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Each year more Americans forsake the urban jungle for rural tranquillity. For example, two years ago William James decided to give up high pressure, cold-eyed, fast-buck city life for a 10-acre ranch near Santa Fe, N. Mex. Last year John Pond tired of rapacious landlords, crime in the streets, urban alienation and anomie, so he moved to Crested Butte, Colo. And this year Toby Hess is preparing to escape the subdivides, speculators, freeway builders, polluters and other assorted greedheads by moving to northern Idaho.
William James, John Pond and Toby Hess aren't running away from Manhattan, Chicago or Los Angeles but from Aspen, Colo. (permanent population 2,350). They and a growing number of Aspen oldtimers are on the move because they feel that their town is being turned into the Waikiki of the Rockies.
Already the highway into the famed ski resort is flanked by subdivisions, condominiums, gravel pits, iron-ore heaps, an airport industrial park, cement plants and asphalt-paving contractors. Developers plan to add 45,000 new beds, a sewage plant that feeds into the town water supply, parking structures and a four-lane freeway. "All this when a lot of us came here to get away from freeways," says Joe Edwards, a young Aspen lawyer who is a Houston refugee.
Aspen natives have begun to rise up against the urban onslaught that they claim threatens to weld their town into the heart of a 60-mile strip of development stretching the length of the Roaring Fork Valley, from Independence Pass to Glenwood Springs. They are fighting with everything from moral suasion to dynamite. The Aspen Chamber of Commerce has stopped advertising, and Chamber Director George Odier discourages incipient subdividers. "I talk to them about tight money, zoning difficulties, transportation problems, the fact that we only have two seasons, ecological conflict and the hippies," he says.
Local vigilantes have already dynamited the windmill at Holland Hills, a rising subdivision designed like a quaint Dutch village. A local journal, The Aspen Wallposter, reports that police investigation of the dynamiting has been "hopelessly complicated by the vast number of good leads and suspects. So many people have been threatening—for so long—to either burn or blast the windmill that when somebody finally got around to doing the deed, half the town panicked for lack of alibis." Aspen City Councilman Ned Vare says he is not dismayed by the $30,000 damage done to the windmill: "I think it's a much bigger crime to build that stuff than to blow it up. A lot of people hope that it will be blown up again."
D.R.C. Brown, president of the Aspen Skiing Corp., is using a different tactic to discourage overdevelopment. He calculates that the 45,000 new beds planned for the region will give Aspen a guest capacity that is twice the capacity of its ski runs. "If this is permitted to happen," he says, "the inevitable result will be crowded slopes, long lift lines and poor skiing conditions. In five years the day could come when we will have to place some sort of limit on the number of skiers we permit to use our facilities."
As Aspen woos more winter aristocrats, the town's freewheeling character is being usurped. Traditionally Aspen has been one of America's few small towns receptive to middle-class dropouts, radicals, longhairs, hippies, artists, writers and assorted oddballs. In the winter these urban expatriates found fabulous skiing. In the summer there was hiking, jeeping and swimming in the hot springs, and on warm Sunday mornings everyone could lie on the grass outside the Aspen Music Festival tent and listen to orchestra rehearsals.
Aspen bohemians even managed to circumvent the petty hassles that have suppressed youth culture elsewhere. Two years ago Lawyer Joe Edwards won a court injunction that prevents local police from harassing hippies. The kids have also retaliated against restaurant owner Guido Meyer, who refuses to serve hippies. They printed up several hundred EAT AT GUIDO'S T shirts that are now proudly worn by every freak in town.
But as the subdivisions rise, Aspen's life-style changes. Some residents have given up Alpine skiing, where the slopes are too often crowded, for cross-country. Dynamite blasts in an open-pit iron mine have circumscribed some hiking, the jeep roads are jammed and the fabulous Conundrum hot springs is over run. Meanwhile, the Aspen Music Festival now asks admission for its Sunday morning rehearsals.