This year's conference will be in Troutdale, Oregon, a town situated at the gateway to the Columbia Gorge--like many of us, it has one foot in an urban area and one foot in a rural one. This year's conference theme is "Preservation and Transformation: The Future of the Rural West." Through panels on economic vitality, crime and policing, youth, culture, land use, and the availability of services in the rural West, we will address questions such as: What is distinct about the rural West? What should be preserved, and why? And how can we transform the rural West for the better without sacrificing the things that makes the region so unique?
For nearly two centuries, the rural-urban divide has served as one of the great dichotomies in both the conceptual and organizational structuring of the United States; and perhaps in no region more than the American West. This conference seeks to complicate such characterizations in the modern West and explore the increasingly porous nature of the rural-urban divide in the late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Moreover, the event promises to offer an important intellectual bridge between urban and rural scholars within the West, aiming to advance an interdisciplinary discussion on the inter-connected relationship between the region’s cities and its countryside.
Interested attendees must register online to observe the conference.
The Initiative's first Conference on the Rural West took place over the weekend of Oct. 13-14 at the Ogden-Eccles Conference Center in Ogden, Utah. Organized by the Bill Lane Center for the American West in collaboration with the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University, the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University, and the American West Center at the University of Utah, the conference brought together scholars, journalists, researchers and community members for exploration, dialogue and debate on critical issues facing the rural American West, from economic development to health care, energy and natural resources, Native American concerns and the essential nature of western rural life and culture. At the conclusion of the conference, the historian David Danbom delivered the remarks below, which summed up the wide-ranging subject matter and the state of a rural West in transition. Danbom has written several books about rural life, including the seminal work Born in the Country: A History of Rural America.
By David Danbom, Independent Scholar
In the past 20 years an estimated 110,000 people have moved onto the Eastern Slope of the Colorado Rockies, mostly into scattered single-family dwellings in the area between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. These exurbanites may live in the wilderness, but they desire the conveniences a modern society offers—well-maintained roads, electricity, broadband internet access, and, when they can get it, water.
They also desire the amenities of wilderness living, and thus they oppose such prudent measures as controlled burns and forest thinning. That becomes a problem when forest fires erupt, as they did all along the Eastern slope this spring and early summer. When the fires broke out, the presence of householders shaped the way the flames were fought. In addition to establishing fire lines, fire fighters were called upon to attempt to save individual homes. It was not always possible to do both jobs well. And now, when areas vulnerable to fires face sharply rising property insurance rates, they are requesting enhanced fire protection from counties. Other county residents—especially those in municipalities—have trouble seeing why their tax dollars should go to protect people who choose to live in the forests of pine and aspen.
In Park County, Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management proposes to lease 2850 acres of land for oil and gas drilling, a process that will involve fracking. The BLM argues that it is doing its part to advance American energy independence, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, which both promotes and regulates energy development in the state, supports the plan. However, the leasing plan is opposed by the city of Aurora, which draws some of its drinking water from Spinney Reservoir. The BLM would allow fracking within half a mile of this impoundment, while Aurora would like a buffer of at least one mile to protect the integrity of its water supplies. Park County opposes the leasing plan altogether. In common with many mountain counties, Park’s livelihood is dependent on tourists who come to hunt and fish. County leaders are wary of any development that might diminish their area’s aesthetic appeal or threaten fish and game. Read More »
Last modified Thu, 2 Apr, 2015 at 14:08
David Eccles Conference Center, Ogden, Utah, October 13-14, 2012