CUCHARA, Colo. — In the shadow of the highest peaks, what’s left below can be overlooked.
There are parts of this state so beautiful it’s hard to imagine they aren’t overrun by tourists. The area around the Spanish Peaks near Cuchara in southern Colorado is one of those spots.
In a county sometimes known more for it’s poverty, a group of teenagers are working every day to get people to come visit.
"We have been neglected for a long time," said Conor Orr, director of the Huerfano Youth Conservation Corps. "There really is a sense of tremendous communal pride, that we take care of ourselves."
Ricardo Bobian has lived down the road his entire life. Yet the recent high school graduate didn’t know the Cuchara Mountain Park was just 45 minutes from his home in Walsenburg.
Bobian is part of the Huerfano Youth Conservation Corps, a new group put together this summer to give area kids a job and the mountain park some love.
"Never heard of it. Not once. I was actually surprised when I got here. I didn’t know what to expect," said Bobian. "I feel like if we get this place looking nice and telling people about it, that a lot more people will start coming here."
The team of a handful of teens are used to seeing each other at school or at family gatherings. Half of them are cousins. The others have become friends.
"Walsenburg is so small that everyone is related," joked Bobian.
The ski resort here closed in 2000. With that about to reopen this winter, every bench, bridge and trail brings hope that tourists will return.
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"This area is pretty nice but there’s not a lot of money," said Bobian. "The more people that come here, that means the more money that’s going to come here, which means the nicer it’s going to get."
This part of the state is often known for something that’s more tough to be proud of.
"Huerfano County is consistently the poorest county in Colorado," said Orr. "Huerfano County, Orphan County and Walsenburg is the orphan city."
Orr knows what people think. So he’s leading the fight to change minds as the director of the youth corps.
"What this community needs is for people to come in and to earn a living wage. We need an industry," said Orr. "If we can do that in ways that also are beautifying our space and hoping to get rid of all the negative perceptions that exist around Huerfano County, then that’s just gravy."
A decade ago, Orr was their age, falling in love with the mountains too.
Now, he's a leader who gets it.
"Right when I was 15 years old was when I started working up at the Spanish peaks scout ranch. It completely changed my life," said Orr. "When people talk about the kinds of opportunities that you can’t find in small towns, they’re not thinking about the kinds of opportunities you can have."
Opportunities that expand their world and make Bobian, a first-generation college student, proud to help his home.
"I just got accepted to go start fire science as my major," said Bobian. "I actually just got the acceptance email like two days ago. I was pretty excited to find out."
The youth corps is funded by a grant written by locals in the area. They hope to expand the program all around the county as more teens get involved.
The Huerfano Youth Conservation Corps is raising money for more projects through a GoFundMe which you can find here.
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