National Geographic : 2001 Mar
RICO, COLORADO heats and cooks with in winter. He got rid of his phone a couple of years ago but has a 21-inch television that gets a decent over-the-air signal from NBC and, in daylight hours, from CBS. He thinks he's the last person in Rico without a satellite dish. Jim shares the house with cats Tuxedo and Evander, who has a split ear. Jim is against large-scale growth in Rico but fears he might be outnumbered now. The Rico Renaissance folks do still hover, hoping to win cooperation, but no one who knows Rico expects it to be transformed anytime soon. Some 8,827 feet high in the San Juan Mountains, this remote town num bered 5,000 in its 1892 heyday and had about 400 residents as late as the early 1950s. It dwindled to double digits after the last mine shut down in 1977 and was pretty much left for dead. Even in midsummer I found only a few businesses operating on the 0.6 of a mile of State Route 145 that doubles as main street. Rico has no school, no doctor, no drugstore or grocery store, no local police. But in the past decade, the population has inched up. Any comeback has been fueled by the high price of life in Telluride, 28 miles to the north. Rico's 33-year-old town manager and attorney, Eric Heil, said he saw the middle class, including himself, pushed out of there by the cost of housing. In Rico the consensus favors planned growth. "We just want to grow into a functioning town," he said. You can't hold much of a conversation with anyone in Rico without Telluride being brought up as what they don't want to become. They shudder at being called a bedroom community for their pricey neigh bor, but they admit that a lot of Rico people work in Telluride, often in construction, or have spouses who work there. Even some who stand to make more money if Rico gets bigger are cautious about change. "The smallness and intimacy of this community is why we're here," said Brigitte Wilson, behind the counter of her gift shop, Mountain Mama's Trading Co. "If you lose that closeness, you lose that feeling of being part of a family." POPULATION: about 140 POPULATION IN 1892: 5,000 SELL-OUT CROWD AT RICO THEATRE AND CAFE: 350 NUMBER OF PAVED ROADS: 1 NEARESTTRAFFIC LIGHT: 50 miles NUMBER OF PLACES YOU CAN BUYALCOHOL (WHEN THE ENTERPRISE BAR & GRILL ISN'T SHUT DOWN): 5 NUMBER OF PLACES YOU CAN BUY A LOAF OF BREAD: 1 "We are so rural we're termed 'Frontier Medicine:" says Scott Chandler, giving a practice IV at the fire station.