Bedford native Merrell Bergin (BHS Class of 1969) recently won a first-place award for his photograph of a 2019 forest fire threatening his small city, Salida, in the mountains of central Colorado. His photograph appeared in Ark Valley Voice, an online news service similar to The Bedford Citizen. Bergin is a volunteer copy editor, contributes photos, and sometimes fills in as a writer for the news source. He captured the winning image from the rooftop of the restored Hively building in downtown Salida.
The family connection
Bergin’s mom, Dot, is The Citizen‘s copy editor, occasional writer, and board member emerita (but she doesn’t take award-winning photos.) As for Merrell, he has been a loyal reader and supporter of The Citizen since its founding, who enjoys keeping up with his native town. He and Citizen editor Julie Turner frequently exchange ideas about the importance of local coverage of community news, collaborative journalism, and the need for accurate and transparent coverage of municipal affairs. When the Ark Valley Voice launched in March 2018, Merrell, recently retired after decades as a software consultant, saw a great opportunity to become more involved in the workings of his city. He is also now on the advisory board of the AVV’s sister entity, the ‘Truth has a Voice Foundation,’ encouraging journalism students with paid internships.
The small staff of the Ark Valley Voice received two first and four second-place awards in their class for excellence in journalism from the Colorado Press Association, mostly for “hard news” topics. A major focus was their 2019 reporting of the “Decker” wildfire that consumed 9,000 acres and threatened the area for nearly two months. As the Type 1 fire raged, “hotshot crews” worked to contain it while townspeople and first responders teamed up to relocate residents and rescue farm animals in the path of the blaze.
In a virtual presentation on May 12, Bergin’s photograph won a ‘first’ as Best News Photo, illustrating continuing news coverage of the fire. He modestly said he is purely an amateur photographer who got lucky, taking the photo with his cell phone from the roof of the building in downtown Salida where he and his wife live. Here on the East Coast, we are not as mindful of forest fire dangers as are the folks in Colorado. The Decker fire came within three miles of Salida’s downtown historic district, before moving downriver.
About Ark Valley Voice
Ark Valley Voice covers all of Chaffee County, encompassing the towns of Buena Vista, Poncha Springs, and the city of Salida, Merrell’s home of 16 years. It also reaches neighboring Lake and Fremont Counties and is read in over 42 states and multiple countries.
If you’ve visited that part of Colorado you will recognize the “Ark” in Ark Valley as standing for the Arkansas River, sixth-longest in the U.S., which flows from its headwaters near Leadville (elev. 10,152’), through Salida and all the way to Arkansas. It’s a hub of whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and flyfishing in normal (pre-pandemic) times. Salida is a town of about 6,000 population governed by a mayor and city council. It attracts tourists nearly year-round and boasts a number of art galleries.