photo credit, rōbert
Hillsboro and Kingston, tiny mountain towns on the edge of the Gila National Forest in southern New Mexico, have a rare quality.
It comes from the night skies. The stars shine bright at this elevation. The nearest city lights are 31 miles from Hillsboro, in Truth or Consequences.
It comes from the mountains — rocky, rugged peaks that the Apache people once called home, that people mined for silver and gold in the 19th century, that today aren’t visited by many humans.
More than anything it comes from the people — an ideologically diverse group of folks who come together to sustain these towns through volunteerism and celebration of arts, music, history and culture.
“There’s a feel here. It’s a real good energy,” said Nicki O’Dell, a Hillsboro winemaker who at 57 says she’s one of the area’s younger residents. “This Kingston/Hillsboro thing, it’s very magical.”
photo credit, rōbert
While many small towns agonize over how to attract a younger generation and the change that they might bring, often by speeding up or expanding internet access and cellphone reception, many residents in Hillsboro and Kingston are instead focusing on sustaining the unique existence that drew them here in the first place.
Whether that can last is an open question. There are challenges to overcome, like these communities’ aging populations. A steady stream of younger retirees and second-home owners replace older folks who die or move and help keep the towns afloat. And while many say they’re open to — even enthusiastic about — faster internet service, which could improve some of their activities and attract younger folks, better cellphone reception has drawn opposition.
In short, many residents say they’re open to better technological connectivity as long as it doesn’t change the character of Hillsboro and Kingston.
As the world changes, some rural towns will adapt and survive. Others will not.
New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Sandy Jones, an elected official from Sierra County, said government must play a role if rural communities are to keep up with the way the world is conducting business. He has spearheaded an effort to create a fund to help companies improve broadband access. The choice for rural communities, Jones said, is expanding technological connectivity, “or people leave, one of the two.”
“There are some places that are unique,” Jones said, “but I think as people change, the younger people will eventually get there, and they’re going to want the services.”
Hillsboro and Kingston are currently seeking a different path, one that allows them to survive in spite of being less connected to society. Many of their residents hope to preserve their way of life through that off-the-beaten-path character.