6:00am

Mon June 27, 2011
Government

Proposed Post Office Closures Spark Anger, Challenge Rural Identity

Small towns across America may soon lose a part of their identity if the U.S. Postal Service has its way. Up to 3,000 post offices are targeted for closure because of the agency’s ongoing budget problems. Eleven facilities are on the list in Colorado, and for residents in the town of New Raymer the move is raising a slew of questions, sparking anger and some introspection about whether a town is really a town without a post office.

Removing the ‘Center’ of New Raymer?

There’s really not much to see in the Northern Colorado town of New Raymer. A couple of dirt roads, its two-room brick post office on the edge of town, and the Pawnee Station Restaurant.

Just inside past the cash register and a long white serving counter, a small group of the town’s 100 or so residents are sitting at tables. They’re talking about their mail.

“We all feel that once they take that post office from us, we’re just going to die here,” says Gayle Krager. “That post office is the center of New Raymer.”

Krager is a long-time resident who has a no-nonsense attitude from managing highway work sites for decades. If the Postal Service goes through with its plans, she and other in-town residents would have to send and pick up mail from an outdoor cluster box. But this adds complications to Krager’s life, who’s a first-time horse owner.

“My aunt and uncle sent me a saddle through the mail,” she says. “Now my gosh, how are they going to be able to put that in a cluster box?”

The closure would mean Krager would have to travel either 10 or 30 miles to the next available post office to pick up a package or send a certified letter. The plan first came to light last April when Postal Officials came to New Raymer to gather feedback during a packed meeting.

But the experience didn’t sit well with some. When residents inside the Pawnee Station Restaurant were asked if they felt like their concerns were heard, the response was unanimous.

“No,” they said. One person said he “felt like the decision had already been made.”

Fighting Battles to Win the ‘War’

The fact that some closures might already be decided before public input is completely gathered is something USPS spokesman Al DeSarro adamantly denies.

“We’re doing everything we can, but this is something we absolutely have to do to be viable and deliver mail service to the American public,” he says.

DeSarro says the agency was more than $8 billion dollars in the red last year and continues to lose money. That’s because most people have given up envelopes and stamps for electronic in-boxes. Postal officials estimate that they would save about $48,000 annually if the New Raymer post office were closed.

But walking down the dirt road to New Raymer’s Post office, it doesn’t seem like many people would be affected by the change.

Weld County Commissioner Dave Long says that business looks different in rural towns.

“The typical look of a city street with businesses doesn’t exist here,” he says. “The businesses are in their homes.”

Long has worked every job from mayor to fire department treasurer since moving to town in the ’80s. Lately he’s been spearheading a campaign against the postal closure.

Inside the clean, bright one-story building is a wall lined with post office boxes. A community bulletin board with ads for farm equipment, a family BBQ posting and the closure proposal occupies another.

Ultimately, Long says, if the post office is taken away, he and other New Raymer residents will fight even harder to get a new one.

“Because out here in rural America, you have to understand, it’s a war to keep our lifestyle,” he says.

A Focused Challenge

Residents of New Raymer say the potential loss of the post office connects to another challenge in rural America: the gradual loss of services.

“In some ways the small towns have the most focused challenge,” says Patty Limerick with the Center for the New American West at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She says if you think this is just a problem isolated to small towns, think again. Services are shrinking everywhere.

“So these towns could be the ones who lead us, who say we thought we could not get by without x or y, but it turns out we had capabilities that we just let go dormant,” she says.

Back at the Pawnee Restaurant, the worry over mail delivery—and town identity—being taken away is very real. And Gayle Krager says it’s hard to imagine a solution that doesn’t involve keeping the post office.

“If they close our post office the next thing they’ll take our zip code away from us, and there goes our identity as a town,” she says. “There will no longer be a Raymer or New Raymer Colorado, except just to those of us who live here.”

The Post office says it will issue its initial decision in either August or September. Residents then have 30 days to appeal it.

In the meantime, Gayle Krager says she’ll be looking into delivery options from FedEx and UPS. Because she needs someone to deliver her next saddle.