Fourteen Friends Build a Sustainable Community in Colorado

It’s a concept many people dream about but few ever achieve. And when a group of fourteen old friends purchased 160 acres of forested mountainside in Bayfield, Colorado, with the intention of building a community, even they weren’t so sure how they would pull it off.

“Imagine getting fourteen adults to move, all at the same time most having no jobs to come to,” says Tom Lutes, who helped found Skystone Solar Community nearly a decade ago. The friends, many of whom had met fifteen years earlier, spent a year living together on an old farm site in Northern California before they held a “visioning” weekend to talk about their hopes of buying land together. After scouring the West, they happened upon the perfect place to fulfill their dream.

Already subdivided into thirty-one lots, their property was close to Durango, Colorado, a town progressive enough to offer lattes, art films, and an airport, but small enough to satisfy the group’s collective hankering to leave urban life behind. 

As the friends prepared to build homes, their original notion of creating a pueblo-style dwelling with a common area and private family suites succumbed to the reality of their lives. “We started to talk about what we’d do when we had kids, as things changed, and we kind of shifted that part of the vision to having our own plots and a common gathering place,” Phil Bryson says. 

Each of the couples designed and built a house that fits their needs and personalities with a little help from their neighbors, a la the Amish. The only stipulations were that the dwellings be off the grid and that the builders take down the minimum of trees during construction. “We wanted to live as lightly as possible so we could have the quality of life we wanted,” Phil explains. “We also wanted to live lightly on the planet. We wanted time to focus on what’s important relationships and living life.”

Many of Skystone’s founding members counsel others in communications and relationships, and building the community “took every skill we had,” Tom says. “We’re constantly putting ourselves into situations where the ego has to get out of the way. To give the community a chance to grow, you have to understand how the wishes of others can show you both the limitations and strengths of your way. It’s a dance. You have to be interested in that dance, or it becomes a complication, a burden.”

”Or just another subdivision,” adds his wife, Flame.

Check out the January/February ’01 issue of Natural Home for more about this unique community, as well as tips on creating your own community.