Peter R. Decker Old Fences, New Neighbors

ISBN 13: 9780816519057

Old Fences, New Neighbors

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9780816519057: Old Fences, New Neighbors
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The West is changing. "There are few places in the American West more isolated than Ouray County," writes Peter Decker. And yet in recent years this once-rural ranching and mining area in Colorado's mountain country has experienced dramatic alterations in its landscape, economic base, and population. The residents of Ridgway, Colorado, who once numbered only a few hundred, now listen to the hum from the highway as ski-toting tourists head for the Rockies and the swish of the fringe jackets of the new breed of "gentleman ranchers" who are buying up more and more land in the area. Old Fences, New Neighbors is a chronicle of how one small rural community is dealing with the changes currently sweeping the West. It is also the firsthand perspective of a working rancher. Decker, himself once an outsider in Ouray County, left a career as a professor of history and bought a ranch in the area in 1974, where a local told him it was fine to have a Ph. D., but "in this country, son, it darn well better mean a posthole digger."

In Old Fences, New Neighbors, Decker gives us a hard, realistic look at his own experience with ranching: the elaborate machinations of a cattle drive, the struggle to irrigate fields when water is so scarce, the pain and beauty of cow birth. Few of the newest residents of Ridgway, however, wish to experience this former way of life. Instead, many are absentee landowners brought to the area by a new tourist economy, an economy that has raised land prices and has made it impossible for traditional ranchers to make ends meet. While the old way of life is ending, progress can also mean the influx of new ideas and valuable change. Decker recognizes the positive impact of outsiders and tourists on Ridgway: they have created a community of greater tolerance and diversity in an area that was once set in its ways.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

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 mainstayuntil 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 islike the county it chroniclessmall, but brimming with instructive examples of the hard choices facing the denizens of America's last, best places. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Review:

"A valuable small-scale primer on the complex land-use issues facing many rural, traditionally agricultural communities in the west and nationwide. . . . Brimming with instructive examples of the hard choices facing the denizens of America's last, best places." —Kirkus Reviews

"This is a book anyone wishing to understand the West of today ought to read." —Denver Westerners Roundup

"Decker does not preach, nor is he mawkishly sentimental. Instead, he relates an interesting story about one relatively small county in the West that has broader implications for the entire West. . . . It provides an important vignette in the changing character of the West, reminding us once again that regional history is, after all, local history." —Annals of Wyoming

"He's ornery, impatient, and more than a little disgusted with a Ouray County awash in too much money, too much leisure, and an ignorant infatuation with the West." —High Country News

"Old Fences, New Neighbors is local history at its best, because it builds to become universal in its applications. Decker wrote from the heart but controlled by the mind, and he writes in a very sprightly fashion indeed. This volume deserves to be on the shelf of everyone interested in where the rural West has been and where it is going." —Pacific Historical Review

"The author's appreciation of myth-making and identity is refreshing as is his abiding faith in the future of Western communities." —Journal of the West

"Simply put, it's the best examination I've seen about what happens to ramshackle but scenic towns when a new economy and culture arrives." —Colorado Central Magazine

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