wearing pajamas. That was one benefit of the pandemic — not the pajamas but greater participation of citizens in their local democracy.

So, when I see that the Mt. Crested Butte town council isn’t pulling the trigger to continue using that technology that at its last virtual meeting drew in more people than ever before (almost 100 people) I shake my head. As a small town newspaper guy, I always advocate for more transparency and citizen convenience. I don’t buy the town argument that because a $7,000 camera wasn’t budgeted for, it can’t be done.

Using technology to go online and look at some recent financial reports for the town, I see that at the end of the 2021 ski season Mt. Crested Butte sales tax collections were up $390,000 year-to-date over its budget. March and April revenues set new records over 2019 and 2017 so it wasn’t based on pandemic months. I know that the budget was lean when approved because of the unknowns of COVID but to say a $7,000 camera can’t be purchased because it wasn’t in the budget is weak sauce. The extra $390,000 wasn’t in the budget either — are you not going to take that?

And while the budget argument came primarily from the town manager, it is ultimately a council decision dealing directly with the “policy” of how much participation they want from their citizens and interested community members. So I raise my eyebrow at the council, not the staff. The buck stops with them. That expenditure and timing is a council decision and it is a minor one with big positive impacts on transparency and citizen participation.

The town of Crested Butte is probably considered in overall better financial straights than Mt. CB. It spent well into five figures ($25-$30K) updating its video and audio systems to allow both in-person and virtual participation at its meetings. It is an expense that encourages citizens to take part in their representative government and as I said, as a newspaper guy, that sort of easy expenditure is at the top of the priority list. The Mt. CB council should have no hesitation to pull that trigger soon, given the benefit to its citizens.

On a more emotional level…
For those here for a week, Crested Butte and the surrounding mountains is most likely paradise. While the typical tourist might see a utopia full of fun, beauty and adventure, those of us living here know it is all of that and more. It comes with real life.

Examples of that real life are steady. Like I did a couple of weekends ago, we often attend ‘celebrations of life’ for friends and acquaintances lost too soon. We as a community last week also mourned a beloved teacher who succumbed to cancer and remember her smile and impact on our children. We pray for our kids who know a freedom many others in this country never see as they have a playground that while beautiful, can also be precarious.

The community experienced a scary moment Sunday when a car full of local teenagers rolled several times up one of the local drainages. Every parent here feels a tightness in their chest when hearing the sirens heading up or down the highway. The majority of the time it is a gas leak or a visitor having an altitude issue. But occasionally it is a major response to locals in need of assistance. Too often we hear of friends who met their end in the backcountry or like Sunday, a group of girls who didn’t make the wisest of decisions but overall lucked out in the big picture with no one dying in what could have been a really serious accident.

Yes, this is a beautiful and unique resort community. That too comes with challenges for locals. We debate things like how to house workers near their jobs, if we really should be issuing parking tickets, the location of big houses, as well as managing dandelions and how often trash should be picked up.

Real life happens in this paradise and that is something to remember and appreciate. Real people live here and deal with worries and problems just like anyone. But those who have chosen to stay and make a life in these mountains are not cut from the same cloth as most Americans. They choose to live the adventure many tourists experience for a week. They know it comes with challenges and sacrifice, but the tradeoff is normally worth it.

It’s sometimes a weird place. It’s a place where people throw on costumes and ride bikes in the rain. It’s a place where we all look out for others and celebrate the fortune those that pass had while living here. It’s a place where the stated reason to not buy a camera to bring in more people can tweak my mind and a place where we get lucky when a car full of kids rolls over in the backcountry playground and they all live to tell the story.

Be appreciative for what we have here. It is indeed a place full of fun, beauty and adventure. But wear your seatbelts and appreciate both the big and the little things that come with real life at 9,000 feet.

—Mark Reaman

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