Beyond City Limits

Rural Colorado’s challenges call for creative solutions and collaboration

Appreciating those strengths and acknowledging any differences are cornerstones of Alison Krögel’s work in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

“I think it’s useful for students to have the ability to work in many different contexts and with many different people,” says Krögel, an associate professor of Spanish who also specializes in the indigenous South American language of Quechua. Whenever possible, she pushes her students to explore places that feel uncomfortable. “I think it’s a skill, like any other, to understand other communities, values and resources and the ways they interact with their community, and to do so in a respectful way.”

Krögel’s own research has taken her to northern Colorado’s mountain plains and forests. For more than 100 years, sheepherders have escorted their flocks through highland pastures, carving artistic “arborglyphs” into the bark of Aspen trees as they pass; since the early 1980s, the majority of these herders have been Peruvian Quechua workers.

Arborglyphs carved by Peruvian Quechua sheepherders. Photo by Mark Chapman

A team of geography students is helping Krögel map the glyphs, hoping to see how factors like climate change have affected the routes of the sheepherders. Ultimately, she wants to showcase her work in the places that inspired them.

“Something that’s important to me with my research project is to not just disseminate knowledge in the metropolis,” she says, “but to share research findings back with the community that I’m working with in a rural space.”

Tim Coleman, meanwhile, is bringing his findings to lawmakers at the state capitol. Coleman (MPP ’17) is hardly a kid from the country—he describes his Vienna, Virginia, home as “the last stop on the orange line” Metro from Washington, D.C.—but his work at the Colorado Rural Electric Association (CREA) has taught him the importance of nuance.

Herders rise with the sun to feed their horses and prepare for another day’s work. Photo courtesy of Alison Krögel

“Rural is an extremely broad and encompassing word,” he says, which could mean anything from frontier farmland to mountain ski towns. His work with the CREA has acquainted him with 70% of the state’s land mass, which houses about 20% of Colorado’s population. “While they have similar issues and priorities and struggles, the makeup of those communities, as well as the economic drivers, can be vastly different.”

As a government relations specialist at CREA, Coleman is tasked with identifying issues facing rural communities—be it a lack of broadband, a scarcity of health resources, or vegetation management and wildfire prevention—and proposing policies to bring about positive change.

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