Colorado government agencies and charitable organizations will combine funds and efforts to promote the economic and social recovery of San Luis, the oldest city in the state, affected in recent years by difficulties in accessing water sources and by the pandemic.
Jason Medina, executive director of the San Luis Valley Community Foundation, announced this Monday that joint aid of more than two million dollars is anticipated.
San Luis currently has about 600 inhabitants, compared to a thousand two decades ago. And the poverty level reaches 23.1%, compared to 15% in Colorado.
“Obviously we lack opportunities for young people to stay and the industry to attract people to come,” said Medina, stressing that if the city does not receive adequate funds, “San Luis will become a ghost city.”
San Luis was founded in 1848 by Mexicans and New Mexicans who preferred to settle in that place after the war between Mexico and the United States (1846-1848). Those pioneers received the right for themselves and all their descendants to access water sources for their activities.
But those rights virtually disappeared in the 1960s when billionaires bought large properties in the area and closed off access to the water.
The situation changed in 2002 when the Colorado Supreme Court restored the old rights, but it worsened again in 2018 when Texas billionaire William Bruce Harrison bought a ranch and banned San Luis residents from accessing water wells.
Faced with this situation, in 2018 and for the first time in its history, San Luis hired its first full-time city manager, Susan Sanderford. In 2019, Sanderford arranged about $150,000 in grants from the Colorado Health Foundation and other organizations to renovate and expand the downtown park.
And then, in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Park renovation plans were halted. The reconstruction of the main street of San Luis (part of Los Caminos Antiguos, a road that previously linked this city with Taos, New Mexico) and the expansion of the city’s commercial center were also suspended.
As a result, numerous businesses closed, including R&R Market, founded by Darío Gallegos in 1857 and in the hands of the same family since then, although that market has continued to operate since 2022 as a cooperative thanks to the Colorado Health Foundation.
To overcome the crisis, Sanderford managed and obtained in the last two years $560,000 from the Main Street Open for Business project, another $100,000 (for small businesses) from The Colorado Trust, and small amounts from the Colorado Department of Transportation to repair the streets local.
She also received another $500,000 last October from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for cleanup of old properties and urban development.
According to Sanderford, those funds will be used to “renovate abandoned buildings, respond to housing needs, support entrepreneurs and explore the construction of community gardens.” The goal, she said, is to “make San Luis known” to encourage tourism.
But that plan depends on obtaining new funds for the maintenance of parks, buildings and streets, and on locals once again having access to the irrigation ditches that their ancestors once freely used.