For more than three years now, I’ve been collecting news out of small towns around New Mexico. I launched the Community News Exchange, or CNEx, as a news-sharing service in May 2013 and have been reading many of New Mexico’s smallest newspapers (either online or in hard copies mailed to me) ever since.
It’s a weekend-intensive chore that must be done every week to meet subscribers’ expectations that they’ll have a bunch of stories and opinion pieces from around the state sent to them by Monday morning. I don’t always do it—my latest able assistant, copy editor Misty Choy, does it often in my stead—but even when I don’t do the editing I’m able to read the reports that don’t always get attention elsewhere, small towns being what they are.
Small towns may not get the media attention that larger cities do, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. And since I’m the CNEx copy editor this week, I offer up a few fresh examples of how small towns in New Mexico are dealing with their world:
• Lynn Geyer has some land in a residential area at Silver City and built a structure for a billboard on his property. In the past, the billboard has touted businesses and sundry candidates running for office, but this year he’s stirring things up with a pro-Trump billboard.
He’s taken some heat from town officials who have cited local codes that restrict campaign signage to 60 days or less before election day and limits the size of such signs. So Geyer covered his billboard in plastic, until the 60-day restriction is past.
He may still get cited for violating local law, so this story that the Silver City Daily Press is covering isn’t over yet.
• It seems as if every small town in New Mexico has a MainStreet program, but in reality there are 27 communities in New Mexico that do. And at a recent meeting of the Economic and Rural Development Committee, the Roswell Daily Record reported, their successes were touted: Over the years, officialdom says, the state’s MainStreet program has been responsible for more than $22 million in private reinvestments, 248 building rehabilitations, seven new buildings constructed, 18 business expanded, 142 net new businesses started and a net total of 444 new jobs.
In addition to the dogged determination of everyday people who refuse to let their small communities die, government is keeping a lot of them alive. In fact, government (including public schools) is often about the only place to find a job in these communities.
• Medical pot farms are becoming an issue in various parts of the state. The latest I’ve read about is in Torrance County, where a divided county commission has decided to appeal a judge’s ruling that gives the go-ahead to a commercial greenhouse grow.
“The commission is certainly sensitive to the community’s concern for marijuana,” The Independent in Edgewood reported County Attorney Brandon Huss saying. “This isn’t about marijuana. They struggled with this issue and tried to put that piece of it aside. If this were sunflowers, nobody would care.”
I’m guessing that if it were sunflowers, the judge’s ruling wouldn’t be appealed, either.
• Meanwhile, the residents of Chilili threw a party for those who stayed behind to protect their village during this summer’s devastating Dog Head Fire. The Independent also covered this story, and included a quote that seems to encapsulate the spirit of small towns everywhere.
“We come together—we’re always together,” said Rose Gutierrez, who been married for 61 years, had nine children and has lived in Chilili all her life. “… We came together and we all tried to help each other as much as we could. The firefighters and all the people, and all the prayers, that was really, really great.”
• Then there is the rescued pony that visits health-care facilities. The Lovington Leader featured a nine-year-old pony named Ruby on its front page, visiting hospital patients in their rooms.
“She’s officially a volunteer, she has a badge and everything,” said Laura Gryder, Nor-Lea Hospital’s patient experience coordinator. “She has been through our infection control program and is registered through Pet Partners so she meets all of the criteria.”
Ruby was found wandering near Hobbs in an emaciated state and was nursed back to health by Ashley Henry. “I love it as much as Ruby—making people happy,” Henry told the Leader.
These are just a few examples of life that makes news in Small Town, New Mexico. I could write of more if space allowed.
Call ‘em country bumpkins if you like, but some New Mexicans, and their ponies, I presume, know how to live the good life, even if their city-slicker cousins don’t see it.
Tom McDonald is editor of both the New Mexico News Exchange and the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.