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Bust left community gems behind

JOHN GARDNERGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

PARACHUTE – From destruction comes growth and development. At least that’s one way to look at it.Black Sunday, May 2, 1982, was just such a destructive blow to the towns of Rifle and Parachute. Exxon closed up shop on its Colony Oil Shale Project, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of residents.However bad the taste, though, the bust left behind some gems for future generations to enjoy.”Over the years, I’ve realized that Exxon pulling out was the best thing that could have happened for Parachute,” said one-time town mayor and longtime city councilman, John Loschke. “It was an interesting lesson.”Loschke said Parachute received a lot from the oil companies, Exxon USA and Union Oil Company of California (Unocal), during the boom years of the early 1980s. He said that the town of Parachute didn’t even have paved roads in 1980 and only had one bar, one grocery market, a liquor store and a post office. The town only had one cop and three officials.All that changed when the two major oil companies came to town.Loschke said that two schools, today’s Bea Underwood Elementary and St. John Middle School, were both products of the time. Parachute also built a town hall and a library. Many of the roads were paved and infrastructure was put in to accommodate the expected 15,000 people. Parachute’s current population is around 1,500.Arnold Mackley, a former Garfield County commissioner, came to the area in the late 1950s to work for Union Oil in Parachute Creek. He remembers the area of Battlement Mesa when it was still peach orchards and ranch land.”When Exxon came in they started buying up all the ranch land along the south side of the (Colorado) river,” Mackley said. “That was an Exxon colony project that ended abruptly. The whole idea was to provide housing for the oil shale workers.”Its intended purpose was short lived, but the community still thrives today.Battlement Mesa sprang back to life in the mid 1980s, according to Mackley, who was a member of the Garfield County planning and zoning commission at the time. He said that after Exxon pulled out, the P&Z determined it a good idea to develop the community, since infrastructure to accommodate 30,000 people was already in place.”It was a first-class operation that shut down overnight,” Mackley said.The project was sold to a group of developers from Florida who started planning it as a retirement community, Mackley remembers. Battlement Mesa’s population is about 4,500 currently.”It was at a standstill for a few years until the shock wore off,” Mackley said.Attorney Ed Sands remembers a number of Rifle roads being dirt when he rolled into town in 1978, after graduating from the University of Nebraska. He came to Rifle indirectly because of the oil shale development during the period he termed “a very turbulent time.””There was no housing,” he said. “People were camping down by the river, living in very unsanitary conditions.”Some things have changed.Many public projects were attributed in part to the oil shale trust fund set up by the federal government to deal with the impacts of the oil shale development and growth to the region.”The government was trying to keep up with the growth,” Sands said. “Unlike now, there was much more money pouring into the community from federal grants.”Those grants helped pay for Rifle’s City Hall, the county library and Rifle High School and paved many of those dirt roads that Sands remembers.Contact John Gardner: 384-9114jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO


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