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Piñon Canyon

Updated: May 31, 2021

This is my very first billboard from about thirteen years ago.

Image courtesy of my mother, Nora Gilstrap. Billboard on I-25 in Colorado.

After being in Atlanta for about 6 months, I had a phone conversation with my dad. I had heard murmurings about an army base plans to expand near my hometown. I called him up with the expectation he would tell me it would be okay and he wasn’t worried. I called him up so he would comfort and soothe any fear I had. He couldn’t do that.

In 1983, the United States Army established a base in South-Eastern Colorado with land acquired through purchase and eminent domain. The Army promised they would never return for more land but in 2006 they began plans to expand the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site by nearly half a million acres. They claimed the land was empty. Citizens that were displaced the first time and ranches that had been handed down from generation to generation were being threatened.

Descendants of the Duran Rodeo Ranch - Kaylinn Gilstrap © 2006

Thus began a project that consisted of eleven trips back home when I was just getting my footing in Atlanta. I joined forces with a local grassroots organization, PCEOC (Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition) to photograph the ranchers and private landowners whose land was not for sale. It was the first major project I took on, one that relied on me solely finding the visuals to aid the fight. There was no PR or marketing agency on retainer, just a group of small-town folks that prefer to be out of the limelight. It still feels like some of the most important work I’ve ever done.

Parishioners at the Branson Community Church. Kaylinn Gilstrap © 2009

When I first began showing my portfolio around I left out my connection to this story. That my childhood home, where my dad has lived nearly all his life, is about 37.5 miles (as the crow flies) from the maneuver site. That the army base was established the year I was born and I was unaware of its existence until 2006. The funny thing about roots is when things are good you forget they are there. You don’t feel them tethering you to a spot until there is a disturbance.

Family portrait. Kaylinn Gilstrap © 2017

In 2013, the Army abandoned the expansion plans which was largely due to the efforts of opposition groups like PCEOC headed by Lon Robertson (RIP) and Not 1 More Acre headed by Kimmi Lewis (RIP). The people down there know what hard work is and can put up a hell of a fight, these two people specifically were forces to be reckoned with. We continue their watch.

My dad’s shadow on a trailer with an aging No Expansion of Piñon Canyon bumper sticker.

Kaylinn Gilstrap © 2019

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