Small-Town Strasburg, Growing On The Edge Of The City, Is Wary Of What That Means

· Oct. 23, 2018, 10:10 am
Photo: ELX 2018 Road Trip I70 1| Strasburg Football Lights
It was time for Friday Night Lights as the sun set on the Eastern Plains Sept. 21 when the Strasburg High School Indians football hosted Limon in what folks there describe as the biggest game of the regular season. It was a tough night for the Indians, who endured a 6-36 loss.

Colfax Avenue runs roughly 50 miles in a straight line east from the foothills. Most of the way it’s in one city or another: Golden, Lakewood, Denver, Aurora. But it ends in the town of Strasburg, far out on the Plains, surrounded by farm fields and grain elevators.

The local newspaper is the I-70 Scout. In his office there, the paper’s owner, Doug Claussen, points to the latest front page. The lead story is about Strasburg Station, a 220-unit, 29-acre housing project going in just off Colfax.

“‘Burg Station is a big development to go right out here on the west edge of town,” Claussen says. “It’s quite a huge development.”

Photo: ELX 2018 Road Trip I70 5 | Strasburg Editor Doug Claussen
Doug Claussen is editor of the I-70 Scout and Eastern Plains Recorder, a pair of newspapers based in Strasburg.  He’s seen here in his office just off Main Street with his dog, Walter, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018 . Claussen says what was once an agricultural community is becoming a bedroom community for the Front Range, bringing traffic, new housing developments and a water crunch.  “The growth is always there, but it’s more than ever now,” Claussen said. “I think a lot of people who’ve been here a while don’t want it. Whether they like it or not they’re gradually becoming outnumbered.  The new folks, if they don’t already outnumber the old folks, they will soon enough.” In the meantime, it’s an area that consistently votes Republican.

When asked what’s the top issue in this community as elections draw closer, Claussen does not hesitate.

“The growth is always there, but it’s more than ever now,” and the growing cities of the Front Range are redefining this town. “The new folks, if they don’t already outnumber the old folks, they will soon enough.”

Strasburg, population roughly 2,800, is in transition.

Once a farm town, each year it moves closer in feel and spirit to the growing communities near Denver International Airport. Claussen, who lives on a 5-acre lot in nearby Bennett, says that growth brings worry. The region’s been in a stubborn drought and Claussen says Front Range cities have spoken for a lot of local water rights. So to build here, first you need a water source.

“Water is the big one, water is huge. I have a 550-feet deep well and my neighbor’s went dry or appears to be going dry,” Claussen says. “Well, it’s no cheap thing to drill a new well.”

On a trip through town in Claussen’s car, he passes streets lined by small homes with American flags out front. Farther out there’s construction equipment building a new road. “So this on my right is what I was talking about, modern development, small lots, a lot of these are fairly good size homes,” Claussen says.

Photo: ELX 2018 Road Trip I70 9 | Strasburg Colfax
We stood at the very end of Colfax Avenue, at the point where Headlight Road comes in from the north to join Highway 36 just east of Strasburg, and looked westward. This is the same stretch of highway that courses through Aurora, Denver, Lakewood and eventually ends at Heritage Road in Golden.

Strasburg is in unincorporated Adams County, so county officials are responsible for approving dozens of building permits each year, and that leaves some old-timers in town uneasy. A block off the main drag is Uhrich Locomotive Works, which builds and restores narrow gauge locomotives, including those in Tiny Town. The company houses a serious workshop, filled with milling machines and lathes.

“None of our equipment is computer operated like a modern machine shop,” says Mike Kumnick, a machinist for the company. He’s worked here for years and takes pride in upholding the old American craftsman ideal “where we do everything very carefully and we do it right.”

What’s the biggest issue is for his community?

Kumnick’s response sounds similar to Claussen’s: “With me, it’s too many darned people moving in and too many new subdivisions being built in this little quiet, sleepy country town,” Kumnick says of the population, which has roughly doubled since 2000. “It’s just getting too crowded. I’m a country boy and I just hate to lose the country.”

Photo: ELX 2018 Road Trip I70 8 | Strasburg Mike Kumnick
Mike Kumnick, a machinist and woodworker at Uhrich Locomotive Works in Strasburg, said the rapid growth of the state is its number one issue.  “With me it’s too many darned people moving in and too many new subdivisions being built in this little quiet, sleepy country town and it’s just getting too crowded,” said Kumnick. “And Denver is ridiculously too crowded.”

​Kumnick’s boss is Marlin Uhrich, whose family has run this company for decades. “It was started in 1948, and my father built it up and built his first steam locomotive,” Uhrich says.

Uhrich grew up in town. He attended Strasburg High, Class of 1959. He wonders how long Colorado’s good times, and the real estate boom, will last — everywhere.

“The economy is good for the most part. But pretty soon — and it’s always been a boom and bust state — it’s gonna continue that way,” Uhrich says. “You’re gonna have a bust here pretty soon again.”

For as long as the growth lasts, it creates challenges, he says.

Photo: ELX 2018 Road Trip I70 8 | Strasburg Marlin Uhrich
Marlin Uhrich owns Uhrich Locomotive Works, which specializes in building and restoring narrow gauge locomotives.  The biggest issue facing the state: growth. “There’s just too many people coming in here compared to what it was, you see,” Uhrich said.  He was in the Class of ‘59 at Strasburg High. “When I went school up here at this school, there were 74 kids in the school, now we’ve got over a thousand.  See that’s the way the whole state is doing right now.”

“With enough more people coming in here, the more problems there’s going to be. Crime increases. You end up with more traffic problems,” Uhrich says. “You end up with more school problems. You end up with more fire protection problems. People is the problem.”

Uhrich describes himself as an unaffiliated voter, a true independent. He has a clear idea of what state government should do.

“You need better regulations on where people can go and build,” Uhrich believes. “You gotta have more regulations that you can control the amount of growth that takes place in those areas. Simple as that.”

Not all of Uhrich’s views are shared by some of the younger people in the community. He has a group of young apprentices including Joe Dunn, who is learning the ropes. He lives 7 miles north of the machine shop and he’s noticed the changes.

Photo: ELX 2018 Road Trip I70 6 | Strasburg New Homes
A sign of the times: The Blackstone Ranch in Strasburg isn’t home to cattle, it’s home to a brand new development of single-family homes. According to the Census, Strasburg was home to about 1,402 folks in in 2000. By 2010 that number had grown to 2,447, and is now estimated to be about 2,700 people.

“There’s like so many more cars at the stop sign you know, a lot more houses, a lot more houses going up,” Dunn says. “It’s cool, man. It’s cool.”

More people means there’s more to do. “Not such a small selection of stores to go to or anywhere,” Dunn says. “It’s more people and more business and all that, you know.”

Much of the town comes out to the weekly Strasburg High football game. The annual showdown in early October against Eastern Plains rival Limon starts as a spectacular sunset takes shape over the distant Rockies. Strasburg’s school band strikes up, as cheerleaders leap into the air on the track next to the field:

Photo: ELX 2018 Road Trip I70 4| Strasburg Football Cori Tiffany
Cori Tiffany, left, mother of a player on the Strasburg High School football team, sells gear at a recent game.  She and her family recently moved from Englewood out to Strasburg, on the plains. She now commutes from there to a job in Greenwood Village.  “I just wanted out of the city, too much city,” Tiffany said. “I was done with the city. Born and raised in the city and done with it.” Her husband is a pipefitter for Xcel Energy and she opposes the oil and gas setback ballot proposal.  “I do think it would be bad on a lot of levels” if it passed, Tiffany said. “It hits a lot of different families and I don’t think a lot of people realize how many people are in that industry.”

“Bum, bum, bum, ba buhb! Go Big Red!” It’s “Friday Night Lights,” Colorado-style.

At a table near the entrance, a pair of women sell black and red Strasburg High gear. One is Cori Tiffany, a mother of two. Her family moved here last November from Englewood, to get away from the crowded city.

“I just wanted out of the city. Too much city. I was done with the city. Born and raised in the city and done with it,” Tiffany says. When asked what she liked least about the city, she replied with a laugh, “funny enough, congestion and traffic — and I still drive in there every day.”

Tiffany and her husband commute back to the metro area for work. She says their decision to move was in part based on wanting to escape the heavy presence of marijuana. “Just the constant smell,” Tiffany said. “It changed the dynamics of the neighborhood quite a bit.”

Photo: ELX 2018 Road Trip I70 3| Strasburg Football Entry
Under the orange glow of a Plains sunset, members of the Strasburg High School Indians football team run onto the field ahead of their match against Limon Friday Sept. 21, 2018.

Tiffany says her family was looking to live life in the slower lane, in a smaller community, “quality of life for the kids,” Tiffany says.

Back in his newspaper office, Doug Claussen ponders the evolving quality of life here, and the future for commuter towns on the eastern Plains. He says folks here don’t want to lose what they have: quiet nights, knowing your neighbors, a connection to the countryside.

“People want to maintain the rural character of the towns, because it’s different,” Claussen says. “It’s different than Aurora or Lakewood or Northglenn, any of those Denver suburbs.”

But Claussen says folks here are pretty realistic as they see the city edge ever closer.

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