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Valley newcomers

We knew our move to the North Fork Valley would bring new experiences. The degree and exactly what it might involve is not unlike attempting to hit the bullseye on a dart board. You might hit the target once in several tries. We had been coming to the valley for years but as new residents, there was much to learn.

“The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
Alan Watts

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our first six months were challenging. Social interactions were limited. Many restaurants were closed, though a few were providing takeout. You couldn’t order groceries or food online with accompanying delivery services. You had to be thoughtful with public outings. Masks in many places were optional. Due to this, we typically double-masked. As an example, our daughter spent Thanksgiving with us. After being cooped up all weekend, she and I decided to order breakfast takeout Sunday morning from the local Elks. What a glaring sight we were for the 100 mostly unmasked folks in the hall. Fully masked, my daughter sported her PJ pants and slippers, and me my hat. Undoubtedly, looking like we had just arrived from a foreign land!

COVID-19 peculiarities aside, our pleasant discovery was how welcoming and nice people are in the valley. It didn’t matter whether in the local store or formally meeting people for the first time. As part of my desire to plant a vineyard (a topic for another blog), I sought advice from local growers and wineries. Everyone proved thoughtful and giving of their time. 

We were worried about our move, due to perceived rural isolation, with few friends and no local family. While you don’t develop connections overnight, we discovered identifying local people and organizational networks doesn’t take long. Our initial network discovery was local vine growers and winemakers. Planning my small vineyard during our first spring, I spent time with a neighbor winery The Storm Cellar, who was gracious in discussing grape rootstock planting and tending practices. After planting grape rootstock in May, I had 35 left over. I offered them to The Storm Cellar but they had a surplus as well. He recommended another small grower in the valley. Sure enough, the connection led to several growers and a wine and food-tasting group.

Another learning curve to flatten was the challenge of securing contractors for repair and installation work. After a fair level of diligence, I would end up with good contractors who were friendly and forthcoming, but getting there could be a real chore. While you intuitively know finding good service providers might be difficult, the extent was surprising. I don’t doubt this is not unique to the valley, most rural areas face similar circumstances.

First and foremost, I learned the importance of using the few local connections I had to solicit contractor recommendations. If that didn’t pan out, I’d use the internet to identify service providers and begin making phone calls. The provider catch basin for the valley includes all of Delta County and nearby Montrose County. When living in Denver, I commonly used the internet to find service providers. When reaching out whether online or making phone calls, more often than not, urban customer systems work. Not so much in the valley. Many times, company names and phone numbers may exist on the web but little additional information is available. Websites aren’t kept up-to-date, with a high number of retired or out-of-business responses when inquiries are answered. Most of the time you’re leaving messages, and receiving a call back is a 50-50 proposition. Another not-uncommon response, “we don’t come that direction”.

An important information source it took me a while to figure out, is paying attention to locally printed ads and news publications. The valley with Delta County, has the High Country Shopper. What a resource. These publication types are not uncommon throughout much of Colorado. Another common brand I’ve come across in other areas is the Thrifty Nickel. I rarely gave them notice, till now. Paying attention to local social media like Facebook, provides another resource. The valley has several local groups, and it’s not unusual for people and companies to post and talk about services provided or received.

It didn’t take us long to figure out where to get local valley news; the North Fork Merchant Herald. Thomas Wills, the owner/publisher/ editor/primary writer/graphic artist/jack of all trades, of Wills Gallery & Used Books, is quite the reporter about the valley. As a monthly printed publication with an e-edition, the NFMH’s value comes from in-depth reporting on the local town governments (primarily Paonia and Hotchkiss), districts, organizations, and businesses. Thomas’s coverage is accompanied by local column writers covering health and wellness, living in the valley, real estate, and more. Thomas is a bit of a contrarian, in a good and insightful way. He is also a good chronicler of day-to-day valley activities. Local publications are not uncommon no matter the area but with our initial “new in the valley” situation, the NFMH made a difference in flattening our community knowledge learning curve as new residents.

After two years of our experiences and ever-expanding social networks, we are evolving towards feeling like actual residents, we belong. We’re still finding where we can make a difference in the valley, a desired hill yet to climb.

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