Oak Creek The front page of the South Routt NOW announced its own end. The large headline, "NOW Ceases Publication" is ominous over a color photo of smoke destroying wilderness area south of Rabbit Ears Pass. It looks like the end of the world.
If, in reality, it is not the end of the world, it is at least the end of an era.
The newspaper's one-room office on Moffat Street is conspicuously empty of activity. Publisher and Editor Geri Bruggink sits at a table in the center sorting through three years' worth of papers and files. She has to decide what is the past and what needs to be saved as the future.
Bruggink is renting a storage unit where she will place what is left of the South Routt NOW in hopes that someone, somewhere will want to buy it.
For an undisclosed amount, Bruggink has been trying to sell the paper. Buyers were offered a package complete with publishing rights, circulation list and equipment, computers and software. When there were no takers, she decided to walk away.
"I had a few lookers," she said, "but no serious offers. This community needs this newspaper, but I can no longer finance it."
Bruggink grew up in Colorado and started calling Oak Creek home in 1989. She was newly divorced when she arrived.
Resident Lloyd Mallow let her stay at his home until she got on her feet.
"I had two little kids and we were living out of trash bags," she said. Bruggink found a job with Steamboat Resorts and settled into the community.
In 1999, when she decided to start a newspaper, she had no journalism experience other than publishing the Yampa Valley Rustler, a free paper that ran ads only.
"I felt that South Routt needed a voice," she said. The South Routt Review had just closed its doors after five years. Bruggink thought about buying it, but the paper had a reputation for being negative, she said, and she wanted to start with a clean slate.
She started the paper on Feb. 15, 1999, and her first issue printed March 24. She taught herself QuarkXPress, a graphic design program, and Photoshop in the interim month.
"When I started the paper, John Crawford asked, 'How are you ever going to find enough news to fill a weekly paper?' Well, I couldn't find enough space to put everything in," she said.
The South Routt NOW opened in a small office in the Oak Creek Plaza on Main Street. The first issue had no color. It cost 25 cents. It featured Bruggink as editor, reporter, layout designer and publisher. She ran a community calendar and several sports stories.
Since then, the front and back page are in color. The layout is more cohesive and the South Routt NOW had moved to a larger office next door to Big Tuna's restaurant.
The only thing that hasn't changed is the size of the staff. Bruggink still does it all.
Last week she laid off four employees a graphic designer, a writer and two delivery drivers.
Bruggink had been contemplating the end of the South Routt NOW for three months. The final straw came when her rent was raised and the overhead became too much for her to afford.
Bruggink plans to spend her newly acquired freedom getting to know her family again. She has two daughters, a son and a husband who refers to himself as a "newspaper widow."
She will continue to publish the biannual "Discover South Routt," a guide for tourists and newcomers. The doors of the South Routt NOW will close July 31 and she will publish the Discover out of her home.
"I'm looking forward to a life without weekly deadlines," she said.
Of her three years as editor of the South Routt NOW, she will remember writing about the school board president who lived out of the county but didn't disclose that fact to anyone until it was published. He later resigned.
"We held him accountable," she said.
She will remember the day the mayor got so frustrated at a Town Board meeting that he walked out, and she will remember the year Oak Creek had a state wrestling champion.
"Our articles have gone into scrapbooks and on refrigerators," she said. "We tried to give everyone credit."
Bruggink will also remember how difficult it is to run a newspaper in a town the size of Oak Creek.
"It is such a small town that people try to pull you in on a personal level. Then they won't speak to you when you write the wrong thing," she said. "You make and lose friends on a weekly basis.
"I'm so curious to see what happens in this town politically, but I'm glad I don't have to cover meetings anymore," Bruggink said.
When Mayor Cargo Rodeman heard the news about the end of the South Routt NOW, she said, "I wish we could have helped Geri, but there was nothing we could do."
Bruggink said community members offered to throw a benefit, but her decision to close the door involved more than just money.
"What this paper needs is more than just me to keep it going," she said.
As she delivered this week's issue, the last issue of her career, she couldn't help but feel sad, she said.
"It is bittersweet," she said. "I'm happy not to feel like I'm carrying the weight of South Routt on my shoulders, but I feel bad that no one stepped up to the plate.
"I feel like I let the community down," she said.
Her only advice to anyone who may be considering the purchase of her newspaper: "It is not a one-man show."
When the door clicks behind Bruggink for the last time, she will be on her way to a long vacation.
"It has been three and a half years since I have been able to go on a vacation without worrying about what will happen when I get back."