Rangely, Colorado, population 2,500, and Dinosaur (yes, I said Dinosaur), Colorado, population 350.
Roughly 20 miles apart, neither is a tourist destination. In fact, most Coloradans, including a girl like me who grew up only two hours away, think of them only as a singular pit stop on the way to more acclaimed locations like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Swan Valley, Idaho. However, after a trip to the Northwest Region with fellow Northwest Regional Coordinator Emily Orbanek, I think of them quite differently and, once again, experienced firsthand the importance of the boots El Pomar puts on the ground through the Regional Partnerships program.
Allow me to paint you a picture.
Rangely is, by my own definition, a thriving rural Colorado town. As Emily and I sat down to dinner with the mayor of Rangely, Paula Davis, we noticed the steady stream of young people coming in and out of the Italian restaurant to get takeout. There was a book signing in the private room and everyone who passed our table stopped to say a hello to the mayor. As we spoke with her, intending to share with Mayor Davis the work El Pomar was doing in rural Colorado, we learned about the state of things in Rangely, which would contribute to the greater lessons we took away from our trip.
Prior to our dinner with the mayor of Rangely, Emily and I drove the 20 miles to the neighboring town of Dinosaur.
Now, Dinosaur is much different from Rangely—smaller to be sure and without a local community college to its name. As the mayor of Rangely put it, there is a certain isolation to this town. Despite the natural resources it’s sitting on, Dinosaur does not have access to natural gas. Its residents rely on other towns for services. However, when I say other towns, it is to be noted that this does not include services in Rangely, other than the few students that are bused there for school.
Emily and I had lunch with a former mayor and Dinosaur advocate, Richard Blakely, who has deep roots in this small Colorado town. He told us that the people in Dinosaur don’t feel connected to Rangely, and that his fellow residents would rather drive to Vernal, Utah – nearly double the distance of Rangely from Dinosaur – to get groceries and other services.
Despite conflicting local viewpoints and the politics at play, Emily and I spent the long drive back to Colorado Springs discussing the two very important lessons learned:
First, no two rural towns are alike, and we make a mistake when we assume they are. Rangely and Dinosaur may be only 20 miles apart, but they are in different counties and have entirely different cultures and needs. And, as we heard from those in both places, Rangely and Dinosaur are definitely not a unit.
Second, the only way to truly understand the values, eccentricities, and needs of rural communities in order to more strategically direct funding to them is to travel to there and go local.