September 7, 2017 Read More →

As Colorado’s Coal Industry Fades, Small Towns Grasp for Hope

Colorado Public Radio:

The unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation and the population along the Front Range is booming. It’s easy to see the impact of a strong economy in Denver. Construction cranes are up all over the city and it’s harder than ever to find affordable housing.

But it’s a different story in many parts of western Colorado.

Many rural communities on Colorado’s Western Slope are struggling to survive. The loss of coal jobs is forcing many there to make tough choices.

The shrinking started in the mid-1980s, when most of the uranium jobs went away. More recently, the New Horizon coal mine closed earlier this year, and the Tri-State Power Plant is set to shut down by 2022 at the latest. When that happens, Epright expects to lose another 100 students. It could also mean the loss of 70 percent of the area’s tax base.

“It’s definitely one of those important things of trying to find something to stabilize our community,” he said.

Case is also looking for stability. She works as a substitute teacher and her husband is a mechanic. But they expect his job to end next year and substitute teaching doesn’t pay well.

“They can keep me busy, but you to raise a family, you can’t raise a family as a substitute teacher,” she said. “Everybody’s depressed. They know what’s going to happen but we don’t know exactly when, and I try not to think about it because I’ll  just sit down and cry.”

While Case has some time to figure things out, many other don’t. Changing industries in coal counties like Montrose and Delta have left a ticking timer behind.

Some are looking at tourism and agriculture as possible ways to attract and keep people in the Western Slope. But will that be enough?  

More: Losing Jobs In Colorado’s Coal Country, What’s Next?

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