Next Wednesday, Aug. 1, Colorado celebrates a birthday and the day is designated as Colorado Day.
It was Aug. 1, 1876, when President Ulysses S. Grant presided over Colorado’s entry into the Union — 100 years from the year in which the Declaration of Independence was written. Thus, Colorado is known as the “Centennial State.”
Most present-day Coloradans do not know the state entered the Union at the time it did largely as a political move designed to bolster the election of a president of the United States. That president, the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, was engaged in a tough battle and considered by many to be the underdog. At the time, the Republican Party dominated the Colorado Territory. The three electoral votes the state delivered to Hayes were critically important in his victory (he lost the popular vote).
Mining, railroads and agriculture provided a strong economic base in the state’s infancy and growth was spectacular for nearly 20 years. The collapse of the silver-mining industry, however, threw the state into a downturn and that level of growth was not matched until the 1970s.
Colorado is now a state in which the majority of residents live in metropolitan areas, particularly on the Eastern Slope. The state is blessed with fertile agricultural lands, with an outdoor environment and beauty matched by few other places. It is a prime destination for those seeking a change in lifestyle and lures huge numbers of tourists each year.
Unfortunately, the state has been hit with several disastrous acts of nature and human tragedy and is in danger of being known for these unfortunate incidents.
Drought has dogged the state several times in the last 10 years or so and the resulting dry conditions have led to a number of well-publicized fires.
The Missionary Ridge Fire, near Durango in 2002, was the third largest in Colorado history, and had an impact on life, including commercial life, here in Pagosa Country. This year’s Little Sand Fire northwest of Pagosa Springs, the ninth largest in the state’s history, while not threatening more than a few structures, was a major blaze and attracted news attention. Fires on the Eastern Slope brought Colorado dismal national notice. The Hayman Fire southwest of Denver in 2002 — the largest ever in Colorado at 215 square miles — was followed this summer by two blazes — the High Park Fire near Fort Collins (second largest ever in the state) and the Waldo Fire in the Colorado Springs area, the most destructive blaze ever in Colorado, destroying 347 homes.
A series of other tragedies have plagued Colorado in the last 13 years, beginning with the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and another school shooting at Platte Canyon High School, near Bailey, in 2006. Then, last week, an awful event that continues to draw international attention: the shootings at the Aurora movie theatre.
Colorado Day serves to reminds us we are not defined by our tragedies, but by what is best here.
We know one thing, regardless of the negative events that draw media attention: Colorado is a wonderful place to be — a high-altitude setting for prosperous, energetic business and industry; for cultural achievements in the arts; for several highly-regarded institutions of higher learning. Colorado provides a seed bed for innovation and experimentation in the sciences and technology. And, perhaps most important when considered from the Pagosa point of view, Colorado is a marvelous place to visit, a place where fun and relaxation of all sorts are available to the traveler, year-round.
There is a lot to laud in the Centennial State and, next Wednesday, we need to take time to thank our lucky stars we have the good fortune to live here.