Opinion: Colorado natives are causing a social divide

Laurel Thompson

Over the past few decades, Colorado has become a significant hotspot for Americans seeking a safe and healthy place to build their families, careers and recreation. Denver’s growing economy provides a wide array of career opportunities and room for new business innovation, while smaller cities like Fort Collins and Boulder provide a safe haven for comfortably raising families just beneath the Rocky Mountains.

According to a recent CSU visit and lesson by Julie Reed, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Happy Heart Farm, Colorado is the fifth-leanest state in the nation and has one of the cleanest environments, which has made it an ideal home for cyclists, hikers, runners and athletes from across the globe.

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Given its endless assets, it is understandable that Colorado attracts so many people seeking happy and healthy lives, and the economic boost has facilitated the state’s development exponentially. However, Colorado’s rapid growth — both in population and corporate expansion — has drastically altered the dynamic of once-small towns like Fort Collins in a way that jeopardizes their traditional values and authenticity.

In a Coloradoan article from last May, reporter Adrian Garcia described Fort Collins’ population growth between 2010 and 2014 as “outpacing both the state and Larimer County’s growth rates” due to the 11,975 new residents that made their way to Fort Collins during that time. And this figure only represents Fort Collins — never mind the exploding Boulder and Denver areas.

As a natural consequence of this unfortunate trend, Fort Collins has experienced a continuous state of construction and renovation as monopolies and corporations like Costco, Trader Joe’s and even more Starbucks franchises popped up to accommodate the big-city needs of most newcomers. Suddenly, the town’s construction is at an all-time high in order to combat increasing traffic, the housing market is soaring to unrealistic heights that will soon mimic that of Boulder and the once historic, small-town quality of Fort Collins is quickly disintegrating before our eyes. Naturally, this has led some locals to becoming hostile toward their “foreign” neighbors and colleagues.

Although I am sure the social tension of Colorado-born pride has ebbed and flowed over the years, I have noticed a serious resurgence within the college environment that produces a division of social value between Colorado “natives” and the “transplants.”

As a college student in the first generation to be so obsessed with social media, I have seen this issue most often through Facebook and Twitter memes. Of these, the most popular ones to resurface are a photo of the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign with a photoshopped “No Vacancy” sign beneath it and a photo of snow-capped mountains captioned, “Stop moving to Colorado. We hate you.”

Natives’ reluctance to welcome newcomers can also be overheard almost any time in the winter, when the issue of Californians endangering others on the snow-packed roads becomes a tool for “transplant” mockery.

But why should I, a “native” Coloradan from Fort Collins, care about this issue if I am on the benefiting end of these dichotomous “native” versus “transplant” social identities? Why did I, having a local ancestry that dates back to mid-1800s Buena Vista, remove my “Native” bumper sticker years ago?

Because I have been guilty of criticizing others who I felt ruined my hometown and I have experienced the anger and hatred that is so easily fostered by this way of thinking. I will not deny that it still disturbs me to hear my hometown referred to as “Fort Boulder” and to see Fort Collins’ authenticity traded for corporate expansion to accommodate population growth. However, it is no longer worth the mental and social damage to participate in the “native” versus “transplant” game.

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Collegian Columnist Laurel Thompson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @laurelanne1996.

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