Colorado Divide: Is hemp the answer for a rural county hoping to rely less on mining?
Colorado’s West End isn’t waiting for uranium to come back with economic development plans anchored in hemp, recreation, broadband and new businesses
October 27, 2017
NUCLA — Hardship rides the wind in the West End, a lonely basin where Colorado's Uncompahgre Plateau joins Utah's canyonlands.
It started more than 30 years ago, when the collapse of the uranium market and the failure of the country's nuclear-energy renaissance decimated the town of Uravan and idled mines along the region's bountiful Uravan Mineral Belt. Now, the looming closure of the region's largest employers — the Nucla power plant and New Horizon Mine, both owned by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association — promises even more calamity for the dwindling number of hardscrabble residents of the economically moribund Paradox Valley.
But the threat of extinction has spurred hope in the West End, buoyed by innovation and a bohemian embrace of a new Montrose County economy that moves away from a traditional reliance on mining.
It's a scene unfolding across the West as rural communities tire of the roller-coaster ride of dependence on old-school extractive industries. Coal plummets and communities huddle. The oil market slows and belts tighten. Mining hopes sputter as other countries move mountains to get at valuable ore. The boom-bust cycle eats away at a rural region's vibrancy, as young people flee and economies wither between booms.