Colorado Divide: Is hemp the answer for a rural county hoping to rely less on mining?
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.
"The closure of the plant and the mine — it's really galvanized this community and it's really made us realize that something has to be done," says Deana Sheriff, who leads the West End Economic Development Corp.'s culture-shifting crusade to find new economic engines in a region overly reliant on fickle international mineral markets. "This is really a group of people who have that entrepreneurial spirit. We are not asking for a lot of handouts or help, but we are taking opportunities as they come our way."
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