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These 9 themes helped define Colorado in 2019. Here are the stories that illuminated them.

Our annual list of longform journalism about Colorado covers loss and rebirth, scarcity and overload, migration and belonging

Julio Guirra, migrant worker from Michoacan, Mexico plays tug-of-war with other guests at the Child and Migrant Services' Despedida at Veterans' Memorial Park in Palisade, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. The annual farewell party honors migrant agricultural workers and shows appreciation for the community volunteers who provide services to the workers during the growing season. (Barton Glasser, Special to The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

Imagine, for a moment, that you have been given an assignment to record for posterity the words that defined Colorado in 2019.

What would you choose?

Simmered down to its essence, what was this past year in our state really about?

These stories were largely culled from The Sunriser, our three-days-a-week newsletter rounding up the latest from The Sun and stories about Colorado reported elsewhere. Sign up — for FREE! — here.

When you see a story in 2020 that you think should be included in next year’s list, send it to me via email or Twitter or tweet it using #coloradolongreads.

You might think about discord. And stress. And terror. Or you might think about generosity. And community. Or you might just think about snowso very much snow.

Here at The Sun, we decided to use our annual roundup of Colorado-centric longform journalism to think about these bigger themes. The usual caveat applies: This is not a definitive best-of guide. So, if we missed a story about Colorado that you read (or watched or heard) in 2019 and that you loved, send it to me via email or Twitter with a few words explaining why you liked it and what you think it says about how we live today in Colorado. I’ll add it to the list, with your explanation included.

Let’s pack this time capsule, shall we?

 

Quick links: Belonging | Migration | Harmony | Reckoning | Vigilance | Overload | Scarcity | Loss | Rebirth | Just Because

 

Belonging

In a state struggling with rising inequality and an increasing number of hate crimes, stories about who can call Colorado their own — and who is being left out.

In this Aug. 30th 2019 photo shows Karla Lyons, outside her mobile home at the Lamplighter Village in Federal Heights, Colo. Lyons’ waitressing wages are eaten up by a constant stream of home and yard repairs ordered by her park manager, including removal of a giant maple tree that fell on her patio roof and crushed it. She would move if she could afford it. (Kathryn Scott/The Colorado Sun)

“It’s like living half the American dream”

In a first-of-its kind effort for journalism in Colorado, The Sun collaborated with 14 other newsrooms across the state to look at mobile home parks — a critical source of affordable housing for some of Colorado’s most vulnerable residents. The result was Parked: Half the American Dream, a series that found a declining number of parks in the state, a looming threat of corporate takeover and a growing number of residents scared for their future. // Stories // The Colorado Sun and 14 other newsrooms

Other stories on belonging

  • What it was like during the homeless sweep in Englewood: ‘Every day you’re stressed and upset. Every day.’ // Story // Denverite
  • In the age of “go back where you came from,” Palisade carries on tradition of thanking orchard workers before they leave. // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Mountain biking is my act of resistance. // Story // High Country News
  • Training white people in Colorado to be “anti-racist” (not just “not racist”) is one step in the fight to correct historic wrongs. // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Following his death, teen’s photo is carried along on missed adventures. // Story // The Roanoke Times
  • The night she looks forward to all year: Prom, and belonging, at a Colorado camp for teens with disabilities. // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Scooters, Weed and White People: How Gentrification Is Changing The Harlem Of The West // Video // Off Color with Rebekah Henderson
  • Denver’s Westwood warily watches redevelopment happen. Can it stay true to its roots when gentrification looms? (Part of a collaboration with the University of Colorado journalism school’s News Corps.) // Project // The Colorado Sun and CU News Corps

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Migration

Stories about the movement of people — in a state constantly being redefined by population change.

“We have in our state history seen how this xenophobia, this nativist reaction, has resulted in the persecution of groups. This is not a new story. This has happened nationally. There were (persecuted) groups that are now considered part of the mainstream. The point is, at some point, they’re all part of the mainstream.”

We are a state of migrants. Fewer than half of Coloradans living here today were born here. In many counties, that fraction is below one-third. This trend has been consistent throughout our state’s history, as waves of new migration continually reshape the state’s image. And perhaps no one understands that quite so well as CU professor William Wei, as our Kevin Simpson discovered in this profile: In contentious times, CU prof William Wei brings new perspective to the revamped role of Colorado’s state historian. // Story // The Colorado Sun

Other stories on migration

Sitting with volunteers Anahi Russo Garrido, left, newly arrived guest Juan Carlos is comforted by Rebeca Torres, right, as he breaks into tears and thanks them all for their kindness and bringing him to the Casa de Paz. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
  • Asylum-seekers find compassion, resources at “House of Peace” once released from Aurora immigration center // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • “She tried to become legal and it just became a nightmare:” A DACA recipient’s deportation and her family’s search to find her in Mexico. // Story // The Denver Post
  • Sew Close to Home: Aurora area refugees find a skill and a place in America // Story // The Aurora Sentinel
  • The Last Frontier: Homesteaders on the margins of America // Story // Harper’s
  • Deportation Looms, and a Father Prepares to Say Goodbye // Story // The New York Times
  • Police often do not investigate alleged crimes in Aurora’s contract detention center // Story // Rocky Mountain PBS
  • Aurora Is Growing Fast—And Isn’t Slowing Down // Story // 5280
  • With Fewer Refugees, Who Will Work At Greeley’s Meatpacking Plant? // Story // KUNC
  • He fled China 30 years ago in search of the American dream. Now, he helps others build a better life in Greeley. // Story // The Colorado Sun

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Harmony

In a time of division, stories about building community — or at least trying to.

“He is the glue that holds us all together. I don’t know what we would do without him.”

Colorado students competing in the national spelling bee have a secret weapon: a 77-year-old retired teacher who acts as a mentor, coach and friend, all for free. This delightful story — “Bill’s kids”: A 77-year-old Denverite has dedicated his life to coaching spelling for free “out of the goodness of his heart” — by The Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez is of the kind that often gets filed under the label of “human interest.” What those stories really are about, though, is how we treat one another face-to-face, how we create the most direct impact and how we build community in each of our little corners of life. // Story // The Denver Post

More stories about seeking harmony

Mama Shiou, center, moves from table to table to show her guests step by step how to make both potstickers and wontons. The Asian Chamber of Commerce hosted a wonton and potsticker class under the guidance of Mama Shiou, owner of the Twin Dragon Restaurant on May 18, 2019 in Englewood, Colorado (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
  • Finding family in the folds: Learning the art of wonton connects Coloradans across culturesStory // The Colorado Sun
  • What happened when Denver student journalists wrote about racist taunts at soccer games
    Story // Chalkbeat
  • This is not Parkland: Douglas County, divided on guns but eager to prevent another school shooting, tries to find its voice
    Story // The Colorado Sun
  • These 526 Voters Represent All of America. And They Spent a Weekend Together.
    Story // The New York Times

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Reckoning

Looking beyond the press releases, stories about how we hold the powerful to account and stand up for our beliefs

It matters because a man who fell through the cracks of our country’s healthcare system died at the hands of a Rangely police officer who believed he was forced to defend himself and his fellow officers. It matters because the careers of two veteran officers ended without so much as a how-do-you-do or a see-ya-later… Just a deafening silence after decades of public service. It matters because public officials who represent the community and carry its trust were either unprepared or unwilling to be transparent when asked for information. In fact, they discouraged us from covering this story out of fear of public backlash.

In December 2018, a police officer in the small northwestern Colorado town of Rangely shot and killed a suspect following a vehicle pursuit. In a mesmerizing two-part series, Through the Cracks: A stranger, a police shooting, and a rural town’s silence, the Rio Blanco Herald Times’ Niki Turner and The Colorado Independent’s Susan Greene piece together what happened — not just in the seconds before the shooting but in how broken friendships, frayed relationships among law enforcement and missed opportunities for mental health interventions led to the shooting — and the consequences that followed. And Turner also wrote an editor’s note explaining why, despite pressure from town leaders, the story needed to be told. // Editor’s note, Part I, Part II // The Rio Blanco Herald Times and The Colorado Independent

More stories about reckoning and accountability

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock talks about the shooting at STEM School in Highlands Ranch on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
  • A slain deputy. A political brawl. A school shooting: How Sheriff Tony Spurlock is handling years of turmoil // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • An opioid addiction treatment that costs up to $1,300 a shot is costing Colorado taxpayers millions // Story // 9News
  • Colorado metro districts and developers create billions in debt, leaving homeowners with soaring tax bills // Series // The Denver Post
  • Dying for Help: A Mental Health Crisis in Clear View // Story // Contact7 Investigates
  • Opinion: How the media — including me — unwittingly helped create a Columbine narrative that has inspired murderers ever since // Story // The Colorado Sun

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Vigilance

As the amount of data about our lives proliferates, stories about who is watching us — and what we are still not seeing

“This is essentially normalizing Peeping Tom culture”

A professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs created a comprehensive database of pictures of real students walking around campus that government agencies now use to perfect facial-recognition technology. Is that OK? J. Adrian Stanley of the Colorado Springs Independent explores the ethics of surveillance in UCCS secretly photographed students to advance facial recognition technology. // Story // Colorado Springs Independent

More stories on oversight and surveillance

Finnegan Daly, seen here atop Mount Evans, died Jan. 14, 2018, from a gunshot wound at an off-campus house near the Colorado State University campus. The 21-year-old was entering the spring semester of his senior year. (Provided by Regina Daly)
  • A Snapchat leads police to reopen investigation of CSU student’s death and raises questions about gun violence // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Colorado Schools Don’t Have To Track Sports Concussions, But We Found 6,039 Cases // Story // KUNC
  • Fake Cop Allegedly Tricked Phone Companies Into Giving Him People’s Location Data // Story // The Daily Beast
  • DNA testing leads to break in decades-old Colorado murder case. But privacy questions are being raised. // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Making of a predator: How one man’s crimes against children went undetected for years // Story // The Coloradoan

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Overload

Stories about what happens when a lot becomes too much, in a state moving faster than ever

Over the past three years, Colorado has seen the highest increase in teen suicides in the nation — jumping 58 percent, more than twice what the nation experienced. About a third of Colorado youth report feeling sad or hopeless, according to a survey of more than 50,000 middle and high school students. In short, thousands of Colorado teens are dealing with mental health issues and the everyday tensions of 21st Century life.

Suicide is now the leading cause of death for Colorado teens, and experts still struggle to understand the crisis and its causes. But, in their vital project Teens Under Stress, journalists from Colorado Public Radio and Denverite dove deeply into answering why teens today are feeling more anxious and overburdened than ever before. Along the way, they gleaned fascinating insight into modern teen culture and, mostly importantly, identified some possible solutions by listening to teens directly. // Project // Colorado Public Radio

More stories about burdens, blessings and environments that became too much

Jessie Templeman and Von Mercado, pictured with Templeman’s daughter, are the sister and father of a 13-year-old Dacono boy whose suicide spurred a change in state law. (Jennifer Brown, The Colorado Sun)
  • A Snapchat video of a 13-year-old boy’s suicide roiled a Colorado town — and left police chasing social media ghosts // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Why Did Jamel Myles Die? // Story // 5280
  • Here’s who will suffer most as temperatures rise in Denver // Story // Denverite
  • With $1 Million In The Bank, Tiny Colorado Border Town Considers Opening More Pot Stores // Story // NET News
  • Acres of destruction left by Colorado’s historic avalanche season are also delivering climate change evidence // Story // The Colorado Sun

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Scarcity

In a state beset by looming shortages in both natural and community resources, stories about going without — and who suffers most as a result

Simla Elementary School kindergarten teacher Holly Koehn works with student Aiva Thompson at the Big Sandy School Monday, February 25, 2019. Photo by Mark Reis

“Every time someone retires or moves on it’s an anxiety-provoking experience that you are now faced with not a good hiring situation.”

School districts across Colorado are facing a massive teacher shortage. Pay for teachers in many districts hasn’t kept up with the cost of living. Fewer new teachers are being trained at a time when thousands of teachers are on the verge of retirement. And, even when a qualified candidate wants the job, housing remains a problem — nowhere more so than in rural Colorado. Former Sun education reporter Chris Osher laid out the problem in his jolting story, Teachers living in campers: How rural Colorado districts are coping with growing teacher shortage. // Story // The Colorado Sun

More stories on scarcity and inequity

  • The Long Shadow: Families in Elyria-Swansea struggle with asthma amid historic I-70 construction // Story // The Denver Post
  • Mental Health: A Crisis in Colorado // Series // The Gazette
  • Obesity Plagues Hispanics And Blacks In Colorado, Nation’s ‘Healthiest’ State // Story // Kaiser Health News
  • Colorado now has more school districts on four-day weeks than any place in the nation — with little research on the benefits // Series // The Colorado Sun
  • One Small Colorado Town Ran Out Of Water. How Did It Happen? // Story // KUNC
  • Tiny Branson has plenty of water. But like other small rural delivery systems in Colorado, it must find a way to meet new state standards. // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Four seasons: Colorado water in a changing climate // Story // The Colorado Independent

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Loss

Stories about what we are losing and cannot replace, in a state where rapid change has become the norm

Nancy Taylor rescued her tree once, when she was a little girl. More than 70 years later, she tried to rescue it again. When she heard the chain saws rumbling, she ran outside into the front yard. She hit the workers with sticks and yelled at them, threw their chain saws in the ditch when they ran to call the police. Then she took a rope, encircled her neck and tied herself to the 90-foot-tall tree.

For nearly a decade, explosive growth and development has been a major theme across much of Colorado — so much so that we sometimes feel like a state without a history and stories about old being replaced by new can seem ho-hum. That’s what makes this story by former Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reporter Erin McIntyre — “They’ve destroyed everything I ever had” — so arresting. It’s not an economic development story or an environment story. It’s not really even much of a long read. But it is a powerful tale about what one woman held dear for nearly her entire life only to see it fall to make way for change. // Story // The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

More stories about loss

The Cable Hall of Fame lives inside The Cable Center at the University of Denver. It’s in Denver because many of the industry’s early pioneers called Colorado home. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)
  • The future of cable TV, an industry once driven by Colorado, may be in its past // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Alzheimer’s disease creeps from one generation to the next in this Colorado family // Series // The Denver Post
  • Of flowers and fentanyl: A Steamboat couple’s journey to find answers to their daughter’s death // Story // Steamboat Pilot & Today
  • Are Growth and Development Threatening Our Last Quiet Places? // Story // 5280
  • Disability-rights advocate Carrie Ann Lucas, 1971-2019, a “bad-ass” to the end // Story // The Colorado Independent
  • A Pueblo Chile “Founding Father” Worries About the Arkansas River Valley Growers’ Future // Story // Pulp

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Rebirth

Amid a changing Colorado, stories about recovery, revitalization and reinvention.

I died recently. I haven’t reported this, but I’ve had a lot going on since then.

These stories aren’t all life-and-death (though a few are). But there was no revival we were happier to see in Colorado this year than Joey Bunch’s. In this essay for Colorado Politics, The soul of politics and coming back from the dead, the veteran reporter recounts his comeback — and what he learned along the way. // Story // Colorado Politics

More stories about rebirths, second acts and revivals

Young sunflowers reach for the sky in the Emerald Gardens Microgreens germination room in Bennett on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Photo by Andy Colwell, special to the Colorado Sun
  • Colorado’s newest farmers are YouTube-taught, social justice-minded and preaching the gospel of microgreens // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Female farmers are fueling agriculture’s resurgence in the Roaring Fork Valley // Story // The Aspen Times
  • From the sidelines to the march, and now to the Capitol: One woman’s journey in the Trump era // Part I, Part II, Part III // The Colorado Sun
  • Life after meth: A story of recovery in Pueblo // Story // The Pueblo Chieftain
  • Battered in recent years, the Animas has bounced back before // Story // The Durango Herald
  • He climbed and descended 50,000 vertical feet for 13 days — blind. His dog, Lulu, showed him the way. // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • The strange case of the car in the lake // Story // Littleton Independent

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Just because

Stories without a theme — in a state that can turn out good tales with the best of them

I held a battery-operated fan encased in a small plastic box that men could shove down their pants to cool their genitals. “I want to sell that one to Tractor Supply,” Richard tells me. “Farmers sweat a lot.” He calls it the BlowJab.

Remember Balloon Boy? Little kid from Fort Collins who was supposedly in a runaway balloon that crashed to Earth, only to be found hours later hiding in his family’s house, a sequence of events he admitted on national TV was staged only for his parents to spend the past decade trying to convince everybody it was most definitely not staged? Yeah, as 5280’s Robert Sanchez — in his story The Balloon Boy Hoax—Solved! — discovered, the whole thing is still weird as hell. // Story // 5280

More stories to read just because

Travis Nottingham’s grandparents bought this 1984 Tucker 1642 brand new to help them plow the small airport they owned in Avon, a plot now occupied by a Walmart and Home Depot. “That’s the original sticker,” he said. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)
  • Crawling around Colorado’s mountains, personal snowcats are becoming so ubiquitous they even have a jamboree // Story // The Colorado Sun
  • Searching for Bridey Murphy, Pueblo’s Paranormal Queen // Story // Westword
  • ‘Til Death Do We Jam: Colorado Roller Derby Couple Duel For Who Gets Newlywed Naming Rights // Story // Colorado Public Radio
  • Leave it to Tippie: Nationally-renowned beaver trapper recalls decades of tales // Story // Aurora Sentinel
  • One rancher’s plan to establish water buffalo in Colorado // Story // High Country News
  • The new breweries at DIA combine to make the most unlikely beer crawl in Colorado // Story // The Colorado Sun

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