By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff
What’s so special about the history of this place?
It was an almost offensive question to pose to Beth White and Matt Annabel of the Mount Sopris Historical Society, particularly against the rugged backdrop of the Pour House. But with a much broader demographic than just history buffs weighing in on a million dollar historical fund for Garfield County in the 1A ballot question, however, it’s probably one worth asking.
“It’s emblematic of the Western experience,” White responded. “I think on some level we have a sense that we live in a place with unique historical character. Our job is to help tell those stories. Those authentic experiences and resources are here, but if they’re not protected they won’t be.”
Protection needn’t mean additional regulation, Annabel emphasized. There are plenty of resources — like the American Legion, which occupies the old train station — which folks already want to see preserved in some way, but don’t know where to begin or how to fund it. And buildings are just the beginning — there’s plenty of living history and stories to be told, from the Utes right up to the present.
“It’s like the border between old West and new West right down the middle of town,” Annabel said. “There’s still a lot that can be saved out there.”
With heritage tourism, 1A proponents will tell you, you can generate revenue and hold onto your soul at the same time. It’s also an opportunity to launch a larger conversation about the area’s history.
“2018 could be really fun if we got this thing passed,” Annabel said. “There would be some pretty interesting conversations about how to do some things we’ve really struggled with.”
But there’s no time like the present, so The Sun decided to pose the same question to others: why does all this matter?
For “Memories of a River” author Charlotte Graham, it’s “that sense of the “natural” energy of man, living in harmony with all his surroundings, neighbors and Mother Earth, or what the Utes called nanama” that makes this place special.
“Current-day folks tuned into same all tend to describe it as sense of awe, magic, healing, sense of community and well-being. But most agree, it is fading fast! … succumbing to the pressures of 21st century modernity,” she wrote. “Preserving local history matters as the waves of future generations pass through their lives in this valley. When they feel those energies and hopefully, are curious of same, records of previous indigenous and immigrant peoples are available for them to learn about and honor them, from their mistakes as well as their successes in maintaining this ‘little slice of heaven on earth.’”
Carbondalian and Glenwood Springs Historical Society Director Bill Kight is all about the sense of wonder people get from opening the door to the past — though it’s not universal.
“The difference appears to be due to someone taking a child by the hand and introducing them to the mystery of history,” he said. “The best place for that to happen is in our museums. We are fortunate in our valley to have museums that share our rich history. It shouldn’t be so hard keeping these doors to the past open but it is. That’s why we are asking for help.”
Nowhere is that more apparent than at the Glenwood Railroad Museum, which faces a steep rent hike.
“The long term preservation of Garfield County’s history depends on the survival and success of the various groups who have taken on the mission of collecting, storing and using the archives and artifacts that tell the stories which make that history meaningful to future generations. Every resident of Garfield County has a stake in this mission and a role to play,” said Manager Pat Thrasher.
Of course, there’s plenty of history outside museums. Christi Couch runs the Meetup group “Hiking into Colorado’s Past” to give folks a chance to explore that.
“You can find a piece of history under any rock in this valley if you’re willing to take the time,” she noted. “Sadly, I have been watching some of this remarkable history disappear… I believe creating an awareness of history is key to helping preserve or restore it, whether it be through traditional media, social media, presentations, hiking groups or museums.”
As for living history, no one knows it better than Walter Gallacher, who does the “Immigrant Stories” series on KDNK and in the Post Independent.
“History is never boring it is storytelling at its best,” he said. “Interviewing the elders in our valley has made me more humble and grateful. They have made me realize how much of our past has shaped who we are. The sacrifices they made to insure a better life for their children and ultimately for all of us are often taken for granted. If we don’t know their stories, we don’t know where we’ve been, how we got here and, ultimately, where we’re going.”