High Country News celebrates 50 years of covering the ever-changing American West. While headquartered in Paonia, Colorado, the iconic magazine’s staff are spread across the country covering stories from the Great Plains to the Pacific Coast.

In 1969, Tom Bell, wildlife biologist and rancher, purchased Camping News Weekly, a small struggling newspaper in Wyoming. A year later he rebranded the publication as the High Country News. From its inception HCN has mirrored the ongoing struggle and survival of the West.

In 1983, the non-profit publication moved to Paonia when its board of directors selected Ed and Betsy Marston, transplants from New York to the North Fork, to continue what Bell started a decade before.

“My best memory was surviving that first year,” said Betsy Marston. “it was so hard because we had to start from ground zero.”

It was loyal readers and their donations that kept the magazine going after the relocation to Colorado. Today the HCN building on Grand Avenue hosts the publications customer service and advertising, but it's a far cry for the early glory days in downtown Paonia.

“I got the feeling that this was a partnership, High Country News and its readers, and I felt very buoyed up and we had a very supportive board of directors. And we began to grow. And we had wonderful stories,” said Marston remembering an unusually wet year in '83.

“We had water running down the streets in Salt Lake City and our big story, which was huge, Glen Canyon Dam was shuddering with the impact of so much water and it almost went down.”

Following the Glen Canyon Dam scare, HCN focused much of its attention on water in the West. The magazine’s four part series "Western Water Made Simple" eventually became a book and won the George Polk Award for environmental reporting.

“The thing that made our paper successful was curiosity and this network of freelancers all over the West. We didn’t have any money to hire staff but we had great freelancers and our staff was the interns. They came for four or six months many of them worked for free,” Marston said.

Their work at HCN gave many young journalist a taste of rural Colorado life, filled with organic farmers, coal miners and “an underground marijuana” industry. Of all their unique and expansive experiences Marston said the interns all "grew to love Paonia."

During the Marston era at HCN, the magazine was almost entirely dedicated to public lands and the stories of rural West. The small but dedicated staff covered a turbulent time as the big three extractive industries ranching, logging and mining fell into decline. The magazine worked to strike a delicate balance between conservation and finding workable solutions for the region. HCN also detailed a new threat to the West in a growing population brought on by recreation and tourism.

In March 2019, former editor-in-chief Greg Hanscom returned to the magazine becoming the executive director and publisher.

Located in Seattle, Washington Hanscom and a dedicated army of journalists continue to tackle tough social justice issues, the ongoing fight to conserve the region’s vast public lands and growing concerns over militias that threaten our democracy as the magazine continues to tell the story of the ever-changing West.

“High Country News is an example of one news organization that’s really grown and thrived,” Hanscom said. “We talk broadly about HCN readers as people who care about the West ... it’s a remarkable group of people. We have people from all manner of backgrounds. The thing that brings everyone together is this real love for the region and everything that makes it special.”

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