Written by Lisa Ledwith
Sydney Cook, 22, has lived in Chaffee County all her life. A 5th generation Salidian, her great great grandparents once owned the Vanderveer Ranch property and her grandmother worked as a type setter at The Mountain Mail for over 20 years.
Sydney remembers the Salida of her childhood fondly. “It was a very small knit community where everyone knew everyone. Your neighbors would always be willing to go out of their way to help you.” She smiles and remembers shooting BB guns in her Dodge St. backyard and strolling the neighborhoods with friends.
Changes, like rising population and increased costs, impact Sydney deeply. She feels that people aren’t as kind to their neighbors and prices, particularly housing, feel insurmountable. “It is the best place to grow up when it’s small,” she says. “But when it gets big and you don’t know everyone– it’s not the same.”
While many in the SHS class of 2019 left town for work or college, Sydney stayed. She didn’t see sense in taking on student debt before knowing what she wanted in life. It’s been four years and Sydney says her classmates aren’t returning, partly because of expensive housing and limited work opportunities.
Sydney’s torn about staying. Moving to a new town sounds exciting but she would miss her family and the outdoors. “If I didn’t live in a place with the mountains right in my backyard I wouldn't go hunting like we do. I wouldn’t go fishing as much.” Her face lights up at memories of 4-wheeling and boating on local lakes with her family.
For the last year, Sydney’s job at the Department of Human Services has deepened her understanding of the community. She hadn’t realized how many people benefit from public assistance and she loves making a difference. “There are hard days when you see people at rock bottom,” she says. “But It’s about being there for the period of time where they’re not doing well in life and just…helping.”
One thing in town certainly brings Sydney joy: Softball. She’s played since she was young, but with many high school friends gone, her summer league teammates are now her friends’ parents, and she’s loved the experience. “People are letting their inner child out when they play softball. It’s been really enjoyable.”
Only time will tell if Sydney stays in Salida. There’s joy here–her family; the outdoors; the daffodils, tulips and jonquils that have grown in her yard for decades. But life is uncertain, even with 5 generations of history. “I would love to stay. We’ll see if I can.”