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Propane provision warms bodies and spirits at Purple Cliffs

A joint city/county tax helps pay for propane for cooking in the community kitchen, seen here, as well as for heating individual tents at the Purple Cliffs camp. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Dear Action Line: I hear the city of Durango pays a propane company to fill up the propane tanks for the homeless at Purple Cliffs. Is this true? – Gasbag

Dear Gasbag: The answer: Well, kind of, but not exactly. There, does that answer your question?

You seem to still be waiting for something. … Oh, maybe a few details? OK, here’s a little more.

In April 2019, after a snowy winter during which people without homes (“unsheltered homeless” in official terminology) had it even rougher than normal, a nondenominational coalition of faith-based groups and concerned citizens formed to help out. This became the Neighbors in Need Alliance, or NINA (www.ninadurango.org), which provides aid where possible, said Caroline Kinser, NINA’s board chairperson. Most of the help centers around the primitive camp at Purple Cliffs.

Durango Vineyard Church had gotten involved previously, and began taking propane-burning space heaters to Purple Cliffs. With the help of a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, NINA joined in to help provide those space heaters. But money for the heaters and propane was running out.

So NINA contacted La Plata County to ask for financial assistance, and submitted a proposal. The result was that now a line item in the Durango/La Plata County joint tax provides some funding for homeless camp needs.

A member of the joint NINA/Vineyard project comes to the camp about once a week, collects the empty propane tanks and takes them to Basin Co-op to get them filled, Kinser said. NINA pays the propane bill with help from the joint tax.

Campers use 1-gallon propane-burning space heaters in their tents, and there are 5-gallon community tanks for cooking in the two kitchens. The space heaters are designed so that if they are knocked over, they turn off. Providing propane is one of several ways NINA helps.

“We just try to meet the needs as we can see them,” Kinser said. “They’re pretty self-contained out there.”

NINA’s website provides much more detail about its efforts – secure lockers at the Durango Transit Center, for instance. NINA’s ideal long-term plan is to create a “managed” camp that would function as a better transition for people looking for jobs and permanent housing, Kinser said. This is based on Las Cruces, New Mexico’s model, called Camp Hope. NINA has received a grant to begin this process.

If you feel the urge to contribute, click on the “Donate” tab on NINA’s website. Donations to NINA are routed through St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Or write a check to St. Mark’s, 910 East Third Ave., Durango, CO 81301, and make sure to put NINA on the memo line.

Jumping Jeremiah!

Following up on last week’s Action Line, which reported that a modern-day Jeremiah Johnson had spent more than a year at a La Plata Canyon campground: Action Line has been informed by “Miffed in Mayday” that the travel trailer has been moved.

Details are a bit sketchy, but it sounds as if some towing may have been involved. Nobody has given Action Line credit for causing this to happen, but that’s just fine because the power of this position was starting to go to Action Line’s head.

One reader, apparently in reference to the mess made at the campsite, pointed out that in the movies you don’t have to go to the restroom or worry about trash heaps. Good point: Much easier to be a tidy Hollywood mountain man than a real one. There was some tree-chopping in “Jeremiah Johnson,” however.

Another astute reader noted that the “Jeremiah Johnson” in the photo that ran with the story is technically John Jeremiah Johnston, aka “Liver-Eating” Johnston, aka John Garrison (1824-1900). Action Line had decided to ignore the whole liver-eating thing, because it’s impolite to discuss what parts of the human anatomy are most tasty, but since our reader brought it up ...

After his mountain man days, “Liver-Eating” was constable in Red Lodge, Montana, in the 1890s. The cabin he built there was moved in 2002 and now stands next to the visitor’s center in Red Lodge. His remains, meanwhile, are in Cody, Wyoming, under a nice, life-sized bronze sculpture. A group of seventh graders campaigned to have the remains relocated from Los Angeles, where he died in 1900.

Isn’t that sweet. LA is no place for a mountain man.

Our reader claims that in his later years Johnston raised cabbages as a side dish for the liver he so loved, but, like a lot of legends about the man, Action Line cannot confirm this.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Liver, along with beets, were two dinner items that made Action Line gag when a child. Beets seem fine now, but liver? Yuck!

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