The Sopris Sun

Meet the faces behind those Roaring Fork Facebook groups

By Megan Tackett
Special to The Sopris Sun

If you live in the Roaring Fork Valley, you’ve likely used any one of the several Facebook group pages that exist specifically for residents’ needs. There’s the Roaring Fork Swap, Roaring Fork Rentals & Roommates, Roaring Fork Events, Roaring Fork Road and Weather… and those are just some the larger groups with “Roaring Fork” in front of their names.
With more than 22,600 members, Roaring Fork Swap is the undisputed behemoth among the groups — in fact, many of the other pages that are now staples for communities sprang from the Swap’s posts and comments outgrowing the platform’s intent.
“People kept posting rentals and searches for rentals [on the Swap],” Cynthia Wheeler, who started Roarking Fork Rentals and Roommates, said of the group’s origin. “One of the admins [on the Swap] was finally like, ‘We just need a separate page.’ And I thought, ‘I’ll do it! I’m a stay-at-home mom with a little bit of time — it can’t be that hard,’” she recalled. 
While she may not consider the work hard, there is plenty of it. 
“I probably spend more time on those two pages than I should,” Wheeler said. She also runs Roaring Fork & Beyond Classifieds, which boasts a 7,323 membership. Between both pages, Wheeler manages more than 16,000 members, and that number grows everyday.
“We have, on any given day, 20 to 30 requests to join a page,” she said. “So I probably spend, on average, two or three hours [over the course of a day] per page, because I run both.” 
Ups and downs of the Swap
Ray Alexander knows the feeling of running multiple Facebook groups in the Valley. He is one of the three administrators who currently operate the Swap — and that’s one of six pages he has either outright created or currently helps manage, including Roaring Fork Road and Weather and Roaring Fork Outdoors. 
“It’s a very, very labor-intensive part of my day,” he said about running his respective pages that, together, claim more than 32,000 members. Each of the three administrators behind the Swap, for instance, typically spends more than an hour a day on maintenance and responses.
“There’s always something going on,” Alexander said.
It’s also a labor of love. And like with any love, it has its ups and downs. 
“I’ve got 87 member requests right now,” Alexander said of the Swap. “With 22,000 members, there’s always drama. Adults don’t like being told what they can and can’t do.” The Roaring Fork Swap group has posted rules; in fact, the rules are displayed right on the page’s cover: “No business ads, no rehoming pets (shelters are OK), no drama, and if you have an issue, message an admin. See pinned post for more info. Thanks for making this page great!” it reads. Most of the time, people post hoping to sell their used cars or identify a spider on their properties, but not always, which is why the group has rules to govern interactions. Alexander is often the enforcer of those rules, and that can be exhausting. 
“The other day, someone was arguing about tire size,” he recalled. A woman posted a question comparing regular tires to snow tires and their respective sizes. It garnered more than 70 comments. 
“Everytime someone comments on a post, it takes it to the top [of a page]. I got tired of seeing it at the top, so I turned off the comments on [that post]. Then the guy that was arguing with everyone started a new post complaining that I’d turned off comments before he was able to finish pleading his case — and that got over 110 comments!” Alexander was at a funeral at the time. His phone alerted him of every new update on the thread.
“It was getting ugly and I was tired of it and my phone kept blowing up, so I just deleted it,” he said of the second post. That wasn’t the end of it: the man then sent Alexander a private message. “I just said, ‘let it go.’”
Just another weekend running a Facebook page for the Roaring Fork Valley, he mused. But at the end of the day, it’s worth it. Alexander has made two great friends out of the experience: Jessica and Sylvia, his co-administrators, neither of whom publish their last names on the page. 
“It’s the three of us that have [run the Swap] for four years now,” he said. “We were complete strangers before all of this, and now we’re like family. It’s pretty neat.”
Because he posts his full name and Facebook-profile photograph as a page administrator, Alexander has garnered some local celebrity — that, too, is a proverbial double-edged sword. While it’s usually a fun surprise when someone he doesn’t know exclaims, “Oh, you’re Ray Alexander from the Swap,” he’s sometimes hesitant to answer the question. “I’m really active in the community and I own businesses,” he said of his trepidation about his role on the page. If there’s one thing the popularity of these pages has shown, it’s how few degrees of separation exist between people here. And sometimes, Alexander’s job isn’t warm and fuzzy, he said. “It’s a fine line: what’s a nice, polite way of saying ‘hey, you need to stop’ or ‘let’s not go there.’” 
Helping with housing
For most people in the area, their experiences with these pages are overwhelmingly positive.
“Roommates and Rentals rocks!” Mary Ferrari, a 29-year-old Glenwood Springs resident, said in a private Facebook message. “As hard as it is to find housing in this valley, I found my current living situation on this page in one week,” she continued.  Like so many others, Ferrari said she has spent months “living out of my car or couch surfing” in the past because she couldn’t find affordable, sustainable housing options. 
Wheeler, too, feels the squeeze on housing first hand, despite spending hours every day managing her page. She and her family moved into their current home in New Castle in 2010, when “rent was super low and people loved animals,” she said. “Then our family grew in 2013 — we had a baby — and our house seemed to be getting smaller. So I started looking [online], and everything was so discombobulated,” she recounted. Even real estate agents’ websites didn’t host a comprehensive page of all available properties. She and her family decided not to move, and now it’s not financially feasible to do so, she said. Around 2014, “rent started to rise and the animal-friendly landlords really started disappearing. So we’ve kind of been stuck in our house for the last seven years — it’s just insane.”
Her Facebook group has become a tool to help alleviate some of the stress around finding housing. “We have so many people from all over the world on our page looking to move to our Valley,” she said. “It’s kind of crazy!” 
Necessity is the mother of invention, as the adage goes.