Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An uplifting story of rural attachment to place

Kirk Johnson reports in today's New York Times from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, population 11,700. The headline is "A Clan and a Colorado Town, Long Thriving as One," and it provides a story of rural (well, nonmetropolitan) attachment to place that contrasts with those told in some of my recent posts (see here and here) in that the family who have stayed in Steamboat Springs for several generations have thrived. That is, they have arguably stayed because they have prospered, and not only because they are inter-generationally attached to the place.

The "clan" in Steamboat Springs are the descendants of F.M. and Carrie Light who came to the town around the turn of the 20th century and in 1905 founded F.M. Light & Sons clothing store. Since then, generations of Light descendants have exhibited their entrepreneurial spirit and staying power in and around Steamboat Springs. They have, for example, founded the Steamboat Springs ski resort, adapted their main street clothing store with the changing times (enter Wal-Mart), sold real estate, and become the county's Emergency Management Director.

Johnson puts the Lights' staying power in perspective:

Most places here in the West do not persist like Steamboat, as families get blown hither and yon or luck plays out.

In a region where cities like Denver, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas dominate life — the West is the most urbanized part of the nation, according to the census — small towns have been more likely to boom like firecrackers or fade slowly. Ghost towns dot the prairies and mountainsides.

Of particular interest to those of us concerned about the rural brain drain is the part of the story that highlights the Light descendants who have not only left--but also returned. Those mentioned include several with aerospace engineering degrees or MBAs and one who did a stint in the military before returning to Steamboat.

Read the entire story, and watch the multi-media slide show, for a great feel-good experience. Steamboat Springs is the county seat of Routt County, population 22,356, on Colorado's western slope, abutting the Wyoming state line. Interestingly, while Johnson mentions real estate and tourism, he doesn't mention rural gentrification, which is surely an aspect of how Steamboat Springs--and the Lights--have flourished.

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