Scott Bayens: More than just natural beauty
Ask any local or frequent visitor to the valley why they live or vacation here — natural beauty is the No. 1 answer. Snow-covered peaks, turquoise and high-alpine lakes, fall colors and our endless, colorful vistas are literally baked into our name! Not far behind is lifestyle, which usually equates to all of our awesome outdoor year-round activities. People the world over flock to our state to enjoy biking, camping, fishing, floating, hunting, outdoor concerts, and although it’s still a few months away, skiing and other winter pursuits.
It was the Homestead Act in 1862 that first beckoned settlers to the fertile farmlands in the eastern portion of the state. The larger metropolitan areas on the Front Range grew from town to cities and now boast professional sporting events, museums and malls. And here in the West, in our booming mountain towns, there exists other more subtle yet powerful attractants.
In the late ’60s, the Vietnam War, social and political unrest, and public demonstrations in cites and on college campus prompted many to “check out” and end up in places like ours. Here they could escape the chaos, live a life away from the norm and the expectations of American society, and breathe in that fresh mountain air.
I know that’s one of the reasons I ended up here. Same for my wife and many we know. It’s just different here — fewer expectations, less judgment, and more “free to be me.”
From boomers who hitchhiked here 70 years ago, to Gen X, and then millennials, we share many of the same traits and a collective philosophy. Most of us are fiercely independent, anti-authoritarian, and took a risk by leaving family, friends and the “norm” behind. Others just ran away. Either way, we’re a different breed.
Not surprisingly, Colorado has been on the forefront on many controversial and progressive issues over the years. In 2012, the Centennial State made headlines when it legalized the purchase, possession and consumption of marijuana whether you used it for a sore back or just wanted to get stoned. Two years later, same-sex marriage was legalized here.
I mention these two landmark decisions specific to my monthly commentary on real estate, as they both had a measurable impact on tourism and later, state residency. Once pot became legal, we quickly saw a rise in marijuana tourism. Dopers from far and wide wanted to see for themselves what it was like to walk into a pot shop and walk out with a bag of weed.
At the same time, savvy entrepreneurs and investors rushed in to be among the first to secure licenses and real estate. Since legalization, legal pot has raked more than $2 billion in state revenue. Although our experiment was a success and clearly here to stay, legalization is not without its detractors and remains controversial. But compared to gay marriage, legal pot enjoys much more widespread support.
Whether for or against same-sex unions, when legalized in 2016 that change also added significant revenue to state coffers. Those not allowed to marry in their home states came here for the ceremony and while here spent money on wedding cakes, hotels, restaurants and event venues.
Personally, many of my gay friends moved to Colorado specifically to benefit from and support that change. Conversely, one can speculate some may have moved away in protest to more conservative states and to the Bible Belt. But either way, there can be no argument these controversial and progressive policies have been a boon to our economy.
That brings me to last month’s landmark decision on reproductive rights. The right to an abortion is now left to the states. Here in Colorado, it remains legal.
My prediction is, like pot and same-sex marriage, that stance will create a type of “tourism” of its own, although one to be enjoyed only by those with the means to travel inside our borders. And while neighboring states are working actively to prohibit that, women will find ways to get here just as surely as the rest of us found ways to score a bag of joints before it was legal.
And like those of us who came here for the beauty and the “free to be you and me,” followed by those who adopted Colorado as aligned with their “lifestyle,” I predict a new wave of newcomers as a result of this latest decision. No matter how you feel about legal drugs, LBGTs or unplanned pregnancy, that migration is sure to have an impact on everything from state revenue to real estate.