OLD FENCES, NEW NEIGHBORS by Peter R. Decker

OLD FENCES, NEW NEIGHBORS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

paper 0-8165-1905-6 Decker’s “partial biography of a remote place” is a valuable small-scale primer on the complex land-use issues facing many rural, traditionally agricultural communities in the west and nationwide. Ouray County in southwestern Colorado is, Decker admits, small and isolated even by western standards: 540 square miles populated (until recently) by fewer than a thousand people. The former AP war correspondent and history professor recaps the county’s “short history,” giving short shrift to the Ute natives displaced only a century ago, first by miners and later by homesteaders who raised crops and cattle. He details how ranching became Ouray’s economic mainstay—until the 1980s, when wealthy outsiders chose the county as a cheap alternative to nearby Telluride and turned the town’s social structure upside down. Decker, who bought property, moved from New York City and began ranching in Ouray in 1974, stands somewhere between the old-timers and the newcomers. He experienced firsthand the prejudice of fourth-generation ranchers who consider all city folks too soft for the rugged western life, so he isn’t entirely unsympathetic to the urbanites’ plight. But where he blended in by embracing hard work and the conservative social values of the area, rich newcomers build ostentatious trophy homes and hobby ranches, then complain that their neighbors’ more plebeian homesteads mar the mountain views. The New Westerners also pay much of the county’s taxes and contribute greatly to the preservation of its open spaces, Decker estimates, even as they inflate land values beyond the reach of real ranchers. The legacy of the clash of old west and new is ultimately mixed: rich newcomers fracture the old social system of cooperative “neighboring” but also create a more complex (and interesting) community given to debate rather than rigid consensus. This volume is—like the county it chronicles’small, but brimming with instructive examples of the hard choices facing the denizens of America’s last, best places.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8165-1771-1
Page count: 175pp
Publisher: Univ. of Arizona
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998