Bedrock, Colo. is the only town by that name in the U.S., so Postmaster Ruth Swain gets all of the Flintstones’ fan mail. Some fans, she said, send mail over to the tiny Montrose County town just to get the Bedrock stamp on their return. Swain adds an extra touch: she also stamps them with a red “RETURN TO SENDER — FICTITIOUS CARTOON CHARACTER” stamp.
It may not be in the USPS handbook, but Swain seems to like her job as postmaster of the small rural community of Bedrock, population 222. She calls the miniscule structure she works in “my glorified storage shed.” Until a few years ago, it had a wooden outhouse and now, still without running water, it boasts a plastic one. The office has 78 ornate boxes in the front that were brought in used, and an orange Fred Flintstone doll behind the counter.
The quaint post office and its idiosyncrasies may not stay open much longer. It is one of 3,600 mostly rural post offices and more than 250 processing facilities across the country that the USPS decided to consolidate as a cost-saving measure in a plan announced in July 2011. In December, a six-month moratorium on closures was put in place while Congress worked on the postal reform. Last week, Colo. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) released a list of 25 out of the 71 rural Colorado post offices that could be saved if the amendment he passed in the Senate is approved by the House and signed by the president. The list, which includes Ophir and Egnar, gives some offices a two-year lifeline while the USPS looks into other cost-saving measures, but the rest were left in the dark.
And so, as far as employees and community members know, post offices in Bedrock and Redvale are set to close sometime in the future. The Rico post office is safe — it was taken off the list completely.
Postmaster General Pat Donahoe told C-SPAN that the USPS is not going to close all of them on May 15, when the moratorium ends, but no other schedule was given. On Monday, David Rupert, a postal spokesperson for Colorado, said final dates are yet to be set.
“We did our due diligence with the communities, and [closing the offices] was the final decision,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen after May 15.”
Over the decades, rural offices have become more than just spots to mail things. They are places where residents catch up on gossip and local news; bulletin boards are used for all kinds of public and community notices and since cell reception and broadband Internet are scarce, snail mail has an important part in maintaining communication with the world.
“The post office in Egnar is the only federal presence there,” said San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes. “With the loss of the school a few years back, it’s a huge loss. The post office has become a community center. To lose it would be to lose your identity as a community.”
Ophir town manager Randy Barnes was happy to learn the decision on the community’s post office has been pushed back.
“We haven’t heard anything with definition from the Postal Service, but we’re very happy that at least tentatively it’s going to stay open,” he said.
The 113-person town ran a campaign against the possible closure. Sometimes they felt like they were running into a wall, he said.
“Almost everyone in the community sent a letter to the Postal Service,” Barnes said. “We all got the same template response. I hope we’ll have a better public process the next time. This time it felt like a blanket statement.”
“It’s nearly an hour drive to Telluride [round-trip] from here and in our land use code we encourage home businesses,” he continued. “We rely on the post office to keep those businesses running. I really like this small rural community not being eliminated. We’ll certainly attempt to keep it. “
“We totally understand the small communities,” Rupert, of the Postal Service, said. “They didn’t like it when the store closed and when the gas station moved away. We understand our role in the community. For 237 years, we’ve been serving every community. We have that long legacy, but we can’t raise rates, we don’t get tax money and we have a lot of redundancy. We have all these things going against us.”
Rupert went on to say that the Senate’s concentration on saving the small post offices was not helping a sustainable solution. “We’re looking for a long-term fiscal structure. We don’t want a bail out.”
Back at the Bedrock post office, Tawnia Welch and Kim Weimer, who both work in town, chat with Swain at across the counter. Welch said she wrote a letter to the Postal Service asking to keep the Bedrock office open.
“I do most of my shipping from here,” she said. “Most of the people here are old. It’s 20 miles to Naturita.”
The closest post office to Bedrock is in Paradox, seven miles away. Weimer said her office uses postal services every day. “[Closing the post office] is a real inconvenience for us,” she said.
Swain started working at the Bedrock post office 15 years ago, after the former postmaster asked her if she was interested. She said that few people come in, maybe 20 a day. She explained that after the closure, the mail will be delivered to an un-manned cluster box in town and in order to ship, people would have to travel to a different location.
“The most important thing is that people keep getting their mail,” she said. “That service is not disrupted. I take the mail home to a little old lady who can’t come here. It’s been so easy to be very accommodating to the costumers here. What I like about my job is that I know everyone — and I can get them their mail.”
As for the closure, she insists on remaining neutral.
“My husband’s family has been here since 1882,” she said. “We’re ranchers and that keeps us busy.” She’s only working 24 hours a week now, and is set to retire in a year and a half.
“My philosophy is that I don’t believe in bailouts,” she said. “You need to run things like a business, and it’s common knowledge that volumes are down. The post office served its purpose. It serves its purpose.”