Interview with Karl Hanlon

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RBC | Long time northwest Colorado resident and Glenwood Springs-based attorney Karl Hanlon is running for Colorado’s 8th Senate District this election. The district encompasses six counties in northwest Colorado, including Rio Blanco County.

Karl Hanlon Courtesy Photo

Karl Hanlon described SD8 as large and diverse, noting that resort communities like those in Garfield and Summit counties face different challenges than communities in Moffat or Rio Blanco counties. But he said even with those differences, people throughout the district have expressed concerns about the economy.

“What was on the mind of really everybody I talked to is what’s going on economically. How do those policies affect them? Is Denver or D.C. really thinking about them? I think the answer is not the way they should be. That’s part of what I want to bring to the table, we need to be advocating harder for our rural communities,” said Hanlon.

Hanlon’s message of connection and dedication to rural communities can be linked to his upbringing. He grew up on a working cattle ranch in Jackson County, north of Walden.

“[My parents], they were World War II generation and they really instilled in me a commitment to both hard work, but also to helping your neighbors. That’s been a core value for not only myself but for my family forever,” he said.

His upbringing also influenced Hanlon’s career decisions. After spending four years as a seasonal park ranger for Colorado, he decided he wanted to have a bigger impact, and went on to study law in Oregon. More specifically, Hanlon’s ranching background is what interested him in practicing water law.

“I mean, water is everything out here if you’re in ag. Some of my earliest memories are trying to stretch the water as far as it’ll go in the dry years, and trying to figure out what to do with it when you’re trying to dry out the hay field in the wet years. It’s just the core of who we are out here really, it defines us in so many ways,” he said.

After getting his law degree, Hanlon came back to the mountains to Glenwood Springs to be closer to the water division responsible for the Colorado River Basin.

Since that time Hanlon has represented the City of Glenwood Springs, and his law firm has worked with other municipalities on the western slope on issues like water law, land use and everything in between. He is also currently leading the legal team fighting the proposed limestone quarry expansion just outside of Glenwood Springs, a public lands and local jurisdiction issue that has received national attention.

He sees the quarry expansion as an example of how small rural communities have to fight for their values, even when broader state and federal powers may not understand the situation on the ground. Hanlon also made this distinction when discussing other issues, especially water, saying “we need to be more aggressive” about protecting western slope water.

To Hanlon, part of protecting western slope water is also moving forward on specific types of small-scale projects to store and conserve water, increase resiliency of municipal water systems and improve stream health.

“All of those things improve both quality and quantity and availability to the rest of us,” said Hanlon, adding, “the Yampa and the White [rivers] are not as over appropriated as the Colorado is, and everybody’s looking to them to be the next big solution, and I think we need to push back.”

In the same vein, Hanlon shared thoughts about how local communities will be necessary to lead the charge in combating the environmental and economic effects of climate change, such as less water, and decreasing tax revenues.

“I think one of the things we lose sight of is that there are probably a lot of people in these communities, whether it’s Meeker or Rangely or Craig, who have a lot of great ideas about what they could be doing but maybe they need a little bit of capital to get started. They need a little help with planning. They have the will and the knowledge to get there. We need to figure out how we can help them do that.” 

“I think one of the mistakes we make is chasing large corporations around thinking that’s gonna be our savior, whether that’s in the extraction industry or otherwise. We need to start with the people that we have and find out what their vision is for themselves, and help them be successful instead of trying to impose some top-down kind of approach to all this.”

Hanlon also spoke about reducing healthcare costs and pushing for a public option, protecting public lands and more. You can hear the full interview or read the transcript in our podcast feed. Just search for “Rio Blanco County News” in your favorite podcast app, or visit us at