Report card documents changes in
Rocky Mountain region
|The distant peaks of the Weminuche
peek out from the foothills surrounding Vallecito
Reservoir, in northern
La Plata County. According to “State of the
Rockies,” a recent report by Colorado College,
La Plata County is
the “most livable” mid-sized county
in the eight-state Rocky Mountain Region./Photo
by Todd Newcomer.
C hange may be inevitable, but for
those of us living in the intermountain West, it has
become a way of life. Over the last 30 years, the population
of the eight states that make up the Rocky Mountain
region has grown by three times the national rate.
And while that news may bring a mixed bag, residents
of La Plata County have reason to celebrate. According
to Colorado College's recently released “State of the
Rockies Report Card,” La Plata County is the most livable
county in the region for counties with populations
between 2,500 and 50,000. The ranking was based on
several indicators, including income distribution,
unemployment, poverty, education and economy.
Following La Plata County was Colorado's Garfield
County (No. 2), home to Glenwood Springs, and Wyoming's
Teton County (No. 3), home to Jackson. La Plata County
also was joined by its neighbor to the west, San Miguel
County, which took home top “most livable” honors for
counties of less than 2,500.
The extensive report, based on census data and trends,
takes a comprehensive look not only at the country's
fastest growing region, but the various sub-regions
and individual counties that comprise it.
“The report analyzes and studies this unique region
of spectacular natural beauty and cultural wealth,
abundant resources and fragile environment,” stated
Richard Celeste, Colorado College president. “It provides
a comprehensive and accessible annual statement on
what is happening in the eight Rocky Mountain States.”
How Southwest Colorado stacks up
Colorado College's “State of the Rockies” report
card ranks the Rocky Mountain Region's 280
counties in several key indicator categories.
Here is how La Plata County and some of the
surrounding counties fared:
-San Miguel and Archuleta
counties ranked third and fifth, respectively,
for having the highest percentage of residents
who have moved here since 1997 (both 27 percent).
- La Plata County
got high marks in the “Income,
Employment and Equity” sector, ranking third
for diversity of employment base, first in
balance of income distribution and sixth in
small business vitality.
- Archuleta County
scored No. 1 in the “shifting
land-use” category, with an almost 50 percent
reduction in farm/ranch acreage from 1987-97.
- La Plata County
was the eighth “Healthiest
County in the Rockies.”
- Hinsdale County
scored No. 2 in “Jewels
of the Rockies,” with 317,516 acres of preserved
- San Miguel County was
rated No. 1 for arts and culture.
- San Juan County
took fourth and San Miguel County took sixth
among the “Top 20 Most Educated
Places in the Rockies.”
As anyone who lives in the Rocky Mountain West knows,
growth and development are inexorably tied. In the
past 30 years, the population in the Rocky Mountain
region, comprised of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado,
Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, has grown by 119 percent,
remarkably higher than the overall U.S. growth rate
of 39 percent.
And with this growth comes development. Sixty-eight
percent of all houses in the Rockies were built between
1970 and 2000, while only 50 percent of houses in the
United States were built in the same period. Furthermore,
5 percent of housing units in the Rockies are for seasonal
or recreational use, suggesting a significantly higher
part-time resident base than the United States as a
In addition to residential development, the region
has seen a rise in urbanization and modernization,
with an increasing number of chain stores like Starbucks
and Wal-Mart. According to the report, the prevalence
of such entities is greatest in Colorado, which lays
claim to one-fourth of the region's approximately 85
Starbucks and one-fifth of the approximately 120 Wal-Marts.
The demographics of the Rockies have also changed
notably in the last 30 years, as the region is now
younger (median age 33.6), but with a significant and
growing portion above age 65 (11.2 percent). Coincidentally,
of the “20 Top Retirement Havens in the Rockies,” Douglas
County was the only Colorado county on the list. According
to the report, by the year 2020, Wyoming is expected
to replace Florida as the state with the largest share
of residents age 65 or older.
The people in the Rockies have also become more educated
in the last 30 years, with 25 percent of people older
than 25 having attained a high school degree and another
25 percent with a bachelor's degree or higher. Overall,
the Rockies (9 percent) outscore the United States
(7 percent) in percentage of the population over age
25 with a master's degree or higher. Colorado counties
alone accounted for 12 of the “20 Most Educated Places
in the Rockies” in the report.
The report also broke down growth by racial demographics
in the Rockies, showing a 78 percent Caucasian population
(compared with 75 percent in the U.S.), and a significantly
higher Hispanic population (18 percent) than the national
average (12.5 percent). However, the region also falls
alarmingly short of the national average (12.5 percent)
of African American residents, with only 3 percent.
Lastly, changes in employment and income are primary
factors in the rapidly growing Rockies. According to
the report, farming and resource-based employment has
shrunk everywhere over the last 30 years, varying substantially
among the Rockies. What is clear is that, at the same
time, service-based employment has risen everywhere,
from 81 percent to 89 percent in the last 30 years.
This means that nearly 90 percent of the people in
the region are in service-based jobs. According to
the report, “All confirm the shrunken importance of
land and natural resources in the contemporary Rockies
Colorado College plans to make the “State of the Rockies” an
annual report, he said, providing perspectives on regional
challenges including growth and decay; natural resource
extraction; tourism and recreation; cultural resources;
and environmental conditions. For more on the “State
of the Rockies” report, visit www.coloradocollege.edu.