The long, winding road
If knowledge is power, Duke Cox is positioned to be a powerful watchdog of Garfield County’s natural gas industry.Cox, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, used to work in the industry himself.He also used to be a cowboy, and a professional musician. These days, he’s still in front of a microphone on occasion, but probably to speak out on behalf of the interests of property owners in regard to energy development in the county.As one who used to make a living in the industry, he said the GVCA isn’t opposed to gas development.”We’re only concerned about mitigation of impacts,” he said of the group he leads.Cox wants to make sure energy companies adequately address how they affect air and water quality, traffic levels, property values, demands on social service agencies and the like.He said he worries when he looks to Parachute from his home on Silt Mesa, and the once-clear views of Mount Callahan are clouded by emissions related to gas development.”The reason I’m so committed, the reason I care so much is I remember western Colorado in 1973. It still retains so much of that magnificent beauty and cleanness and wholesomeness that it had, but it’s deteriorating rapidly,” he said.Cox’s initial journey to Colorado began in Ohio, where he was born, and continued on to eastern Kentucky and northern Georgia, where he lived as a youth. He graduated from high school in Punta Gorda, Fla., which later was ravaged by Hurricane Charley. He also went to college in Florida. But he quit school after becoming disillusioned by development there. For him, things came to a head when he saw a sign advertising the “Future Home of Pelican Bay Condominiums” in reference to one of his favorite beachfronts.
“I said, ‘Oh, man, I’ve got to get out of here,'” Duke recalled. “It was about that time that John Denver was singing about the ‘Rocky Mountain High’ and coming to Colorado.”For the musically inclined Cox, Denver’s lyrics struck a chord. And for someone who grew up on a farm, Cox found wonderful work as a cowboy in the Montrose area.”It was a natural job for me to take, and I still look back on it as just one of the highlights of my life, that experience,” he said.But Cox, who had married, realized being a cowboy was a hard way to make ends meet. So he tried his hand at business, working in sales, insurance and investments.”I was good at it, but it was hard on me emotionally because it required a certain thick-skinned approach to life that was not really suitable to me,” he said.He eventually decided on a change of location and occupation, and ended up working for a few years in natural gas development in southeastern Texas.He said he “worked with the most colorful people” in the gas industry.”I found it fascinating – nasty and brutal and everything everyone associated with it, but interesting,” he said.He worked as a helper on a swab rig, which pulls water out of the ground when it interferes with the flow of gas. He also built tank batteries, ran pipelines and removed paraffin when it built up in wells.Though a mere laborer, he had an insatiable curiosity about the geology and science behind drilling, and loved to ask engineers about the industry.
When Cox was a young man, he also began working to develop a longstanding talent as a musician. It was something of an inherited skill.”My whole family for generations back were musicians,” he said.Cox began singing himself when he was young as 3. In later years, he learned to play guitar, bass, harmonica, some keyboards, and autoharp.When Cox moved to Summit County after returning from Texas, he also played gigs with his brother-in-law. “We were actually quite the toast of Summit County for quite a while,” Cox said.He said his musical tastes are eclectic, ranging from folk to bluegrass to Southern country/rock.Eventually he became the front man in a rock-and-roll band in Boulder, “which was great fun but takes a huge toll on an older man,” he said.After leaving that life behind, he moved to Garfield County. Cox had worked in construction in Summit County. Now, he runs his own construction company, Escalante Builders, named for a favorite canyon of his over near Delta. Cox is remarried, and his wife, Peggy, also helps operate the business.It may seem ironic that someone fed up with Florida’s development became a builder, but Cox has come to terms with that seeming contradiction.”People want things built. Someone will do it. I enjoy doing it. I find it challenging,” he said.
The Coxes live in their dream home on 10 acres, big enough for their aging 175-pound Irish wolfhound, Haley. Cox has a son, Dylan, who is studying acting at Mesa State College in Grand Junction and performed a few years ago in a Glenwood production of “Godspell.” Peggy has two children.Drilling hasn’t reached Silt Mesa, but one day a few years ago Cox counted 17 rigs across the Colorado River Valley and realized it might be coming his way. He also had been taught by his parents that it’s important to help others.”I knew some people across the valley. I heard what they were going through. I met them. I saw the frustration and the anger and the hopelessness because they didn’t know how to handle this. They didn’t know what to do, and they had no one to help them,” he said.Cox was still busy at the time as president of the Silt Lions Club, but soon became involved with the GVCA. Within mere months he became its president, a position he has held for two years. He said a difficulty for many local residents is that they don’t understand how the energy industry works, and the industry isn’t always very forthcoming with information. That’s where he believes he can play a role, helping educate people about what to expect of the industry, and what it is fair to ask of it.He thinks the recently completed community development plan, an agreement between industry and residents aimed at promoting responsible energy development north of the Colorado River between Rifle and New Castle, is a breakthrough that offers the hope of easing the impacts of drilling in residential areas. Cox believes energy companies should be treated no differently from the building industry, which also is governed by planning rules.”We’ve been playing by the rules for a long time. We have no problem playing by the rules, and we think everyone else should, too,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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Hanging Lake will once again be taking visitors starting May 1.