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La Veta Commons Report, part 1

Dear Citizens,

Our purpose in writing this report is to call attention to the unique aspects of our community  and the wealth of resources owned by all. This bounty includes clean air, scarce water, a small town  lifestyle, scenic beauty, and other cultural and natural amenities.   

    We also want to note that the typical way of doing business in America takes little account of environmental degradation and that we can easily lose natural treasures that we tend to take for granted. As La Veta Friends of the Commons, we believe this way of doing business

is fundamentally flawed. Please understand, we recognize that growth, tourism, energy extraction, and a viable business community can play a constructive role in maintaining the vitality of our community and the commons. But history shows, as we will describe in this report, how unmanaged market forces often lead to the unacceptable exploitation of the commons. For this reason, we believe that community vigilance and activism are necessary to see that our shared inheritance is prudently used. Despite its benefits, the market-based  economy is often like a runaway train with no internal controls that prevent it from depleting the very thing that sustains it.

    We Americans like to think of ourselves as willing to pay or work for what we get. But these values break down when it comes to managing the resources of the commons. In many cases, there is no accounting at all; the result is that some do get a “free lunch” while the rest of us pick up the bill in terms of reduced land values and degradation of human and environmental health. This is a business model that privatizes the gains and socializes the  costs. We need to rethink our notion of what constitutes “good business” and move away from letting businesses profit by the use and abuse of the commons without paying the real costs. Until that happens, the commons will remain under grave threat.

    Small towns surrounded by spectacular scenery are not rare in the Rocky Mountains, and almost all of these towns now have that all-too-familiar commercial mountain town look, characterized by a strip of chain motels and fast food restaurants. For the most part, La Veta has been spared this fate and still retains its quiet village charm. Talk to people in towns where this has been lost, and they will tell you that, if they had it to do over, they would be much more vigilant to protect what they once had. There are no second chances. Once it’s gone, it’s  gone forever.

—La Veta Friends of the Commons (lavetacommons@gmail.com)

About this Report

    A group of citizens from La Veta, Colorado, met over a period of two years to discuss and research our community’s shared wealth of cultural and natural resources. We gathered information from official documents, books, the U.S. Forest Service, individuals, websites, and local officials. The La Veta Friends of the Commons offers this report in hopes of sparking your thoughts, discussion and constructive action.

    The term “La Veta Commons” refers to the wealth of nature and culture shared by all citizens

within the following territory: The north boundary is an imaginary line starting at La Veta Pass running due east to a point just east of Navajo Estates. From this point, the eastern boundary runs due south to the top of the East Spanish Peak where it intersects the Huerfano County line. The south and west boundaries are the Huerfano County lines. This area is approximately 240 square miles in size, much of which is privately owned. At times, this report will address matters beyond these boundaries because not everything that affects the La Veta Commons occurs within the above boundaries.

What is the Commons?

The commons refers to the vast wealth of nature and culture that we inherit jointly and hold in trust for future generations. There are three types of commons.  The natural commons includes air, water, scenery, rivers, animals, seeds. The social commons are those things we create together such as laws, roads, museums, libraries. The cultural commons are things like music, science, language and the internet.

    Some American states call themselves “commonwealths,” and several have declared in their constitutions that natural resources belong to the people and that gov­ernment acts as the people’s trustee.

    Today, many commons are under siege—mainly by market forces. Our shared wealth is being privatized, dumped on, neglected, overused and destroyed in the name of short-term profits for private individuals. In most cases, there is no accountability whatsoever.

La Veta and its Surroundings

    La Veta sits on the high undulating prairie at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, surrounded by open fields of sage, yucca and wildflowers with piñon, juniper, ponderosa, fir and spruce, willow, cottonwood, ash, aspen, and box elder growing at the higher and lower elevations. We have an unobstructed view of the East Spanish Peak (12,683 ft) and the West Spanish Peak (13,626 ft) to the south, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west (with some 14,000-foot peaks), Mount Maestas and Greenhorn Mountain to the north. To the east, we see the vast prairie. 

    Many animals inhabit or visit our community. These include bears, elk, birds, deer, skunks, mountain lions, raccoons, coyotes, and foxes. An array of domestic animals like horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep,     goats, alpacas, llamas, chickens, and many cats and dogs also live in town. La Veta’s watershed, the  source of municipal water, is the mountains to the south and west, which feed the Cucharas River and tributaries. We are relatively free of urban clutter with no large billboards or advertising signs, blinking cell towers, huge transmission lines, strip malls, or fast food restaurants.

    La Veta has a population of 900, which grows by about 30% each summer. The town of Cuchara has about 100 permanent residents, with the population spiking in July to over 1000. The population of Navajo Estates is about 600. The population of Huerfano County is just under 8000 people with only two traffic lights in the whole county. Although our low population contributes to the rural quality of life we enjoy, it also results in limited job opportunities.

    With little traffic, La Veta is quiet compared to the din of urban areas. Sources of noise pollution in ­town and the surrounding area include unmanaged barking dogs, chain saws, motor vehicles, lawn mowers and the other sounds that typically accompany modern human settlements. La Veta has a noise nuisance ordinance. Quiet is also a state of mind …the peaceful feeling we get when gazing at our uncluttered landscape.

    Light pollution is caused by misdirected, unshielded,or excessive night lighting, which results in sky glow, safety concerns from glare, and energy waste. Though we have some light pollution, we still enjoy relatively dark skies and are treated to the full shining wonder of the Milky Way.

    This is due to our small population rather than strong laws to protect this asset. In 2006, Huerfano County passed a light pollution ordinance.

    Though this is a step in the right direction, it exempts ranch and street lighting, both major sources of light pollution in the county.

    Recently, the town of La Veta eliminated what it considers to be unessential street lighting, but this was for economic reasons, and the town itself has no night skies ordinance. It is important to note that night skies ordinances do not address how people light their own property; rather, these ordinances regulate “light trespass,” which means how people light property that is not their own. Providing  there is no light trespass, we recognize the right and need for public and private entities to light their property as they see fit.

    We encourage the town of La Veta to adopt a night skies ordinance. We encourage Huerfano County to require that agriculture and street lighting comply with the county ordinance, and to subsidize retrofitting of non-compliant lighting that was grandfathered in on the county ordinance.

Social and Cultural Commons, Government Services and Institutions

    La Veta’s town board consists of an elected Mayor and an elected board of six trustees.  Unlike most scenic towns in the Rockies, La Veta has not been transformed by tourist development.