Hunter S. Thompson’s local legacy
The things most people in the world remember about Hunter S. Thompson are the obvious ones.”Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Hell’s Angels,” for instance. Both books, written early in Thompson’s career, helped define and popularize the emerging genre known as gonzo journalism.There’s his love affair with weaponry. He loved guns and the “fun” he could have terrifying friends and foes.Another obvious thing to remember about Thompson is his political commentary, which he pointed right between the eyes of some of the 20th century’s most influential people.While the rest of the world remembers those and other Thompsonisms, including his insatiable appetite for drugs and alcohol, we here in the Roaring Fork Valley have a little more to think about. For Hunter S. Thompson played a vital role in shaping this community and setting standards in government that are still in place today.Thompson was the first of the transplants of the late 1960s and early 1970s to make a run for elected office that actually changed the way people in Pitkin County look at their world. In 1970, he ran for sheriff and lost to the incumbent. But his “Freak Power” platform was based on the idea that not all laws (especially drug laws) were worth enforcing, and police should be keeping the peace, not terrorizing the citizenry.His campaign set the stage for Dick “Dove” Kienast to take office in the mid-1970s and turn policing here into a community-minded activity. Thompson’s ideas about policing the community are still in practice today.Thompson also spoke openly in the early 1970s about the need for land-use restrictions to limit sprawl and development, and he was a vocal backer of the candidates who went on to enact such controls.Thompson’s imprint can also still be found in Woody Creek, where the neighborhood caucus he helped create continues to enjoy extraordinary influence and near-veto power over land-use proposals it doesn’t like. The caucus, for example, played key roles in killing the application to put nearly 800 units of affordable housing on the W/J Ranch and derailing the effort in the mid-1990s to extend the runway at Sardy Field to accommodate major jetliners. Whenever some giant, community-altering proposal cropped up, especially ones that had direct impacts on Woody Creek, Thompson got involved. And the fact is, Woody Creek remains a uniquely rural neighborhood – one that can accommodate dwellers of trailers and monster-mansions – just a few miles outside Aspen.Hunter S. Thompson had a big hand in the way people in Aspen and Pitkin County view their community and their ability to affect it. It may well be his most important legacy, at least for those of us in the Roaring Fork Valley.
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