I spent most of my first week in Ouray County walking around wide-eyed, overwhelmed by how stunning it is, unable to believe I could somehow, actually, get to live here.
I had an idea of where I was headed from reading old Plaindealer stories, countless Google searches, and late nights scrolling through pictures on social media, but nothing prepared for seeing it myself. It’s been about a month now, and I’m still just as awestruck.
I’m a “flatlander,” I learned recently, which accounts for some of the surprise. I grew up in Rhode Island, went to college in Washington, D.C., and spent the last four years reporting for newspapers in Beaumont and San Antonio, Texas and New Haven, Conn., all places I’ve been lucky to live and explore, but none quite as stunning as the San Juans.
I’ve been surprised, too, friendly and welcoming everyone has been, even before I got here.
Moving during a pandemic and finding a place to live here were scary prospects, but so many people responded and reached out with offers and suggestions for housing, beyond what I could have imagined. The third-graders at Ouray School helped calm my nerves as well, offering up advice in a chat before I moved here. They made sure I knew which wildlife to be on the lookout for, where they recommended hiking and getting pizza and burgers and even shared some thoughts on driving in the snow. Moving four times in the last four years means I’m used to being new in town, but I’m not used to being met with such warmth and friendliness as an outsider, especially showing up in the middle of a pandemic. One of my favorite parts of journalism is getting to meet so many new people and see new places, and while COVID-19 and social distancing are certainly making it harder, it’s one of the things I’m most excited about here.
I applied to become a Report for America corps member to be part of a program investing in and supporting local journalism, at a time when that’s being cut back across the country, over and over again. I wanted to be part of an organization that sees how important it is for local reporters to be on the ground in a community to tell its stories, and that is supporting newspapers, like the Plaindealer, in doing that every single day. The chance to come here seemed almost too good to be true: I get to cover a beat that affects so much of life here in Ouray County, and I get to work and live in this incredible place. With the “all hands on deck” situation of covering COVID, I’ve gotten to hit the ground running, but I’m excited to dig into covering affordable housing and socioeconomic issues.
Officially, my assignment is to cover affordable housing and socioeconomic issues. I got a taste of it already in searching for a place to live from 2,000 miles away, and from the conversations I’ve had so far, I know how important this issue is. I’m looking forward to talking with you and writing about how it permeates everything from education to business to daily life here, and what obstades and solutions there might be in addressing it. But like the pandemic has upended everything else in our lives, it’s affected that plan, too: I’ve spent my first few weeks writing mostly about the impact of COVID-19, and I’ll be continuing to do that as we all try to figure out what our new normal looks like and what’s coming next.
I want to know what stories you want to read, and what stories you think need to be told. How has the affordable housing shortage affected you, your family or your business? What solutions have you found, or do you think should be considered? How can we put a face on this issue in the community and better explain the situation? My door is open virtually, anyway, right now. You can email me at Liz@ouraynews. corn, call me at 970-316-2373, or we can meet up fora socially-distant, mask-wearing visit or cup of coffee in the park. I’m so excited and grateful to be here, and can’t wait to get to hear and share your stories.