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Editorial: Whittle the Wood’s sacred art should be protected

“20 years — can you believe it?” Dave Pike asked Wednesday morning as his opening salute to all those who have made Craig’s Whittle the Wood Rendezvous event possible these last few decades. 

As director of Craig Parks and Recreation, Pike deserves a lot of credit for championing the event whose meager beginnings have grown to help showcase Craig’s talent and rustic mountain culture. But so, too, do members of the city staff who do so much to make Whittle the Wood special for residents and their families.

Craig Press Editorial Board

Renee Campbell, publisher

Clay Thorp, reporter

Pete Pleasant, community representative

Desiree Moore, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at editor@CraigDailyPress.com.

What started as a handful of artists who liked to gnaw on hunks of wood with their power tools and chainsaws has morphed into one of the premier wood sculpting events in the state of Colorado. Take a drive around Craig and you’ll see them — the artful products of carvers who travel from across the country and the world to participate in Craig’s annual event. Our city parks and public spaces are full of beautiful carvings from competitions of years past.

As residents, we really should cherish our city’s wood sculptures and the place they’ll have in the lives of our future generations. That’s why it’s so upsetting to see these sculptures defaced or allowed to crumble in the elements.

The hippie at Craig City Park had his arm sawed off in an act of criminal mischief — and police have no suspects. Some butterflies at the courthouse have flown away. Some of our cherished statues around town need a little TLC — and they need to be protected for future generations of residents and visitors.

They help give Craig its persona — rough on the surface, but purposeful, beautiful and natural, strong enough to stand the test of time. These sculptures are part of what makes Craig attractive to visitors tired of city life — tired of the modern art scenes, the crowds and concrete jungles that enshrine much of our urban social lives. These sculptures help us celebrate the beauty of Craig’s natural wonders and the culture of its wonderful people — definitely worth the small ticket price for a Saturday of live music and wood sculpting.

Editorial: Do your part to keep Craig beautiful

Spring is a wonderful time in Craig and Moffat County.

The rolling uplifts that surround us are a brilliant green — in some places purple, yellow or blue — beautiful and thriving after the rain these last few days and weeks. The Earth has awakened and, when the wind picks up, her dandelion blossoms are thick in the air now almost like the snow we know so well.

Editorial Board

Renee Campbell, publisher

Clay Thorp, reporter

Pete Pleasant, community representative

Desiree Moore, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at editor@CraigDailyPress.com.

But that thriving foliage is evident now in town as residents begin to fire up their lawn mowers and weed eaters for the green season. As our tourism season progresses, it’s important for residents to remember a few things about their lawns. 

According to the city’s ordinance, grass inside the city should not be more than 12 inches and various weeds cannot be in excess of six inches. The punishment for violating the ordinance ranges from a fine to a lien on your property if fines go unpaid.

Aside from the potential legal headaches, homes whose lawns are overgrown can attract pests. Overgrown lawns don’t help keep our town beautiful and don’t do anything to complement the volunteer work that’s been done this last year to present a clean image of Craig to our visitors. Craig Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, volunteers with Northwest Colorado Health, Boy Scouts of America, local businesses and many others have all chipped in to help keep the city clean and free of trash in certain areas.

There’s an opportunity for volunteerism here as some of Craig’s vacant homes and lots are in need of a little maintenance. While it’s always easy to call the city when a neighbor’s lawn is overgrown, here in Craig we help each other. Residents might consider donating some sweat and gasoline for a lawnmower to help keep their neighborhood nice.

Keep this in mind before you call the city’s code enforcement folks on your neighbors: Craig’s community service officers have been busy these last few weeks, often issuing multiple verbal warnings and citations for high grass, weeds, and sometimes trash. It’s usually better to talk with neighbors about any nuisance foliage that might be the source of neighborly angst before calling code enforcement.

There’s much to look forward to in Craig. Our downtown is beginning to see more revitalization as several new small businesses get ready to open. The city is prioritizing façade and sidewalk improvements to enhance and beautify our city. Elected officials and volunteers are doing their part to keep Craig beautiful.

Keeping our lawns managed and free of trash is an easy thing the rest of us can all do to help keep Craig beautiful. Once your lawn is done, maybe if there’s a little bit of extra time in your day and gas in your tank, you can help that neighbor who’s a little slow to mow.

Editorial: Marijuana ordinance should benefit Craig community

It has been almost seven years since Colorado passed Amendment 64 to the state’s Constitution legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Once Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed, cities and counties across the state jumped at the chance to bolster their coffers with pot money. They wrote their own marijuana ordinances, established their own local bureaucratic controls and taxes on recreational marijuana. They funded their schools, their roads, and their recreation centers.

But not Craig or Moffat County.

It didn’t take the state long to begin funding peer-reviewed research to better understand marijuana’s effects — doling out some $9 million for research in 2015. Much of that research is ongoing — researching treatments for stubborn post-traumatic stress disorders, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and more. Much research has already been completed on the many medical benefits of cannabis.

Colorado’s State Patrol has done its own research. CSP says their DUI cases overall were down 15% from 2014 to 2017 while the percentage of CSP citations with marijuana-only impairment has stayed steady, at around 7%. The percentage of CSP citations with any marijuana nexus rose from 12% in 2012 to 17% in 2016, then dropped to 15% in 2017, according to CSP. State Patrol says 10% of people in treatment for a DUI self-reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse, compared to 86% who report alcohol as their primary drug of abuse. This and other research shows us the legalization of marijuana has had minimal impacts on the overall well-being of our population.

For years, residents here have watched as surrounding cities and counties have reaped the financial rewards of legalized marijuana. Who knows how much money this community would have gained had it been on the forefront of Colorado’s legalized marijuana-related businesses? It’s safe to say we’ve lost many millions due to resident’s apprehension toward what has historically been an illegal substance.

But now voters in Craig seem to be tired of seeing their neighbors awash in marijuana money while Craig and Moffat County can’t — or won’t — keep their libraries or a world-class museum open.

Voters chose Paul James for city council, whose candidacy was rooted in bringing recreational marijuana to Craig. At Tuesday’s council meeting this week, council voted to give City Attorney Sherman Romney permission to begin the process of writing Craig’s new marijuana ordinance. The city is planning to use the workshop process to ensure community input toward the new ordinance before it’s put on the November ballot for voters to decide once and for all whether they want to sell a valuable commodity in this state.

The new ordinance might even contain extra taxes across multiple sales and manufacturing avenues that will be used to fund our libraries and our museum.

There’s also talk of using the taxes from marijuana sales to help fund a new recreation center in Craig.

We shouldn’t pretend folks aren’t already using marijuana legally in Craig on a regular basis. It is likely many residents are already buying marijuana legally, just not in Craig. The potential for recreational marijuana in Craig brings with it money, and that money should be put to good use. As the city writes its ordinance and prepares to put the question on the ballot, we support decisions to fund education and health through marijuana taxation to offset whatever effects may come from more marijuana in our community. More money toward education and health is a good thing and we should support the city and county’s efforts in these areas.

But we should also watch our elected officials with a keen eye when or if recreational marijuana is legalized in Craig. We are against giving our elected officials a blank check without earmarking every dollar’s worth gained from recreational marijuana. That money should be accounted for and spent according to voters’ wishes, not quietly dripped into the general fund where it can be used for anything our elected officials want.

We also encourage the community to get involved in the city’s workshop process in the coming months. City officials have until August to solidify an ordinance before they plan to put that ordinance on the November ballot for voters to decide. If you’re for or against recreational marijuana legalization in Craig, your perspective matters and you have real power to guide public policy as long as you participate in the city’s workshop process.

As for Craig City Council, we would encourage them to work closely with the city attorney, who was keen to advise council Tuesday night it would be in Craig’s best interest to draft its own marijuana ordinance before any marijuana-related businesses in Colorado do. It will be important to make sure any loopholes or liabilities in our ordinance are closed and the law’s language airtight. Though an outside attorney may not be needed due to city and county attorneys across the state having already done the work for us, we think it prudent for council to consider consulting an affordable outside attorney with experience in municipal marijuana policy and no ties to special marijuana interests. Our ordinance should incentivize Craig or Moffat County residents interested in starting and keeping their own small marijuana-related business headquarters here.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, officials should use the workshop process to listen to constituents that they may write our new recreational marijuana ordinance in a way that protects Craig and its rural culture from outside marijuana-related business interests, funds initiatives important to the community, and benefits residents and their quality of life.

Editor’s note: Renee Campbell was unable to attend this week’s editorial board meeting.

Editorial: We should all be proud of Craig’s art culture

You might not know it yet, but there’s valuable, tangible talent right here in Craig and Moffat County.

What often begins as a hobby to pass the time by creating something appealing to the artist or appealing to the eye, to the ear, something tasty or something — anything, can often flower into a real source of income that can help working families in rural economies like ours.

The recently formed Northwest Colorado Art Council’s work in this regard is crucial as it will shed light on a new generation of painters, musicians, brewers, edible artisans, and other creative types at events that attract folks from across the Yampa Valley. When their work is integrated with city and state policies, our arts council can prove to be a valuable service that markets our rural arts culture, feeds our local businesses, and provides a good quality of life to residents.

The art council can look to plenty of successful organization whose past events have brought world-class attractions to Craig. The city of Craig hosted the first-ever Sagebrush Art Festival in August 2002 — a judged art show that included painting, sidewalk chalk art, and glass blowing competitions for cash prizes. The event was sponsored with a small grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Nostalgic Norman Rockwell-inspired paintings still adorn shop fronts downtown — the remnants of an exhibit of the artist that came to Museum of Northwest Colorado in 2012.

The Yampa Valley Artisans group always fills events with local wares — some of them coveted crafts made by artisans from the Yampa Valley Potters.

Craig’s Downtown Business Association has worked over the decades to showcase Yampa Valley artists of all kinds on the Saturday before Valentines Day for Craig’s Art Walk and Taste of Chocolate. The arts council is hoping to take this particular event and expand it — partnering with the business association on a regular art walk on the first Friday of every month.

There are plans to beautify some of Craig’s historic alleyways with murals and to take advantage of an offer for our local arts council to be housed in The Giving Tree at 525 Yampa Ave. for the cost of utilities. If they can make the numbers work, it seems our news arts council might finally provide a permanent facility to showcase our local artists for visitors and residents year-round.

Residents really should view the art council’s work through the prism of economic development and welcome the money brought into our small businesses and economy at large when any event comes to town. Ask anyone who regularly attends art events and they might tell you Craig has an abundance of kind and genuine folks unlike some art scenes in Colorado.

Local artists who come to these events in Craig are our neighbors and friends. They are the son of a farmer who developed a love for painting the beautiful, rolling hills of his family’s small ranch; a cattle rancher’s daughter who started sculpting steely works of art after learning to weld as a young girl; or the Native American woman whose family recipes were passed down from the generations to her and her new food truck. This next generation of artists will make Craig’s future into something we can all take pride in and enjoy.

But these burgeoning artists might not have realized their potential at all were it not for groups that support the arts. President Melanie Kilpatrick and all her associates at Craig’s newly formed Northwest Colorado Arts Council deserve praise for their hard work. So, too, do all those who came before Kilpatrick — Linda Booker and so many more whose work on the Downtown Business Association’s events over the years has made Craig’s arts scene what it is today.

The future looks bright for Craig’s burgeoning artists because of much hard work by artists and organizers over the years and we should all be very thankful for that. But it’s also important for our new arts council to integrate their work with that of the city of Craig and its economic development initiatives. The city’s recent work to secure millions in grant money may present its own opportunities for the arts council. The county also is working hard to bring more events to Craig and Moffat County, so integrating initiatives and communicating across multiple nonprofit and government organizations in Craig to accomplish the same goal will be important.

The future looks bright, indeed, but only if we all work together to further integrate Craig’s arts culture into our social and economic fabric and market Craig’s burgeoning arts culture to a global audience.

Editorial: Get those flags ready

In Craig and Moffat County, we love America.

We love its ideals of free market capitalism and self-sufficiency, of resilience, of sacrifice and compassion for the downtrodden.

There are many great patriots in our community who were shaped by hard work and sacrifice. Some are younger and leaving our small community to serve in the armed forces. Let us pray for their safe return. Some have already served in the military and make this community great by their volunteerism and work ethic. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice. The Craig community will always remember all those who’ve served in our armed forces.

That’s why now is as good a time as any to remind our friends and neighbors to dust off and unfurl those American flags in time for several upcoming holidays and observances celebrating our armed services.

Armed Services day is May 18, followed by Memorial Day the weekend of May 27. Memorial Day is perhaps the most somber of holidays honoring our military men and women as it celebrates those who were killed while serving in the armed forces.

Craig Rotary Club will be adorning Yampa Avenue and Victory Way with a small army of American flags in an annual celebration of the city’s patriotism. You might even get to help as the local Rotarians are looking for volunteers to help put the flags downtown for all to see.

The local VFW will hold its annual Memorial Day flag-laying ceremony at Craig’s cemetery honoring the fallen in conjunction with the local American Legion.

Flag Day isn’t far behind on June 14. Then there’s our July 4 holiday with a parade and the local VFW’s July 4 picnic.

All these holidays and events have one thing in common — the need for a fresh American flag.

While waving our tattered, faded front porch flag is better than not waving a flag at all, older flags need to be retired by knowledgeable patriots whose flag retirement ceremonies are the proper way to dispose of our American flag instead of the trash can.

The local Boy Scout Troop near you would be willing to take your flag and retire it respectfully. So, too, does Craig’s local VFW hold a flag retirement ceremony meant to respectfully dispose of our nation’s colors. Just head to the VFW and place your flag in a box located by the VFW flag pole. The VFW will hold their flag retirement ceremony June 14 for Flag Day.

Once you’ve successfully relinquished your flag for retirement, it’s time to get a new one. But there’s also an opportunity to get one for free. Craig’s MJK ACE hardware store is giving its first 240 customers a free American flag on Saturday, May 25.

However you show your patriotism for these upcoming holidays, please remember to do it safely.

Also remember to respect the American flag and those whose sacrifice gave us the freedom we all hold dear.

Editorial: Never again

When Moffat County School District teacher Justin Folley was acquitted in December on 10 counts of felony exploitation of a child, it marked a real low point for the justice system in Moffat County and the State of Colorado.

By all measures, Folley would have been convicted in almost any other U.S. state.

But not Colorado.

Not until Monday when it finally became illegal for adults to send sexually explicit text messages to minors. It’s troubling to think of all those who were victimized over the decades by such a gap in our state law, but no longer.

Could the law have gone further? Perhaps. Legislators told the Craig Press the law had to be rewritten several times before it passed, so the political winds might not have made continued additions or revisions easy.

Legislators could have written the legislation to target teachers specifically. We see them in the news all the time — inappropriate student-teacher relationships where teachers of all ages and genders allow themselves to prey on those who aren’t mature enough to provide consent. Some states have such laws and they include the bureaucratic and legislative tools to enforce the automatic removal of a teacher’s teaching license in that state if they are convicted of an inappropriate student-teacher relationship.

Some states take a broader outlook and have laws specifically written to keep adults in positions of trust from abusing children in their care. This would apply to pastors, coaches, and teachers like Folley.

Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Steamboat Springs), Rep. Matt Soper (R-Delta) and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada), Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), Joyce Rankin and Superintendent Dave Ulrich all deserve credit for making sure Colorado’s law passed Monday was broad enough to cover abusers from all walks of life, not just teachers like Folley.

Folley was in a position of trust. The Craig and Moffat County community trusted him to educate and make better Americans out of our children. With that trust comes real power — the power to obfuscate and hide the truth until the jig is up. That trust can be used to discredit victims and proclaim innocence, though there is none.

Any person in a position of trust who violates that trust by sending sexually explicit text messages to minors in their care deserves the label of ‘felon.’

And though this community suffered a blow to its system of justice with Folley’s acquittal, our community and its elected leaders got up, brushed themselves off, and worked until the law was changed to protect our kids from those who would prey on them.

It took less than a year for a process that could have taken many years. For that, we thank all those involved in changing the law to protect not just our kids here in Moffat County, but across the entire state of Colorado.

Editor’s note: Desiree Moore and Renee Campbell were unable to attend this week’s editorial board meeting.

Editorial: Let’s show the world our community pride

For those claiming there’s nothing for Craig residents to do, this weekend should prove them wrong.

Colorado’s Great Northwest Summer Kickoff is here after months of marketing initiatives and advertising across the state and region.

It’s hard to mention all the goings-on this weekend and all the souls whose hard work makes the fun happen. This weekend’s agenda is so full, you might have trouble picking and choosing which family-fun event you want to attend.

There’s the “Where the Hell’s Maybell?” bike event on May 4, one of Craig and Moffat County’s flagship events along with the Sombrero Ranches Great American Horse Drive on May 5, including Maybell Heritage Days.

Then there’s so much more to come during the summer — Grand Old West Days May 23 to 27; Whittle the Wood Rendezvous June 12 to 15; Bear River Young Life Car Show June 14 and 15; John Wesley Powell 150th anniversary celebration in Echo Park June 17 to 18; Moffat County Balloon Festival Aug. 3 and 4; and Moffat County Fair and rodeo events in August.

Did you get all that? Because there’s plenty more as well.

These events represent the hard work and dedication of many in Moffat County and Craig over the past few years and months. Tom Kleinschnitz, the county’s tourism director, and Jennifer Holloway, the new director of Craig Chamber of Commerce, are two whose work on branding and marketing Colorado’s Great Northwest deserves our praise and thanks. They and others are building Moffat County’s into something world-renowned. They are building Moffat County’s tourism industry into something we should all support and be proud of. The Colorado Department of Tourism estimated in 2018 that visitors spent $32.9 million in Moffat County, primarily on retail goods, dining, arts and entertainment, and lodging.

As a small, winter community, these events aren’t just a good way to generate economic prosperity, they’re a great way to wake from winter’s icy grip and work on tanning our hibernated hides. They’re a great way to reconnect with our friends and neighbors whom we haven’t seen since last year. These events are also an opportunity to show the world our community pride.

The city has swept the streets. The community banded together to pick up trash in public areas across the city and county. Our Craig community is as beautiful and welcoming as ever — just like its people.

We’d like to encourage residents to make the most of this time— get out and help make these events wonderful and well attended. Watch your friends ride through the finish line triumphantly in Maybell and get some grub at a food truck nearby. Bring your camera early Saturday and catch a few cherished memories of the Great American Horse Drive. Get your cowboy boots and buckles ready for the Moffat County Fair and rodeo.

Let us never take for granted Colorado’s great and beautiful Northwest. Let us enjoy this year’s events and all they have to offer our families and our community.

Editorial: Show us the money

As spring wakes with a yawn and the sunny days begin to heat Craig, the children in our homes and inside each of us are beginning to reemerge — longing for a little recreation after the winter months. So, it might not surprise residents that the debate over a possible community recreation center in Craig is also reemerging.

For decades, our community has tried and failed to pass a recreation center initiative. As the years have gone by, other nearby cities large and small are enjoying their own new community recreation centers.

Steering committees here in Craig have polled the public — or at least those who are involved and attend their meetings — as to what residents want in their recreation center. Seniors want a permanent space with a free walking track. The swim team needs an indoor pool. The kids need a place to play basketball, soccer, and other sports at a facility capable of hosting tournaments for those sports.

Our entire community needs an affordable place to participate in physical activity during the long winter months when the outdoors are not so welcoming. Much work has been and continues to be done to build a coalition of stakeholders and to educate residents about the benefits of a community recreation center.

We only need an estimated $15 million to $20 million upfront for construction and homeowners and businesses to pay a little bit more in taxes every year.

It seems simple, but each time this initiative was put on the ballot, seemingly every year, it failed. Each time, the community simply didn’t want to pay for a community recreation center.

Maybe it’s because residents don’t know the actual value in having such a center.

We have had a bad habit of paying for studies that tell us what we already know, letting those studies collect some dust, and then digging them up 10 years later to illustrate an economic point when a new study needs to be done.

We don’t want another study. We want action. But the actions of some officials in building and maintaining area recreation amenities doesn’t bode well for a recreation center here in Craig. It seems every time there’s a pool built in our community it’s allowed to wallow in disrepair until it’s given a concrete grave. The City of Craig operates the one outdoor pool left that’s open to the public for a portion of the year.

Though our hotels and their staff are nice enough, they won’t be welcoming the public throngs of pool-hungry kids this summer — and parents certainly aren’t going to pay the cost of a hotel room just so their kids can shake off the winter funk with a nice swim in a heated pool. A dip in one of their hot tubs might change some minds, but most Craig residents and visitors will be looking for a free or affordable outing with their kids as the weather warms up.

Many residents may not realize how important a recreation center in Craig will be to attracting such visitors and a new generation of permanent residents to the area. Such a center in Craig will undoubtedly bring in extra revenue by attracting tournaments and other events. A new indoor pool and other sports amenities will have lasting, positive effects on our school sports programs, our seniors’ quality of life and our working adults with children who may be offered child care at the center. A community recreation center in Craig will act as a magnet, drawing in residents from outlying towns bordering Craig.

What residents need is to know whatever tax money raised will be spent wisely and not wasted. Residents need the confidence their recreation center will succeed and our collective investment will be repaid in some way.

Those leading today’s charge for a recreation center taxing district should show residents the hard financial numbers that already exist in area towns with community-funded recreation centers. What is the potential revenue from any taxing district, memberships, tournaments, and other sources, and will that be enough to keep the doors open for future generations?

Is the recreation center in Meeker in the black? What about Delta’s? Show us. 

If a recreation center will pass in Craig after years of voters thwarting such a proposal, those pushing hardest for a recreation center in Craig will have to prove to residents there will be a return on their investment. Residents want hard financial assurances and those leading the charge for a recreation center in Craig should give it to them.

Editorial: Broadband blues no more

In today’s digital age, it isn’t comforting to know Craig hasn’t yet fully joined the rest of the industrialized world’s instant interconnectedness brought about by fast and reliable internet.

For decades, city officials and many others have beleaguered the point — Craig doesn’t have internet infrastructure robust enough or fast enough to provide residents and businesses with truly fast and reliable web services — so it definitely doesn’t have the internet infrastructure to attract a new generation of business into the area.

The studies have already been done by Moffat County and the City of Craig about the types of businesses just waiting for the right time to make their Craig-American Dream a reality — animal production and aquaculture, oil/gas mineral extraction and the support companies that come with energy production, niche/artisanal product manufacturing, truck transportation, professional/scientific/technical services, construction, healthcare, and tourism. It’s as if these would-be small businesses have been missing something in Craig — something vital to any business large or small.

Maybe finding that something begins with fast and reliable internet here in Craig — but maybe it starts with making sure folks know its importance. Maybe folks need to know exactly what fast internet will mean for this community.

To give you an idea of where Craig stands now in the race for faster internet, the fastest internet speed inside the city limits through a local internet service provider will be about 33 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 11 Mbps upload.

To explain it a different way, a picture of your granddaughter on her birthday or of your dog enjoying a nap in the sun, taken with a typical smart phone is usually about five megabits in size. This means you can download about seven such photos in one second with a basic internet speed in Craig, America. That may seem fast, but today’s businesses — large and small — need much more breathing room than that.

Imagine having speeds of more than 900 megabits per second. This is the speed at which today’s business world moves — and it gets faster every day. Moffat County and Craig have yet to harness much of the opportunity that will come with these increased speeds — especially the opportunity to attract a broader business and commercial tax base using internet speeds that match or exceed those in larger cities.

Audrey Danner and Michelle Perry deserve much of the credit for laying the groundwork for Craig to have these kinds of rural internet speeds. Though their Craig/Moffat Economic Partnership was dissolved, one of Mayor John Ponikvar’s last official acts as mayor was to carry the torch and sign an agreement allowing the Yampa Valley Electric Association to begin installation of fast broadband internet on city-owned easements in town. This fiber-grade internet infrastructure is the future of fast and reliable internet around the globe and this community should feel very fortunate to have it. There are rural communities just like Craig across the US who don’t have our internet plans and their futures are bleak.

But faster and more reliable internet won’t be the one thing that brings businesses to Craig. A new generation of city officials will take the helm April 23. It will be on them to continue to carry this torch; to continue and expand upon the work done for so many decades to keep Craig from slipping into a future where the slow to move are last and the quick to act are first.

It will also be their responsibility to make sure a faster, more reliable internet in Craig is affordable for the residents who live and work here — and whose future small businesses will rely on our internet investments to compete in a global economy.

Editorial: County, city should save our libraries

Editor’s note: Editor Jim Patterson was unable to attend this week’s Editorial Board meeting and did not participate in the development of this position.

Ever since the publication of Sidney Ditzion’s Arsenals of Democratic Culture and other publications of the 1940s that immortalized the importance of public libraries into American culture, the public library has often been the pride of every American city you visit.

Libraries became cultural community centers for learning, for growth and discovering possibility. They host community events, dance halls, art exhibits, music recitals, and so much more.

In small towns across Colorado, the public library is often on the register of historic places and the heart of the community. It acts as a gathering place for seniors who can congregate or read while enjoying the company of their friends and neighbors.

Here in Craig, the Moffat County Library system offers year-round library events like story time for kids at the Craig Branch, a summer reading program to keep kids sharp during their three months off, a winter reading program for kids, a youth club, the ready-set-read program, the 1,000 books before kindergarten program, and baby book bags.

Libraries and the important programs they offer came about because Americans collectively decided an educated nation with free access to information is a free nation. Americans decided in order to truly be free, we must have free or low-cost access to information in order to make informed decisions about everything — from how much flour to put in a cookie recipe to how much money was cut from the library budget in Moffat County to save a few bucks every year.

These days, it seems the collective investment in our libraries, in our freedom, is beginning to crumble.

These days, libraries are often used by the poorest among us who don’t have regular access to the internet — or a printer, or counseling on how to properly fill out and submit a resume, or any of the many technological advances we may take for granted in today’s digital age.

Closing down the library or shortening library hours in any way has real effects on our community.

That bright, troubled neighborhood kid with nowhere else to go but an abusive home — he can’t go to the library if it’s closed.

That spry, but elderly lady who lives down the street and volunteers her time reading to kids every chance she gets — she can’t go to the library if it’s closed.

The aspiring lawyer or doctor, the mechanically inclined high school senior who wants to hone their engineering skills, the gifted artist who wants to try their hand at architecture, the musician who wants to learn how to write a symphony — they can’t go to the library if it’s closed.

In a community with a need for a more diversified economy, a library is fertile ground for innovation and wealth creation.

That’s why county and city officials should do everything in their power to continually fund our libraries — to extend library hours for residents of all walks of life. These officials should never be allowed to cut the one thing that could help so many Craig residents climb out of their economic hardships and contribute to our changing economy.

Without a vibrant library in Craig, our freedom really is at stake and officials should remember that and cut something else when it comes budget time.