Scott Bayens: Real estate boom means plenty of new neighbors
Shortly after moving to the valley in the spring of 2002, I had an epiphany of sorts behind the wheel. It was actually more like a private shaming, but one that proved to be extremely memorable and effective, and one I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.
At the time I was working at a local radio station as the news director. One of the first people I met and who remains a friend to this day was longtime local Brian Keleher. Brian knew just about everything Aspen and acted as an early guide. One day we hopped in my car, hooked a right up South Mill Street and approached the intersection by the Jerome. Suddenly the car in front of me stopped short as a wayward pedestrian stepped off the curb and into traffic. That triggered my “kill or be killed; big city” instincts to do what was required. I honked my horn.
At that moment, I saw Brian out of the corner of my eye, writhing and twisting as though he were having a seizure. When I looked over and asked what was wrong, he shot back, “Dude! You never honk your horn in Aspen.” Really I thought? That’s sort of an automatic response back in the concrete jungle. Besides, that pedestrian should have waited until the traffic was clear before proceeding. Cars have right of way. I was wrong on all counts of course.
I can tell you it was a long stretch before I honked my horn again, and perhaps only if some distracted driver was drifting into my lane. That experience and Brian’s reaction stuck as it instilled in me just how different this place is from where I had just come from. Over the years it has served to remind me how sacrosanct this idyllic existence we all enjoy is; one that should be protected and celebrated, or at least be so endeavored.
I’ve thought a lot about that shift in me almost 20 years ago. I still have big city flaws and A-type defects, but I think it’s fair to say I have experienced transformation. For me, it took awhile to go from being a local to acting like a local.
This first “corona summer” was one of surprise as we welcomed so many visitors; one of anxiety as we worked to stay distanced and healthy; one of heroism and sacrifice in the face of drought, smoke and fires; and, yes, was one for the record books in terms of real estate sales.
For those keeping score at home, since lockdown was lifted, just over $850 million of real estate has traded hands from Aspen to Rifle. And that figure does not yet indicate August or September sales. According to the MLS, there are nearly 500 properties under contract and set to close by the end of the year. All previous end-of-year sales numbers are sure to smashed.
Simply put, it’s been a historical, hypersonic aberration culminating in hundreds, if not thousands of new full and part-time residents. And although the volume of summer visitors has died down, towns along Highway 82 remain busy as annual leaf peepers descend to enjoy the fall color. Those who have lived here awhile can see and sense a shift. There are a few more folks bumping shoulders this shoulder season.
Make no mistake; this historic, hypersonic migration has and will have major implications for our region. And that’s what got me thinking about my horn. Like many, I knew the area and it’s elixir before moving here. I didn’t know how long I would stay but came to recharge, renew, recenter and breathe in all that cool, clean mountain air. Mind, body, spirit and all that.
Many of our new neighbors have a similar story and are open to the same metamorphosis. But I also think those of us who were here pre-COVID are fretful of those who may not be so enlightened or respectful. No matter your political affiliation or spiritual beliefs, those of us who have embraced what it means to live in these mountains have a common creed of sorts.
We believe in packing out what we pack in, protecting and preserving our natural resources, running free while obeying signs that ask we not camp, fish or ski in places dangerous or that don’t belong to us, using care with fire and firearms, sharing roads and trails, and lastly, not honking our horns at each other.
Be warned. You’re going to see the guy you just flipped off five minutes later in the grocery store. The hostess you told off because she wouldn’t seat you might be your kids babysitter.
Perhaps my point is best summed up in an old Ute proverb I found: “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Walk beside me that we may be one.”
Words that seems especially poignant and important now. Welcome to the valley. I hope all find safe haven here; and enjoy peace, solace and healing as many before us have.
Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more about Scott at http://www.aspendreamhome.com.
For the last 35 years I’ve been covering what we call the “salmon wars” in the Pacific Northwest, writing so many stories about salmon heading toward extinction that I’ve lost count.
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