Our Versatile Valley: The Region's Evolution
KREX News Room
MESA COUNTY, Colo.- When looking back at growing up in Grand Junction, Bruce Benge can recall many differences from how the city is now compared to then.
"My friend Wayne Fisher used to have his dairy farm which is now Mesa Mall", explains Bruce Benge, the third generation owner of Benge's Shoe Store in downtown Grand Junction.
But then again, he still see's many similarities.
"Grand Junction was the vibrant area," Benge adds.
However, that vibrancy didn't start to build until the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad came through in 1883 when the area began exporting agriculture.
"All that tremendous produce that we're able to produce here now, had a means to get shipped out," explains Zebulon Miracle, the curator for The Museum of Western Colorado.
Although, it wasn't until the 1940's did the Grand Valley see its first major boom.
"This area is covered with uranium, all in the mountains and around us. To be able to mine that and process that here, in town, that really saw an increase in Grand Junction's growth," explains Miracle.
Eventually though, the uranium industry collapsed.
But, the Grand Valley had another saving grace in the late 1970's and early 1980's with the promise of oil shale bringing thousands of people, and millions of dollars into the economy.
"Grand Junction was a very healthy community. Exxon and Chevron were dumping a lot of money into the local community," Miracle describes.
Emma McCreanor moved to Grand Junction back in 1974.
"Nobody ever called it shale. It was oil and a lot of rigs were around. There was a lot of fussing and fuming like it is now," laughs McCreanor.
Her move to Grand Junction was right before Exxon's billion dollar decision in 1982 that many refer to as Black Sunday.
"Exxon, the big corporation that was developing oil shale announced they were no longer going to finance what they called The Colony Project," comments Miracle.
"There what just a whole lot of energy that was coming out and different things that were getting going, and then all of the sudden, (poof), the balloon burst and it was gone," describes Bruce Benge.
With roughly a third of the population lost, it was then that Grand Junction's progress was put on pause.
"It was a ghost town, there were buildings boarded up. It was sad," comments Benge.
"I actually benefited from it. They were selling whatever they could for cheap. So, I managed to get a little house and a good lot," McCreanor says.
"It was a cycle, and we made it through," Benge adds.
And making it through is exactly what they Grand Valley did.
"Being resilient folks as we are here, today, we managed to go through it. We're a much stronger city today than we were even before the boom," says Miracle.
Be sure to check out Part 2 of Our Versatile Valley on Thursday, May 16, when NewsChannel 5 looks at present and future plans for a variety of industries the Grand Valley has invested in.