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Rural Shelf Life

Introduction
The sun looks down on the small town of Gardner, reaches out with its long warm fingers
over the Gardner Butte and lights up the one street running through town. The mountains
create a circular embrace around the deep valley where the town is located, and on this
bright morning, the only one around to take note of this natural spectacle is the one lonely
tumbleweed that rolls through the town’s main street. Rural change is nothing new to the
history of the United States. Smaller towns gave rise to bigger towns, and things grew
and expanded as population grew. Yet, now there is a new event taking shape, the
shrinking of rural areas. They do not get bigger, they do not expand and intersect with
other towns, and they do not stay small and quaint as in the olden days, instead they
shrivel up and wither away. Rural decay is the breakdown of rural areas. It happens when
a small town is no longer central to its own relevance and has no economy of its own.
The people cannot support themselves either through their work or their old support
systems. They can no longer make their own things nor grow their own food, and older
skills and knowledge die out instead of being passed on to younger generations. Streets
become ridden with potholes; cardboard and plywood becomes more common than glass;
people drive farther and farther for a routine medical check up; and community events are
replaced with long hours in front of the TV.
Rural decay is a heartbreaking and often misunderstood event that is taking place in my
hometown of Gardner, Colorado, and in other rural areas all across the United States.
This paper is my attempt to better understand the dimensions that constitute this
breakdown of rural communities and to look more in depth at one of its root causes,
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