WZ 'badges' being pulled off, one by one

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— The change has begun in Steamboat.
Since the passage of House Bill 1075 last year, many residents of Routt County have had to turn in their beloved WZ license plates for a dry and random combination of three letters and three numbers.

Many have seen the new green-on-white plates, and may have taken note that most of them begin with AGM and AGL. They are not the beginning of a new era of localized plates, though. Staff members at the Department of Motor Vehicles say that AGMs and AGLs are being issued all over the state.

"The state just sends us the allocations, and sends them to other counties as well. There are probably AGs in Moffat County," supervisor Barbara Bond said.

The change was initiated by law enforcement at the urging of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, according to Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland. The new six-digit license plates are intended to be more easily read and memorized than the older, and often difficult to read, seven-digit plates.

In Routt County, a surge of emotion has accompanied the new license plate program. Traditionally, county-specific plates, like those containing WZ or VXA, have provided drivers a means by which to distinguish locals from new residents and tourists. Even Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison, who received WZ1999 and WZ2000 plates in 1976, said earlier this year that he likes to recognize people by their license plates.

Bond, of the DMV, said that residents don't seem angry when they turn in their old plates. Rather, it is as though an old, privately understood language amongst local drivers is being dismantled.

"Disappointed is the best word," Bond said. "People are disappointed that they have to turn them in.

Initially last year, however, some residents did respond angrily to the forced change -- some vehemently so. Bond said that although there are those who continue to be upset, Routt County residents as a whole seem fairly resigned to the change these days.

"People have settled down and are accustomed to the change," she said.

Wendy Hicks, a Routt County resident since 1942, may very well lose his WZ1669 plates. He will not know about the status of the plates until this summer, and suggested that the issue will resolve itself at that point. Although he said he is not one of those people who has settled down and become accustomed to the change, he also said he is "just kind of riding it out." He is considering applying for a veteran's license plate instead.

Routt County resident George Romberg has "guarded zealously" the WZ plates he received in 1977. He already has replaced one set, and expects to the lose the other, as well.

"And I'm sad about it," Romberg said. "There's something about WZ plates that says we've been here in Routt County -- if not Steamboat Springs -- for a long time. The new plates are really anonymous."

The presence of a burgeoning Colorado population may be the reason why license plate sentimentality is not exclusive to Routt County. Franklin Murphy of Jackson County received a ZJ-119 plate in 1972, and said he hopes to keep it.

"I don't know much about the change, but I'm thinking we'll keep the same plates. Why wouldn't we?" Murphy said, adding that, to his knowledge, many residents of Jackson County share his sentiments.

For those with deep Colorado roots -- like Romberg and Murphy -- there is one alternative, vehicular badge of honor to the slowly fading localized plates. Pioneer plates are available to direct descendants of early pioneers in the Colorado territory. Qualified residents have to prove that their ancestors were also residents of Colorado at least 100 years ago.

"The program honors our ancestors as well as making new Coloradans aware of resources on Colorado history and its pioneer origins," said Zoe Hubbard, coordinator for the pioneer plates program.

Romberg is among the Routt County residents who are losing WZ plates and choosing to replace them with pioneer plates. He is pleased with program.

"The same pride that is associated with WZ plates -- that we've been here long enough not only for an XA but a WZ -- applies to the pioneer plates. It's the same root syndrome. It shows that our lineage and family have belonged to Colorado for a long time."

"They are very popular," Bond said of the pioneer plates.

She believes that roughly 20 Routt county residents have already received a pioneer plate certificate, and at least that many are still in the process of applying for one.

Questions on the license plate replacement program can be directed to the local DMV or the Colorado Department of Revenue at 303-205-5607.


-- To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205.

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