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Our View: 2021

A year defined by challenges on many fronts in Southwest Colorado

Durango in 2021 was marked by a fluctuating concern for the coronavirus, exceptionally dry weather conditions and soaring real estate prices.

There were a lot of people in town, having discovered in 2020 the appeal of small mountain town visiting and living and wanting to practice it.

Homes were under contract within days or weeks of being listed, and some sales prices exceeded the amount asked. Available inventory plummeted.

The need for workforce housing was even more clear, and City Council members and housing professionals organized. Owning rather than renting is the focus. Fort Lewis College will test a no-interest-repayable-when-sold down payment boost to faculty and staff members.

To determine a spot for a managed camp for the homeless, La Plata County’s leadership stepped up to lead a search. Purple Cliffs has volunteer support, but it is inadequate and only temporary. Above the Tech Center may be the solution if nearby homeowners can be assured of its management. We think they can be.

With little warning, the Durango School District 9-R board chose the Durango Fire Protection District to be the new owner of its Administration Building, the former Durango High School at East Second Avenue and 12th Street. Access to Main Avenue and Camino del Rio is problematic, and the location could impact Durangoans’ favorite park, Buckley Park.

FLC garnered an exceptionally large freshman class in August, likely largely because of its success in delivering on-campus instruction the previous school year. The college’s administration had created outdoor teaching locations and was firm about masks, testing and distancing, and students were diligent in cooperating. Thus, the college excelled where many others failed.

In the late spring 2021, when the virus was receding, down came the plastic barriers between retail clerks and customers and up went signs saying no masks were needed for those vaccinated.

With the arrival of the delta variant in the summer, and then omicron in the fall, responses toughened and a few shields were reinstalled and masks were required. San Juan Basin Public Health continued to press the critical need to be vaccinated and boosted.

Mercy Regional Medical Center avoided being specific about the demand on its ICU units, saying only that its Centura ownership allowed it to move patients among hospitals. Locals had personal stories that the situation was not that rosy.

Irrigators had reduced hay crops during 2021, as last winter’s snowpack was partially absorbed by dry ground before it reached area reservoirs, and available water was limited. The extreme was to the west in Montezuma County, where farmers under the Dolores Project had only 10% of average water. Horse owners across Southwest Colorado are paying more for hay.

But as dry as it was, there were no fires. That was luck.

In the fall, voters returned incumbents to the School District 9-R board and added a moderate, turning away by a 2-to-1 margin challengers who exaggerated low student scores at the high school and who were loudly opposed to masks. The national blunt single issue challenges to consistent school leadership did not take hold in Durango.

As the above shows, the year was full of a variety of challenges, many of which will still be with us in 2022. Hang on.

Editor’s note: In a previous version of this editorial, the final paragraph incorrectly referenced the year 2020.