In the rural, “frontier” communities scattered deep in the recesses of the Colorado Rockies, we treasure our independence, our proximity with nature at her most raw and devastating and transcendent, and we especially love keeping our neighbors at least a mile away (“as long as I can’t see in his windows”).
There’s another thing that mountain folk are particularly adept at, and I reckon most of my readers can relate: taking care of each other. During the September floods of 2013, folks of all ages and occupations met their neighbors, some for the first time, to help clean out a flooded home, to cook a hot meal for a displaced family. More recently, with the Cold Springs Fire which burned 600 acres and destroyed 8 homes (just a 10 minute drive from the Homestead), volunteers and supplies manifested out of nowhere with such a quickness that evacuation shelters were actually turning away donations.
(Okay, I’ll quit it with my Colorado drawl.)
There are some obvious challenges, and clear drawbacks to living far from “civilization” – such as lack of access to health care, and the closest grocery store being at least 20 miles away. While some will say, “We like it that way. That’s why we’re up here (‘cuz we’re not all ‘up here’)” those same folks are grumbling when they have to hitch an ambulance during a blizzard because they have a medical emergency and their pick-up is buried in the snow.
Luckily most of the people I interact with on a daily basis in Nederland and around Gilpin County agree that we do have quite a bit of work to do to improve the health, safety and wellness of our community. For example, Gilpin County has 18 casinos, 5 liquor stors, 3 convenience stores, 2 gas stations, 1 public school, no public transit, no clinics, and no grocery store. Gilpin County does, however, boast one of the most beautiful, modern community recreation centers with two pools, an indoor track, a dance studio, free-weights, exercise machines and spacious showers with hot water and plenty of pressure.
Nederland, on the other hand, happens to fall within Boulder County lines and enjoys some of the benefits of being in a wealthy and populous county: a family clinic, a community center (minus pool and indoor track), limited public transit, 2 gas stations, 1 school and 1 grocery store.
I recently asked residents of both areas what they would do to improve the health and wellness of their communities. The Nederland-based poll was conducted entirely on Facebook where anyone had the option to add their own options and to follow a long conversation thread on the topic. Here’s what they came up with:
- More clinics, more low-cost or free options for basic health care…..8 votes
- Affordable holistic options – acupuncture, massage therapy, homeopathy, etc…..11 votes
- More access to fresh, wholesome, organic produce….12 votes
- Recreation center for indoor strollers, runners, lap pool, place for kids….35 votes
The conversation thread focused on what kinds of amenities would be ideal, whether to upgrade the existing community center (which currently needs serious repairs, let alone upgrades), and where the funding would come from.
“Our family would probably be there every day if the Ned community center had an indoor pool! The Gilpin rec center is wonderful but it’s just too far, especially with a little one. In addition I wish the Ned community center had more programs for young kids like tumble/gymnastics.” – Hannah Johnson
“Honestly, research has shown that we don’t have a big enough population to support a community swimming pool unless some kind of cooperative arrangement is made with a larger entity, such as the county, the school district, or we authorize gambling and build one with gambling impact funds like Gilpin County did.” – Janette Keene Taylor
“I have no idea where the funds would come from, but if there’s a will, there is ALWAYS a way.” – Lisa Lopez
Gilpin County: the other side of the line
The lay of our land: Gilpin County has the fastest aging population in the state of Colorado: meaning there are plenty of old timers and not a whole lot of newcomers. Gilpin County is the smallest county in Colorado with a year-round population of 6,000. Most of Gilpin County is around 9,000 feet above sea level.
Last weekend, I had an opportunity to meet my neighbors who live several miles down the long dirt road that I call home. Even if we can’t see in each others windows, we’re still neighbors. The poll options in this format were far more limited – I only had room for four jars, really. So I narrowed down some of the health concerns that I’ve heard from Gilpin residents in the five years that I’ve lived in Gilpin County and came up with*:
- Cleaner environment (emissions testing, no mag chloride for dust control, etc.)
- More holistic and alternative health care options
- Grocery store (access to fresh, wholesome, organic produce)
- Free walk-in clinic
*While I probably spoke with a hundred people over the course of the weekend, the average donation to vote was $1, and in total we raised $25.91 in change (estimating 25 votes total): .25 cents for a cleaner environment, $1.25 for more holistic options, $10.11 for a free walk-in clinic and $14.30 for a grocery store.*
My little table generated a lot of conversation – folks visiting from Denver who owned land or a summer cabin in Gilpin County favored the idea of a grocery store. Full time residents, especially parents with small children, would desperately love to have a clinic nearby. Many people, when approached with the question, “what would YOU do to improve health in Gilpin County?” would chuckle between their teeth and say, “There’s so much work to be done…I don’t even know where to start.”
The “clinic jar” and the “grocery store” jar were filling with change at about the same rate throughout the weekend, and by the end of Sunday “grocery store” beat out “free clinic” by almost $4.
Now, I know this is all very unscientific. Don’t worry, The Holistic Homestead will conduct a more comprehensive and formal Public Health Needs Assessment next year in partnership with Gilpin County Public Health. In the meantime, these polls have given us a good deal of information about how to effectively engage with the population we serve, and the vast differences in priorities just over the county line.
The Holistic Homestead is committed to building healthy communities through public input and strategic partnerships to identify real needs and implement lasting – sustainable – improvements. What kinds of health challenges do you face in your community? What would YOUR priorities be? Take our poll below and share your ideas!
The problem comes when the community doesn’t think it has a problem. Or, when the community holds out its collective hands while chiding the efforts when they realize that they have to do something on their end as well. There is a little known adage which says you can give a man food and he will feast for a day, but if you teach the man how to get/raise his own food he will feast for a lifetime. I will help people who need it but not by giving them free things. clinics with sliding scales which allow people to have pride in themselves because they are at least helping themselves. I live in such a community that thinks there isn’t a problem, and they won’t take suggestions and run with them. They say “not interested” and one of their colleges say something which is clearly the same idea, cheer it on but never act on it.
It sounds like we have a lot in common. Yes, it is challenging to get a community engaged around issues of health and wellness, especially in rural areas where folks go to “get away” from all that stuff. One lesson I’m learning with The Homestead is to meet people where they are…find out what their priorities are, and after talking for a while (usually over a couple of beers…) you find out that you have more in common than you thought.
People tend to support change when it was their idea in the first place, instead of being preached at. What a delicate dance! Thanks for reading and following the Homestead. Good luck! Arwen