Has the exodus begun?
For decades, the Front Range was a destination of escape for Californians and Texans and other invaders drawn to our beauty, open spaces, sunshine, low property taxes and comparatively cheap real estate.
Here’s the problem:
The newcomers who wanted to escape crowds created their own crowds.
Nancy Bullis grew up in the 1960s in Colorado Springs where she attended North Junior and Palmer High. She remembers a friendly, quiet, low-cost, unpretentious hometown that was barely a city.
She left the Springs a year ago to move to Great Falls, Mont. The population of Great Falls was 60,000 in 1960. The population remains the same today.
She considers her move an escape. The Springs, Bullis says, has been altered and polluted by the surge in population. She’s glad to be gone.
“For people who have lived there all their lives, it’s not such a good thing,” she says of growth. “I never thought that Colorado Springs would take off the way it did because there’s no industry there and there never has been.
“The damage is done. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle as far as the growth of Colorado Springs.”
Bullis believes that the Front Range sprawl soon will creep all the way from Fort Collins to Pueblo, but she’s not most concerned with the Front Range turning into a bad imitation of Greater Los Angeles.
“Is it becoming another California? No. But I think Colorado Springs is going to become another Denver, a Denver south.”
When Bullis shops in Great Falls, store workers know her name. (Her shopping is curtailed, of course, by the coronavirus outbreak.) The workers remember her last purchase. The feeling is friendly and gentle and intimate.
“It’s nice little perk to having so few people here,” she says.
Bullis is part of a wave that could alter the future of the Front Range. It’s a departure of those who most love the essence of the Front Range but are most disillusioned by the current reality of their homeland. They remember less traffic, less hassle and more fun.
I recently talked about the exodus with one of my closest friends, a man I’ve known 47 years. He’s about as Front Range as it gets. His ancestors settled on the northeast edge of Denver in the 19th century.
He traveled to Florida for a national track meet when he was 18 and after a relay victory he rushed to a bar to celebrate. (You could drink at 18 in those ancient days.) He ordered a Coors, then a bit of a Rocky Mountain regional secret. Those nonstop Coors commercials had yet to hit national airwaves.
The bartender in Florida had never heard of Coors. My friend, Mr. Front Range, was aghast. How could anyone not be aware of the existence of Coors? We often laugh over that story as he, yes, drinks yet another bottle of Coors.
But even my friend is eyeing his exit. He’s weary of what the Front Range has become. As he nears retirement, he’s looking, as Bullis did, to a sanctuary in the Western mountains. Once he departs his office job as a banker, he might flee to Wyoming or New Mexico. He’s weary of Front Range hassles.
Bullis understands. She misses her friends in the Springs and a handful of her favorite restaurants, Senor Manuel, Walter’s, Jose Muldoon’s. She wishes she could stop for a drink on the terrace at The Broadmoor. She doesn’t miss much else.
She talks of the peace and kindness and personal attention she’s discovered in Great Falls.
“It’s great,” she says. “It’s just great.”
She suddenly halts the conversation. She understands the dangers of sharing the glories of her adopted hometown. Remember, she grew up in Colorado Springs.
She talks no more of the wonders of Great Falls.
“I don’t,” she says, “want people to move here.”