The small mountain communities in Colorado, such as Coal Creek Canyon, Nederland, Rollinsville, and Ward, are some of the state’s most beautiful and unique places. However, they also face various challenges, including limited job opportunities, a lack of affordable housing, and the impacts of climate change.
While emergency financial support such as that provided by Canyon Cares can provide critical assistance in times of crisis, it is not a long-term solution to these complex issues. To truly address the long-term financial needs of small mountain communities, a range of strategies is needed.
One of the biggest challenges facing small mountain communities is a lack of economic diversity. Many small mountain towns rely heavily on winter and summer tourism, which is unpredictable and seasonal. Many residents struggle to find stable employment and rely on low-paying service jobs.
One of the most potent strategies for promoting economic diversity is to support the development of small businesses. This can include providing access to funding and resources for entrepreneurs and promoting local businesses through tourism and marketing efforts. Small mountain communities can create more stable employment opportunities and strengthen their local economies by supporting the development of a diverse range of businesses.
Another strategy for promoting economic diversity is to invest in job training programs. Many small mountain communities have limited access to education and training opportunities, making it difficult for residents to acquire the skills needed for high-paying jobs. By providing job training programs, such as those currently provided by the Colorado Workforce Centers (cdle.colorado.gov/wfc) that focus on in-demand industries such as healthcare or technology, small mountain communities can help residents gain the skills needed to access higher-paying jobs and build more stable careers.
An often-unintended consequence of relying on tourism is that affordable housing becomes an even greater issue. Many residents struggle to find housing that is both affordable and close to their workplaces. This leads to long commutes and a range of other challenges. As a side note, automobile repair and rent payments are the two largest categories of financial support provided by Canyon Cares.
One potential strategy for promoting affordable housing is to provide funding for affordable housing developments. This can include supporting the development of new affordable housing projects and rehabilitating existing housing stock to make it more affordable. By investing in affordable housing, small mountain communities can ensure that all residents can access safe and affordable housing options.
Boulder County has several programs that address this issue. (bouldercounty.gov/families/housing/affordable-rentals/)
Another strategy for promoting affordable housing is to support the development of alternative housing options, such as tiny homes or co-housing communities. These alternative housing options can provide affordable and sustainable housing options for residents who may not be able to afford traditional housing options. By promoting alternative housing options, small mountain communities can provide a range of housing options that meet the needs of all residents.
Nyland is a cohousing community of 42 private homes in a rural setting outside Boulder, Colorado. (www.cohousing.org/directory/nyland-cohousing)
Finally, the impacts of climate change can’t be understated here. Our communities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including wildfires, droughts, and floods. Investing in sustainable infrastructure and practices is important to address these issues.
One potential strategy for promoting sustainable infrastructure is to invest in renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power. By investing in renewable energy, small mountain communities can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and promote a more sustainable future.
Another strategy for promoting sustainable practices is to invest in sustainable transportation options, such as bike or pedestrian infrastructure. By promoting sustainable transportation options, small mountain communities can reduce their carbon footprint and promote healthier and more active lifestyles.
Since 2010, United Power has invested heavily in solar and other renewable energy options. (Find more here – www.unitedpower.com/innovating-energy)
Addressing the long-term financial needs of our mountain communities requires a range of strategies. This article does not attempt to suggest that any of the above strategies are not known or being considered; however, as a board member of Canyon Cares, we see first-hand the struggles that many of these issues present for area residents.