Creede star power is the refreshing story of a small town in Colorado that almost died after a hundred years of prosperity based on silver mining. In the 1800’s ten thousand people invaded the area and created the town. They established it in what became Mineral County in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. It was a silver boom town. Creede was everything that characterized a silver-rush western mining town: Outlaws, conmen, shootouts, bordellos, and gamblers…..a Hollywood dream all in one place. The silver lasted a hundred years but, when the last mine closed in 1985, only 300 hundred residents were left.
I should note that the Rocky Mountains are littered with ghost towns that are remnants of played-out mining operations.
A group calling themselves The Headwaters Alliance is trying to resurrect the town of Creede, and its surrounding area, by creating a “Dark-Sky Reserve”, which they hope will attract a whole new era of invaders….tourists. In fact, Dark-Sky communities are springing up all over the American West, as people begin to realize the economic potential of creating areas where there is no “light” pollution. There is even an International Dark Sky Association (IDA), based in Tucson, Arizona, which encourages communities to curb their light pollution.
The movement includes astronomers, as you might expect, but also includes environmentalists, since light pollution harms nocturnal wildlife as well as obscuring the stars. Since 2001 the IDA has certified more than 130 dark-sky locations worldwide, and fourteen (14) of them are in Colorado.
Creede will have an easier time than most places in regulating the dimming of lights because 95% of Mineral County is public land – the San Juan Mountains and the Rio Grande National Forest are quite adept at enveloping visitors in darkness without the help of the IDA. However, the example this movement has started may well bode well for the detoxification of light pollution elsewhere. If the IDA can successfully encourage controlled, eco-tourism, and minimal environmental-impact infrastructure to support it, it may well be a lifeline to these moribund and, in some cases, already-dead communities.
As the U.S. population shifts, and more people move into the mountains, this example provided by Creede may well result in the resurrection of ghost-town fortunes. I doubt whether the outlaws, conmen, shoot-outs, bordellos, and gamblers will return….but you never know.
As one of the residents of Creede said, “There’s wonders out there, so don’t be afraid of the dark”. Creede star power is one of those wonders.