Postal News from America’s Highest City
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
From the legendary tales of pioneer postal carrier Father Dyer to the true understanding that living at 10,000’ commands concerning the lofty slogan, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” Leadville’s Team 80461 stands ready to deliver the first-class service that has long been associated with the American postal worker. Ask any local, the Leadville Post Office is so much more than a federal organization that delivers letters and packages.
So in early August when the United States Post Office (USPO) began to bump up on the news feeds again, Leadville Today (LT) checked back in with 80461’s Postmaster Greg Sandoval for an update. What’s changed since LT’s 2019 story, now 18 months later framed by a COVID-19 reality and a self-described building “boom?” Has there been an increase in postal staff? Has the USPS level designation been adjusted for Lake County? Has the volume of letters and parcels increased?
Fortunately, LT’s inquiry was met prior to the current “gag order,” as described in Sunday’s LA Times story by Bureau Chief Richard Read who was in Leadville last week to write a story that featured a post office in a rural community. According to reports confirmed by LT staff, James Boxrud, the USPS Strategic Communications contact for the Western Area recently issued an order that all media inquiries be directed to his office due to an abundance of caution. Like many, the USPS wagons are being circled, with access to simple information becoming more challenging, requiring formal documentation and paperwork, including a fulfillment timeline that rarely meets news deadlines.
Fortunately, the following information was acquired prior to that – hopefully, temporary – seal, because it’s not just about politics or mail-in voting, for small rural communities, postal numbers reveal one of the most accurate narratives about a community. What’s really in the box?
The Un-Boxing of Leadville
“Since last summer (2019) we have only added 35 more active deliveries,” explained Sandoval. “We have had several new houses built and start delivery, but at the same time many other houses are sold and turned into Air B&B’s or are second homes and delivery has stopped.”
In short, Team 80461 has two different designations of deliveries. Active deliveries are addresses that can – and currently do – receive mail. Possible deliveries are addresses that could have delivery, but currently, they do not want mail delivery. According to Sandoval, the latter are typically second homes, and Air B&B’s. In fact, the local numbers indicate that there are several hundred possible deliveries that have chosen not to become active on the local postal routes.
And it’s probably no secret as to why: junk mail and the paperless trend. You see, in order to become an active delivery, the resident must accept all the mail addressed to them, including 3rd class mail. Add to this environmentally-friendly intention, the need for mail to be picked regularly, and keeping mailboxes shoveled out and accessible during the winter months and the no-box approach is an understandable decision for this growing segment of the Lake County housing landscape.
So what difference does it make? Does it matter whether these addresses establish postal service?
To answer that question it’s important to understand the USPS business model. Of primary importance is that the post office DOES NOT rely on tax dollars for its operations. In fact, it tends to mimic something more likely to be found in the private sector. At the core of its income are commercial activities like selling postage, products, and services in order to self fund its payroll and other operating expenses. Therefore when you buy that stamp, when you sort through that junk mail which you allow them to deliver along with your necessities, when you ship those holiday packages from the local PO, you are helping out Team 80461.
The Hard Numbers
Currently, in addition to the postmaster, Leadville 80461 operates with 2 full-time clerks, 1 part-time clerk, 3 full-time carriers, and 3 part-time carriers to help on heavy days, and cover days off. They have two HCR (Highway Contract Routes) that employ 5 part-time carriers. The office also employs 1 part-time custodian.
Their territory is impressive, including the city boundaries as well as surrounding subdivisions. The area also includes two Highway Contract Routes (HCR) routes which push delivery as far out as the Webster’s Gravel pit out toward Tennessee Pass, as high as Fremont Pass out along Highway 91, and stretching south out past Moose Haven Condos on Highway 24. Of course 80461 shares Lake County with two other zip codes: Twin Lakes 81251 and Climax 80429.
In the 2019 LT interview with Leadville Postmaster Sandoval, he explained that “Leadville office has grown from a level 18 to a Level 18B, but we are still not authorized any more staffing.” At the time, the expectation with the new builds underway was that they would become active delivery addresses, allowing local post office staff and services to grow, keeping pace with growing demand. But many of those new builds chose to remain in the possible category which hindered Team 80461 from bumping up to a Level 20, allowing for more money, better resources.
“We have added in a few hundred ‘possible’ deliveries,” explained the Leadville Postmaster, “and if all of these were active then we would be upgraded to a Level 20.” The good news, according to Sandoval, is that all of the new subdivisions currently underway will be installing a Community Mail Box (CBU). Perhaps there is an upside to junk mail after all. At least until the current model adjusts itself.
Pb’s Favorite Things: Bright-Colored Packages
On the flip side of the delivery coin is the fact that Leadville’s parcel volumes have increased tremendously. Postmaster Sandoval explained that while many second homeowners or Air B&B’s would like only packages delivered, postal carriers are not able to deliver only certain items. But the present 80461 reality involves delivering more (bigger) packages while operating with the same sized staff, as demands continue to soar. In fact this summer, Lake County saw weekly volumes that easily reached holiday-time numbers.
“Last year for Christmas – our busiest time of the year – our package volumes were around 4,800 parcels a week and increased to 6,876 the week before Christmas. This summer (2020) we have been delivering between 4,500 and 5,500 packages a week,” stated Sandoval. While the increase is likely attributed to a variety of reasons from more people staying and working from home to an increase in online shopping with folks choosing to get the essentials delivered to their doorstep. Regardless of the reason, Team 80461 is ready to meet the challenges and under Sandoval’s leadership has already proven themselves to go above and beyond, all while giving back to the community through programs like the Stamp Out Hunger food drive or going the extra mile for someone along their route.
Be sure to show this incredible zip code crew some love by keeping your mailbox clear of debris, snow/ice, and aggressive dogs. And for goodness sake some of your boxes could use a bit of attention. Don’t let your unsightly mail receptacle cause an unboxing by Mother Nature – or Uncle Sam! Let’s keep those cards and letters coming; it’s essential in Leadville Today!
The History of 80461
In the spring of 1877, Leadville was a small mountain community busting at the seams with every kind of high-hopes miner imaginable. And along with the newcomers came all the supporting services necessary as America’s highest city experienced its first true Boom!
One of the first requests for civility was the ability to send and retrieve news from back home and the loved ones left behind in the pursuit of good fortune. It was determined that a formal post office needed to be established, so a small group of four gathered in a small cabin on the corner of Chestnut and Pine Streets. Businessmen George Henderson, August Meyer, and Alvinus Wood were joined by Miss Lottie Williams, an Oro City schoolmarm, who from all accounts was the voice of reason when it came to deciding on a name for the new post office. Now some may say that the name “Leadville” has its own share of branding challenges in 21st century America, it could have been worse. It could have been “Slabtown.”
On July 16 1877, nearly six months prior to the establishment of the city, the United States Postal Service officially approved the application for a new post office at Leadville, County of Lake, State of Colorado. And with Henderson’s signature, he also became the first postmaster for Leadville. But that was a baton he would quickly pass off to his business partner HAW Tabor, who was started to ignite his own political aspirations. The postmaster appointment would be a solid kick-off to his next: Mayor of Leadville. It’s worth noting that the founding father could very well of selected a different name when establishing America’s Highest City, but after much lively debate and banter, calmer heads prevailed and they voted to name the new city after the post office filing and ta-da, Leadville was born!
What has fluctuated over the years has been 80461’s reigning status as the highest post office.
“Climax 80429 was the highest post office in the US. When they closed Leadville was known as the highest in the US, but then the town of Alma challenged us and they are now listed as the highest at 10,578 feet,” explained present-day Leadville Postmaster Greg Sandoval. However, it’s worth noting that Alma is a remote office meaning they are only open part-time and are managed from another site. Many searches still show Leadville as the reigning champ.
“I still say we are the highest regular post office,” boasts Sandoval, adding that they also deliver to the highest point in the US to Climax at 11,362 feet. Now that’s something to look up to!
Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a digital media company located in Leadville, Colorado that publishes LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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