Beyond City Limits

Rural Colorado’s challenges call for creative solutions and collaboration

Her first two weeks at college, Taylor Szilagyi hardly slept. Some of that, unquestionably, could be traced to the typical first-year jitters: leaving home, settling in, finding friends, adjusting to a new lifestyle.

More than anything, though, it was the noise. The sounds of cars and late-night foot traffic outside Johnson-McFarlane Hall seemed thunderous, especially compared to her home ZIP code. 

If you ask her, Szilagyi (BA ’14, MPP ’15) will tell you she grew up about 40 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park, in the two-gas-station town of Center, Colorado—population 2,000. But in reality, home was a ranch 20 minutes outside of Center, an example of the agricultural community that thrived on its potato and barley crops.

When it came time to pursue college, Szilagyi practically ran to the big city, away from her one-building school district and 35-person graduating class.

Idyllic settings offer their own challenges. Photo courtesy of Elaine Belansky

But it wasn’t until a public policy class at the University of Denver, discussing the grievances of Colorado’s more rural counties, that she realized the differences between where she grew up and where she now lived were more than superficial.

“Everyone I was in that room with came from an urban or suburban area or a smaller town that had access to all of these bigger resources,” Szilagyi says. Her family, in fact, fought for equity in education funding in a celebrated case, Lobato v. State of Colorado, that made it all the way to Colorado’s Supreme Court. “We had this understanding gap. I knew at that point that I needed to go back to my roots and be involved in some sort of rural conversation.”

Currently the director of policy communications at the Colorado Farm Bureau, Szilagyi advocates for the industries and communities that shaped her.

“Even though I’m not at home on the ranch, I’m not working cattle every day, it’s been pretty special for me to come full circle and still represent the industry and the way I grew up,” says Szilagyi, who now lives in Centennial. “Agriculture is shrinking, farmers and ranchers are going out of business or retiring, and there’s not necessarily a lot of young folks to take over or make a living at it anymore.”

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