Code of the (rural) West

I was fascinated by the article last week about the modern-day Code of the West, which started in Larimer County, Colo., and has been adapted in other rural areas, to give city dwellers an idea what to expect if they move into the country.

"The Code of the West was first chronicled by the famous western writer, Zane Grey," wrote John Clarke, former Larimer County (Colo.) commissioner. "The men and women who came to this part of the country during the westward expansion of the United States were bound by an unwritten code of conduct. The values of integrity and self reliance guided their decisions, actions and interactions. In keeping with that spirit, we offer this information to help the citizens of Larimer County who wish to follow in the footsteps of those rugged individualists by living outside city limits."

The article in last week's Appeal hit a few highlights, but there are a lot more I think are worth sharing. Feel free to mail the list to your neighbors.

County commissioners, feel free to clip this out and distribute at public hearings.

Here goes:

-- Emergency response times aren't guaranteed, and in bad weather they can be extremely slow and expensive.

-- If your road is unpaved, it's probably going to stay that way.

-- Animals and manure can cause objectionable odors.

-- Unpaved roads generate dust.

-- If sewer service is available to your property, it may be expensive to hook into the system. It may also be expensive to maintain the system you use.

-- Fences that separate properties are often misaligned with the property lines. A survey of the land is the only way to confirm the location of your property lines.

-- A dysfunctional homeowners association or poor covenants can cause problems for you and even involve you in expensive litigation.

-- The surrounding properties will probably not remain as they are indefinitely. The view from your property may change.

-- If you have a ditch running across your property, there is a good possibility that the owners of the ditch have the right to come onto your property with heavy equipment to maintain the ditch.

-- Power outages can occur in outlying areas with more frequency than in more developed areas. A loss of electric power can also interrupt your supply of water from a well. You may also lose food in freezers or refrigerators and power outages can cause problems with computers as well. It is important to be able to survive for up to a week in severe cold with no utilities if you live in the country.

-- The water flowing in irrigation ditches belongs to someone. You cannot assume that because the water flows across your property, you can use it.

-- Trees are a wonderful environmental amenity, but can also involve your home in a forest fire. Building at the top of a forested draw should be considered as dangerous as building in a flash flood area.

-- A flash flood can occur, especially during the summer months, and turn a dry gully into a river.

-- Nature can provide you with some wonderful neighbors. Most, such as deer and eagles, are positive additions to the environment. However, even "harmless" animals like deer can cross the road unexpectedly and cause traffic accidents. Rural development encroaches on the traditional habitat of coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, bears, mosquitoes and other animals that can be dangerous and you need to know that if you do not handle your pets and trash properly, it could cause problems for you and the wildlife.

-- Before buying land, you should know if it has noxious weeds that may be expensive to control and you may be required to control. Some plants are poisonous to horses and other livestock.

The Larimer County code concludes this way:

"Even though you pay property taxes in the county, the amount of tax collected does not cover the cost of the services provided to rural residents. In general, those living in the cities subsidize the lifestyle of those who live in the country.

"We have offered these comments in the sincere hope that it can help you enjoy your decision to reside in the country. It is not our intent to dissuade you, only inform you."

While not everything in the Larimer code applies in Nevada, I sure recognized a lot of truth in it. Most people who live in the country recognize the hardships and peculiar problems that come with it, and they welcome the tradeoff to have their peace and privacy.

They accepted the Code of the West long ago. It's the people who come along and expect urban conveniences to be available a half-dozen miles from the nearest paved road who drive the rest of 'em crazy.


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