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Leveling the past

Paul Andersen

When the historic U76 barn was bulldozed two weeks ago for a new golf course at Sander’s Ranch, part of our collective memory was erased. That barn was more than an architectural relic; it defined the place where we live.Garfield County Commissioner John Martin reacted with appropriate umbrage. “I was really disappointed,” he said. “It’s like an insult to the community.” Unfortunately, the horse was already out of the barn, and the barn was out of the picture.The insult came from the Bair Chase Development Co., which tore down the U76. Equally culpable were Martin and the Garfield County commissioners. They assumed the sensitivity of a developer instead of requiring it.But why should we lament the loss of a historic barn? Such “insults to the community” go on recklessly here in western Colorado with each new development. Why worry over this one?Because the loss of the U76 barn shows of how readily we disconnect from the past and from tradition. History has quaint appeal, unless it’s an obstacle to progress. Landmarks then become bumps in the road to be smoothed over by a fresh layer of pavement.In Europe, tradition is cherished. People honor their history as they do their forebears. A barn like the U76 would have been protected by local government, not only as a visual amenity, but as a cultural anchor.Such “sentimentality” is often derided here, in part because the root stock of most Americans comes from wandering European immigrants who abandoned their traditions for the New World. As their offspring, we often do the same.Barry Lopez, in his essay, “A Literature of Place,” suggests that human beings need to live “in some sort of ethical unity with a place as a fundamental human defense against loneliness.”The developers of Sander’s Ranch bulldozed the U76 barn because they didn’t value that “ethical unity.” They ignored the cultural connectivity and community identity represented by that barn.A similar experience is occurring with the Burnt Mountain elk herd. As former Division of Wildlife officer Randy Cote warned recently, the cumulative impacts of development by the Skico on Burnt Mountain could one day wipe out that herd.”One day it’s there, the next day it’s gone,” mourned John Martin about the U76 barn. The same may be said about elk herds, heron rookeries, clean air, clear water, open space, peace, quiet, intimacy … in short, the vanishing essence of rural living.In last Sunday’s edition of the Aspen Daily News, the front page featured a photo of horses grazing on open land before snow-capped Mount Sopris. The picture was titled: “The Old West.” A bold headline below warned: VALLEY POPULATION PREDICTED TO DOUBLE BY 2030.Golf courses, second homes, energy development, sprawling subdivisions, new roads and increasing traffic will strain the rural qualities of the Roaring Fork Valley, implied State Demographer Jim Westcott at a recent conference.The profit motive trumps heritage values again and again. Caring citizens who caution local governments against rapid growth and the resulting social ills are vilified as NIMBYs, while opportunistic developers are hailed as visionaries.The loss of the U76 barn isn’t going to spell doom for the valley. But the cumulative erosion of cultural and environmental qualities will. If we value and appreciate our western heritage, it will take more than naive trust to save it.Paul Andersen thinks that the U76 barn took a lot longer to build than a bulldozer took to tear it down. His column appears on Mondays.


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