Ellwayville: Change-o-Rado

Or how this great state continues to not be like it used to be … but somehow gets better.

The storied Campus Lounge in Denver’s Bonnie Brae neighborhood closed at the end of September after 40 years in business. Famous for its Mexican food, burgers, battered pool tables and rabid Broncos fans, it’s also the place where I first fell in love with my beautiful wife. I have vivid memories of us drinking cold Coors at the bar, her late-fall tan framed by her long red hair, and her dazzling green eyes blazing with life. So, yes, I’m a little sad that the two of us can’t go and remake that memory any time we want. And also at the news that the great dive bar may be converted into an organic hipster restaurant (but it will still, at least, serve comfort food).

There’s a lot of change occurring in Colorado right now, with neighborhood Italian and Mexican restaurants, friendly pet stores and entire blocks being bulldozed to make way for luxury apartments.  There’s rampant fracking to feed our quenchless desire for dirty energy. And with the legalization of recreational marijuana—which I still think is awesome—there’s a constant influx of weed tourists and over-zealous ganja emigrants.

You know, like that asshole who shot up Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, the idiots from Alabama who set the Nederland fire in July and all the pot panhandlers hitting you up for bud when you’re simply trying to enjoy a giant slice from Anthony’s on 16th Street. Sometimes, it can be enough to make you want to buy a fresh batch of “Native” stickers to let all your transplant buddies from California and Massachusetts know that you were here first.

That’s kid’s stuff. It’s also ignorant. Because unless you can trace your lineage all the way back to pure Ute DNA, then like everyone else in Colorado, you’ve got roots that lead to somewhere else.

Personally, I never would have been able to enjoy a Colorado childhood if my parents hadn’t been such mavericks, heading west in search of snow and open space while leaving all their extended family back in upstate New York.

Over the years, it’s been a joy to see a few of those extended family members—and countless new friends—fall in love with Colorado themselves. Many of them assimilate to the point that they see their own best dreams come true here, and have more than likely become an even better version of their true selves than they could have been anywhere else.

I’m thinking of people like Chris Davenport, for instance, the New Hampshire-born ski mountaineer who recently earned his way into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in part for his successful mission to climb and ski from the summit of all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks before a year had passed.

Or Jason Blevins, the Texas-bred Denver Post journalist whom I believe is the best outdoor reporter on the planet, seamlessly blending his love of the Rockies with the kind of hard-hitting reporting that has become far too rare of late.

And of course Doug Schnitzspahn, the editor of this magazine, a close friend and an original Jersey Boy who embraces the outdoors with his family as much or more than my dad did, and sees the poetry in every moment.

You look at people like them, as well as Colorado-inspired-and-incubated brands like New Belgium, Backbone Media, Upslope Brewing, Wagner Custom Skis, Voormi, and Venture Snowboards (just to name a very few), and you see how the big CO can make it easier for anyone to find the right environment to help them create a map of what it will take to reach the next personal and professional peak.

As a writer, I realize that nostalgia is good business. Especially if you can paint pictures in prose of magical times in memorable places that make your readers feel as if they were there, and wish they hadn’t missed out. But I’m getting more pragmatic about life lately, and realize as some poets and country singers have said over the years, “There’s no future in the past.”

What I’m most in the now about is how quickly Colorado continues to reinvent itself. How issues like the rising public lands conflict between personal freedoms and private interest will define this generation of “Rado folks” like nothing else.

To be clear: No private individual—hunter, fisher, camper, rafter, skier, flower picker—who enjoys the freedom of the outdoors will ever benefit from their government being able to sell their public lands for private use. Very simply put, once public land becomes private, the public will be shut out.

There’s one thing that never changes in this great state: enjoying Colorado’s mountains, rivers, sand dunes, lakes and wide plains—especially when you have someone you love to share it with, and a good Mexican food/dive bar where you can go to celebrate. Keep it that way.

Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of The God of Skiing. The book has been called “the greatest ski novel of all time.” Don’t believe the hype? You can buy it here:

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