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AN EXPLOSION IN A BOOM TOWN
Roger Rapoport
September 14, 1970
Urban blight and civic turmoil come to tiny Aspen, Colo., once esteemed as a mountain hideaway but now a community beset by developers, traffic jams, sewage worries, freeway plans and even dynamiters
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September 14, 1970

An Explosion In A Boom Town

Urban blight and civic turmoil come to tiny Aspen, Colo., once esteemed as a mountain hideaway but now a community beset by developers, traffic jams, sewage worries, freeway plans and even dynamiters

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A housing shortage forces residents into temporary accommodations, ranging from tepees to lean-tos. Penny Curtis, who works at the Chamber of Commerce, lost her lease this summer, so she and her family of three are now living in a dog sledder's cabin without running water or electricity.

Studio apartments run $160 a month, and 8-by-36-foot trailers rent for $200 a month. More and more leases are being written to expire Dec. 15, when landlords can start taking advantage of holiday visitors at lucrative day rates. "I had to move six times in three years—ridiculous," says John Pond, the man who left Aspen for Crested Butte.

Even moving to outlying areas is no answer for seekers of quiet. For example, in 1961 Dave and Sharon Farny opened a mountaineering camp for boys at Ash-croft, 10 miles outside Aspen. Soon the Pitkin Iron Co. began working an open-pit mine nearby. Says Mrs. Farny: "Dynamite blasts rocked the canyon, trucks roared by day and night kicking up enough dust to kill some aspen trees and discourage friends from visiting us after dark." Last year the Farnys moved their mountaineering camp 200 miles to Telluride, Colo.

Pitkin Iron has paved its access road and is now erecting a trailer camp for its truckers. The camp will be complemented by a sewage plant that flows into Castle Creek, the Aspen water supply. The town of Aspen has lost a preliminary bid in federal court to enjoin Pitkin Iron from operating the sewage plant and is now appealing. Steward Mace, who runs dogsled trips from the Toklat Lodge near the plant site, says: "The judge told us that you can't stop someone from polluting the water until he actually pollutes it."

Of course, not all developers are having it their way, for some civic officials and several local ecology groups are working to implement tight zoning and to preserve open spaces. George Stranahan, head of the Aspen Physics Institute, recently outbid a commercial developer for 570 vulnerable acres in the Lenado area and he plans "to keep the land just the way I found it, undeveloped."

Hunter S. Thompson, the author of Hell's Angels and editor of the acerbic Aspen Wallposter, scorns friends who flee town and suggests they stay to fight it out politically. "Read The Population Bomb," he says. "How far can you run? And for how long? Aspen may not be the best place to live, but the ugly truth is that we are all running out of better alternatives."

Last fall Thompson and his friends fell just six votes short of electing Joe Edwards as mayor on a Save Aspen platform. This fall Thompson plans to fight the developers by running for sheriff of local Pitkin County: "Those comic-strip speculators would stay away if they knew they had me to contend with," he says. Thompson is trying to persuade like-minded friends to run for other offices.

Predictably, this surge of ecological consciousness is influencing some Aspen entrepreneurs. For example, there is Aspen-Wildcat, a rising complex that will accommodate 24,000 new residents over the next 15 years. An official says: "Our advertising program will reflect the company philosophy of conservation. All publications will softly treat the subject through the use of quality nature photography and subtle poetic copy." But will this be enough for people who are angry enough to blow up quaint Dutch windmills?

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