Newspaper changes, fires, development take Glenwood into new millennium | PostIndependent.com

Newspaper changes, fires, development take Glenwood into new millennium

The Coal Seam Fire rages over Glenwood Springs in June 2002
Post Independent file |

With Y2K fears extinguished, journalism moved into the digital age on the Western Slope of Colorado. Glenwood Springs’ newspaper industry would see a big change with the merger between Swift Communications LLC and area holdings by Morris Communications, including the Glenwood Post.

The first year of the new century was marked with Glenwood Springs’ move back to a one-newspaper community, following four years of head-to-head competition between the more than century-old Post and the upstart Glenwood Independent. The ultimate merger of the papers into the Glenwood Springs Post Independent remains to this day.

“Swift Newspapers, Inc., owner of the Glenwood Independent along with papers in Aspen, Vail, Summit County and beyond, purchased the Glenwood Post as well as other Morris Communications holdings including weeklies in Rifle, Carbondale, Eagle, Snowmass Village and Basalt,” Glenwood Springs Post Independent Staff Writer Dennis Webb wrote Nov. 19, 2000.

Garfield County Post subscribers received the first edition of the newly branded Post Independent in their mailboxes two days later.

While those changes would prove to be permanent, it did not come without its cost. More than 30 employees of the Post and other Morris holdings were laid off in the merger, according to Webb’s article.

“As 115 years of history has demonstrated, only time will tell what the future holds for the newspaper legacy of Colorado,” he concluded.

Since the Glenwood Echo’s debut in 1885, Glenwood Springs has had 14 newspapers. What started as the Glenwood Post in 1890, competed with the Glenwood Independent for a few years in the late 1990s, only to combine forces at the end of 2000.

Coal Seam Fire evacuates West Glenwood

With the Storm King Mountain Fire still fresh in everyone’s minds, a spark from an underground coal seam in South Canyon ignited a fire that would burn more than 12,000 acres and 29 households. But with zero lives lost it remains a proud moment in the town’s crisis management history .

A spark from a seemingly innocent underground coal seam burning for decades in South Canyon caught a dry oak brush on the surface that started it all on June 8, 2002. Stiff winds that afternoon turned it into a danger to homes throughout Glenwood Springs and the surrounding area.

“It’s a disaster,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Don Vanderhoof declared in a front-page article titled “A fire too big to fight” in the June 9 edition of the Post Independent that year.

“For this man and others who have lived in the area since 1994, the scene was, of course, eerily reminiscent of Storm King on July 6, 1994,” Dale Shrull, then-editor of the Rifle Citizen Telegram, wrote in a first-person account of the evacuation from West Glenwood.

Over the next few days, thousands of residents in West Glenwood and Four Mile would be evacuated.

Fear that the city’s new $7.5 million community center would be among the fire’s losses did not come to reality.

After doing its damage in West Glenwood, the fire burned harmlessly into the rugged Flat Tops area north of Glenwood Springs and would not be officially declared out until the winter in 2002.

Glenwood Meadows Opens

In August 2004, construction started on what would be the biggest commercial development in the history of Glenwood Springs just west of the Community Center. Just 14 months later, Glenwood Springs was home to Bed, Bath and Beyond and PetCo. Eventually, Meadows would be home to more national brands including Target and Lowe’s, as well.

As Glenwood Springs embraced large-scale commercial development, Carbondale voters twice in the first 12 years of the new century shot down plans for major retail, commercial and housing development on the Crystal River Marketplace property on the northwest side of town.

Today, grocery chain City Market/Kroger has approved plans for a new grocery store on the property to serve Carbondale and the surrounding area, but has yet to break ground.

Marijuana legalized

The 2000s started with Colorado voters passing a constitutional amendment in 2000, permitting the use of medical marijuana for certain ailments. It took another decade before the medical marijuana industry reached Garfield County, with dispensaries for medical patients only popping up in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.

“The first local outlet, known officially as a “dispensary,” opened in Carbondale on July 10 (2009),” wrote John Colson in the Post Independent Year in Review that year.

By the end of 2009, reports estimated that there were more than 16,000 medical marijuana users registered with the state, and around 250 to 300 dispensaries in various cities and towns.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment registry indicated there were 181 medical marijuana patients in Garfield County, states Colson.

Three years later, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 to allow for use and possession of marijuana and marijuana-related products for anyone older than 21. That opened the door for today’s booming retail marijuana industry in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and other Garfield County communities that have since agreed to allow it.

Recession hits

Every industry was hit with the recession to end 2008, but combined with dramatic changes to technology and consumer habits, it was the perfect storm for Colorado newspapers and their staff.

In one of the last articles published in the PI in 2008, Dale Shrull writes that due to financial and recession challenges, the paper reduced its staff and similar adjustments were made throughout Colorado Mountain News Media.

Every paper was forced into staff reductions and several long-running publications closed for good.

Weeks after Carbondale’s weekly Valley Journal closed, CMNM ended publication of La Tribuna, the Spanish-language publication based in Glenwood Springs, and the Leadville Chronicle.

This followed the company’s decision to close the Vail Trail weekly newspaper earlier that month.

“The changes we’ve made will help us sustain a daily newspaper in Garfield County for 2009. Reaching the decisions and changes we have made has not been easy. We are looking for a stronger future for our industry and need to adapt,” said then-Post Independent Publisher Andrea Porter.

“We plan to be around for a long time. It’s imperative that we take a proactive approach in meeting the economic challenges we face,” she added.

Though outlook at the time was bleak, Porter’s words would prove to be true as the Glenwood Springs Post Independent survived more fires, more industry changes, economic dips and anything else thrown our way as we look forward to another strong century-plus with the communities we call home.