South Park, Colorado. A 1,000-square mile high-altitude basin. Expansive grasslands surrounded by towering snow-capped peaks, located just 70 miles west of the booming Denver metro area. In early summer, South Park is one of the most stunning landscapes in all the West—lush emerald meadows, herds of grazing deer, elk, and pronghorn, and cascading snowmelt that forms the headwaters of the South Platte River. In winter, it’s not for the faint of heart—sub-zero temperatures for days on end, gales that regularly knock 18 wheelers on their side, and blowing snow that reduces visibility to nothing.
Like most resource-rich areas of the West, South Park’s human history has been, and continues to be, one of conflict and conquest. The Utes and the Arapahos fought to control the basin’s rich hunting grounds. Then came the French and Spanish trappers whose insatiable appetite for beaver pelts all but eliminated the species from the basin. They were followed by miners, who were followed by ranchers, who were followed by developers, who were followed by present-day water speculators, all competing to squeeze a profit out of a delicate ecosystem with limited resources.
So who’s right and who’s wrong? Who deserves to capitalize on South Park’s resources and who doesn’t? Your answer likely depends on your upbringing, who pays your salary, your political leanings, what you do for fun, and an unknowable number of variables that make you a unique human. I have my opinions, but if I fed my family by working in the mining industry, would I feel differently? Probably so.
There are no simple, Twitter-length solutions to South Park’s challenges, or to the challenges of the American West. It’s a complicated and messy place—has been and always will be. But personal experience has shown me that most of us who love the West share more commonalities than differences, no matter our backgrounds or politics. Keep reading deeply, being curious, seeking out opinions different from your own. We’re all in this together, so we best start focusing on the common ground.
Book recommendation for further reading: Bayou Salado: The Story of South Park by Virginia McConnell Simmons
Photo and text republished from the Mountain & Prairie Instagram account.