At the joining of two of Colorado's rivers, at the crossroads of rail and highways, at the end of a dazzling canyon, is a small city looking at itself and wondering what it will become. Glenwood Springs is a Colorado magnet for tourism and a city dealing with growth and housing and labor issues that could unravel the fabric that binds it together.
"That's probably the toughest thing we're dealing with right now. When is too much, too much? And enough, enough?" asked Steve Beckley, owner of Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
"How many people are too many people?" asked Bill Kight, executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society.
"The opportunities here are only going to grow, just because of the tight connection that this whole valley has," said Alan Munoz, regional manager of Organizing Programs for Voces Unidas de los Mantanas.
To understand Glenwood Springs' rich history, you must start with the Ute Indians. The land was theirs until it was taken. There was a treaty of no occupation for Europeans, but it didn't hold. The land was too powerful a magnet.
"People still came in and tried to settle this land and called it Defiance. Even built a fort on top of the Flattops halfway between here and Dotsero," said Kight.
Soon after, the Meeker Incident happened in the northwest. The Utes, agitated by their treatment by Indian Agent Nathan Meeker who pushed them to change their traditional ways, revolted- killing Meeker and 10 other people. Soon the Utes were pushed out of Colorado.
In their place, Glenwood Springs with its natural hot springs flourished as a tourist spot. The railroad through the canyon brought more visitors and hotels went up.
Through the years the town flourished. It was not the ski industry that carried it, as many other towns, but the year-round benefits of the hot springs as well as the rivers and the proximity to other places and a turning point on the road to Pitkin County.
Today Glenwood Springs is seeing rising housing costs and a declining worker base.
"Finding help, that's a huge issue around here, said Roger Bullock, of the longtime downtown signature store Bullock's.
And housing has to be figured in this city of about 10,000.
"I think everybody understands that high-density infill is much more preferable than expanding into the wildland-urban interface," said Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes. "But when that happens next to you, it doesn't feel like the small community you moved to."
Glenwood Springs also deals with the threat of fires and the closing of the highway due to mudslides and weather and fire threats. It remains the place where Colorado's worst firefighting disaster happened in thein 1994, killing 14 firefighters. In 2020, The hit the canyon hard. But it was fought in a totally different way because of the South Canyon Fire.
Glenwood has learned its lessons and has shared what it has learned. It has some figuring to do about its future, but many believe it is ready.
"They love this town because it's ordinary. It's not a ski town where the big money rolled in. It's a different mentality in this town," said Roger Bullock.
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