Mulhall column: Thoughts on growth

Mitch Mulhall

For anyone who has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for more than, say, a decade, perhaps the one fact of life here that stands out above all others is growth.

It’s axiomatic.

In Glenwood Springs, the constraints of geography make expansion of any kind a problem. Scarcely a vacant lot or pasture or anything you might consider open space remains.

You can’t go a week reading PI letters to the editor without someone referencing one of the numerous effects of growth, principally vehicular traffic, but also affordable housing, water rights and wildfire management, to name a few.

It’s been this way for as long as I can remember.

Maybe the only thing more reliable than Roaring Fork Valley growth is the ever-rising federal debt ceiling. There will be valley growth just as surely as federal debt, like the sun, will rise.

No, the number of people here will not shrink. Area population will not stay the same or taper off. Growth is a fact of life here, and it’s here to stay.

Growth isn’t relative to elevation, either. We’re all willing to concede that we’ve carpeted the valley floors with homes and that Highway 82 with all its stoplights more closely resembles East Colfax than the rural country road it once was, but even the high-country has changed.

There was a time not long ago when you could four-wheel into Crystal City and not see a soul.

Now, you get to the compressor house and there’s a parking lot, guaranteed full between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Access to the river gorge is roped off, and it’s nearly impossible to take a photo of the site without people in the foreground.

To manage the influx of people, a lottery system now governs access to Hanging Lake, and I understand lotteries and other protocols are under consideration for access to several fourteeners.

As the tendrils of human presence in Colorado climbs higher and higher, there are few places you can go where you won’t find signs of recent human activity, which, among other things, makes Colorado wolf reintroduction an absurdity … but I digress.

It’s the context of having lived in the area, of knowing what this area was like when there were no big-box stores, high-speed detachable chairlifts, or endless streams of RFTA buses that gives perspective on area growth.

And it’s not a lament, though I’ve seen enough to understand the distant gaze of our elders when they reminisce about times gone by. Growth isn’t free. It comes at a cost — a cost paid not by those who can’t see what was lost, but by those who can.

Yet, no one could have stopped growth if they’d wanted to.

Opposing growth is like fighting gravity. Ask Aspen.

It used to be that growth was strictly Aspen’s problem. All other area towns could safely stand on the sidelines and watch the folks with ZG plates struggle.

Now that the effects of growth are more broadly distributed, you’d think that there would be some old-timers with salient thoughts on the matter, and surely there are. I don’t see many of them in local government.

I suppose there is a practical limit to the number of people the area will sustain, and maybe in Grand Avenue traffic, we’ve run into one of the harder limits.

It certainly seems the posture of some in local government that traffic and other consequences of growth are all within the realm of manageability — perhaps because there’s no other choice.

To me, the valley resembles a too-full bag of groceries. Something’s going to rip a hole and fall out. Yet, people will keep coming, perhaps until the only way to build is up.

That’s a vision I may not be around to see, and for that I’m grateful.

Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father, and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at

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