By Dorothea Farris
This month’s columnist came to Carbondale in 1960 when there was a population of 612. Since then, she has served on no less than 40 boards, commissions, and task forces. She has taught and counseled students in public and private schools, written articles and traveled widely. Somehow, she also fit in 5 years as an observer for the National Weather Service. She has seen a few changes but thinks that some things don’t change at all. Today, we are privileged to have her tell us something about that.
We are heading toward another election. To endure, our fragile democratic system of government necessitates our involved participation and meaningful participation requires an understanding of the process. That calls for studying the issues and participating in the determination of the route to rational proposals, decisions, and actions.
When I arrived in Carbondale in 1960 to teach English at Carbondale Union High School, I entered town under two signs over Main Street. One banner said “Teacher Needed.” Another said “Doctor Needed…Will Build a Clinic!” Dr. Hendricks filled the latter position and a clinic was built. I became the teacher at Carbondale Union High School.
Those who were fortunate enough to live in Carbondale then, understood the responsibility of residency in this special place. The obligation to care for the people, the town and our valley were often unstated, yet always seemed obvious. Every decision and action didn’t require an established policy or a vote, but it did involve participation.
When school officials refused to allow a female student, who had grown up on a ranch, to wear Levis (or slacks) to high school, a visit to the local board of education resolved the issue. Hair length for boys and skirt length for girls were issues then, too! Sometimes, all that is needed is common sense and intelligent conversation.
While in another state, I realized that male teachers received 25% more per year in salary. A simple discussion with the board of education resulted in an equal pay policy, reflecting the needs of the job and the changing times.
In college, I was denied the opportunity to major in a “male only” area of study (geology). So instead, I enrolled in each class and received the same opportunities as I worked to change the established rules. Eventually, a review of policies and unclear standards resulted in changes and resolved the issue.
Today’s challenges are daunting and frightening: climate change; global disturbances; population growth; the influence of money on a community’s lifestyle; shifting standards of individual behavior; the influence of constant media exposure; book banning; determination of educational standards and subject matter; military conflicts; and on and on…
But I believe that the solutions are out there — in the minds and strengths of the young people to whom the future belongs. We not only need established policy to direct community goals, we also need the involvement of those who are willing to sit together to determine the best way to serve and protect our lifestyle and to enable our communities to reflect the kind of place we envision it to be.
There is no shortage of issues of concern in the Roaring Fork, Frying Pan, and Crystal River valleys. To name a few: the impact of population growth; new sources of clean energy; demands for local transit; sites for electric car power stations; water quality and quantity; affordable housing; infrastructure needs (roads, bridges, facilities); fire mitigation and management; use and abuse of our public lands (pick up after your dog, clean your campsite); the impact of recreation and public access on our protected lands; the need for protecting our treasured wildlife; employee shortages; COVID policies; and teacher availability and salaries.
The list can seem overwhelming. However, there are agencies and organizations that are tasked with finding balanced solutions to these challenges. They include state agencies that protect the White River National Forest (the largest in the nation); Colorado Parks and Wildlife (manages public parks and wildlife); a university system that includes our own Colorado Mountain College; local town and community boards and committees; historical societies (those who study and protect our past); and, importantly, the citizens (that’s you) and governments of our communities themselves.
If positive change is to come to our valley, it requires each of us to seek our special place and to participate. Participation sometimes requires an election (local government, ballot propositions) or becoming a member of a local board or commission. What is required of all of us, of all ages, is interest, commitment, knowledge, passion, and an attitude of responsibility.
The sharing of our dreams, goals and ideas provides the strength to move forward so that 40 or 60 years from now we might look back and remember, as I do now, that we were truly a part of “it takes a village,” and that each of us made a difference.
Mature Content is a monthly feature from the Carbondale AARP Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI). Ron Kokish (CAFCI)