Connecting Dots: A View From Behind the Microphone

Traditions, new and old.

My brain has been connecting a lot of dots from an amazing kickoff to the summer season.    I write this sitting at the base of what we call W or Tenderfoot Mountain.  Surely the earlier inhabitants of our valley had another name as archaeologists have found  60 clusters of artifacts on its well-used peak providing insights into the bison hunting Paleo-Indians called the “Folsom Tradition.”

Tradition is a great word to stumble upon during Memorial Day weekend.  As a Nation we’ve celebrated Memorial Day in some form since the Civil War and our Memorial Day tradition will carry on each year as new traditions add to the mix of our Valley’s vibrancy.  At the base of W Mountain a new tradition started 6 years ago when the IBar Ranch hay barn was converted into the valley’s largest outdoor concert venue – maybe the Folsom folks would’ve called in a noise complaint if they were still around. NIMBY existed then too, I’m sure.

Connecting dots….I like connecting people and inspiring laughter and my role in creating “community” means a lot to me.  In my role as emcee I’m thrust into diverse events and occasionally my brain has a moment of grandeur and sees the bigger picture.  On May 24th the IBar Ranch kicked off the summer in partnership with our Chamber of Commerce but this year had a great twist!   The Colorado Lottery had just been extended through 2049 and our Governor came to sign the bill right here in Gunnison County.

Why celebrate a lottery? Lottery funds go in part to the Colorado Conservation Trust which, to date, has funded over $44 million in projects in Gunnison County for open space, park projects and ranchland conservation.   Protecting those ranches, ranching operations and those viewsheds requires intentional action and local organizations have tapped into Trust funds to protect the legacy of ranching while saving those spectacular views.  The Trust recently announced the finalization of their largest single project ever protecting 4,000+ acres of Trampe Ranches which contributed to 20% of our ranching economy.

Connecting dots…Transition to two days later and to another Memorial Day tradition at Hartman Rocks a mountain biking mecca with a race now running 11 years strong called The Growler.   Years ago it was a dumping area and has been transformed to feature outstanding trails in part through partnerships, determination and Lottery funding was again involved.   For 10 years Dave Wiens ran Gunnison Trails and organized The Growler featuring 64 and 32 mile races.  Dave recently turned over the keys to Gunnison Trails to Tim Kugler and Dave finally got to ride in his own race – and he won!

Hartman Rocks and The Growler epitomize collaboration, community and connections.  In our mountain valley winter ends late and comes early and we struggle to stretch our summer tourist season.  July in our Valley has been aptly described as a “kicked-ants nest” and though June, August and September contribute our springs have underwhelmed.  A May race bringing in in 630+ riders and their entourage of spouses and children is a huge boost!  The community jumps onboard big time too with 100 or more volunteers helping with safety, first-aid and a bacon aid station (you read it right) and now our high-school now has a mountain biking team!  If you know my history with Boys & Girls Club you know I LOVE the positive labels youth can give themselves like “mountain biker” and “racer” and “teammate” and the power that has creating self-worth.

As the awards wound down on Sunday afternoon the riders weren’t the only ones weary, sunburned and sweaty – volunteers and staff were ready for a Monday holiday.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw Gary Pierson, VP of Student Affairs at Western State Colorado University, gathering up the University’s street flags from the first few blocks of downtown.  This isn’t an unusual sight as Gary is a tireless face for the University and as a VP still humble enough to put up flags downtown frequently throughout the year.  What makes this spectacle unusual is that Gary had just finished as the oldest competitor in The Growler and with 64 miles under his belt and he wasn’t done working for the day.  That’s community and a tradition I’m proud to contribute to.

The ultimate sacrifice made by those we celebrated this Memorial Day gives us the opportunity to live out our passions in this great little Valley.   I’m both immensely grateful and terribly saddened by their sacrifice.

Anthony Poponi is a comic, improv artist, brain chemistry nerd and community-minded advocate and owner of He’s brings his love of connection and laughter to audiences as keynote, emcee, workshop host or moderator and his mission is to increase laughter and connectivity to combat the human health crises of isolation and disconnection.