Love It or Hate It: The Roaring Fork Swap

The Untold Story of the Valley’s Virtual Trading Post

“Put it on the Swap.”

If you’ve ever had something taking up space around your house, this is what many a local will advise you to do if you need it gone. Put that old refrigerator, mattress, camper, crib, bridesmaid dress, or lawn mower on the Roaring Fork Swap and kick back as the offers to whisk it all away come rolling in from across the valley.

But what exactly is the Roaring Fork Swap? Who runs it, and how does it work? Often referred to as simply “the Swap” for short, the free service operates as a private Facebook group some 22,000 members strong—a staggeringly large percentage of the population from Aspen to Parachute. If you live in the valley and have a Facebook account, chances are you’ve joined.

Part virtual yard sale, part announcement board, and part community Q&A forum, the Swap has become a vital resource for many since its inception about seven years ago. Driven by a massive usership and the careful oversight of a trio of administrators, it’s a live portal to all things hyper-local. This makes the Swap not only an incredibly useful resource but an addictive one, where many members comb the page day after day searching for deals, freebies, neighborly discussions, and recommendations.

Sometimes though, say its administrators, the group can become a bit of a circus. Admins Jess, Ray, and Sylvia (last names withheld for privacy) are often called to monitor questionable interactions or extinguish user disagreements.

“We’ve seen fights, and people being tough behind their keyboards and computer screens,” Ray says. “But it’s important for everyone to remember that we’re all locals. I think people end up shooting themselves in the foot sometimes if they get into an argument, because we all know each other for the most part or have mutual friends.”

Not only is the Swap a great place to get rid of your old stuff, it’s a great place to procure others’ old stuff, too—and locals aren’t afraid of cleaning out their closets and posting just about whatever they find in them. You can get kids’ items, outdoor gear, and furniture through the page, sure—but have you ever wanted a 30-pound box of baseball cards? A mannequin? A used dancer’s pole? How about a collection of heavy metal cassette tapes, or your very own ‘90s-era diesel dump truck? These actual Swap items are definitely unusual, but Ray says that sometimes things can get even weirder.

“We had a bottle of Miralax one time,” he recalls. Was this a joke? Hard to say.

“There was also a person selling 120 half-used bottles of tequila,” Ray says with a chuckle, adding that the post was promptly removed. “And sometimes there are dating posts saying ‘I’m single,’ or Missed Connection-type posts,” he adds, referring to the notorious Craigslist section for secret admirers.

At first glance it seems that on the Swap, pretty much anything goes—but that isn’t quite the case.

“Facebook has regulations that we as administrators have to enforce,” says Jess. “No firearms or alcohol, and no drugs of course. There are other rules as well. Especially in regard to guns, there is no way for us to know or be able to prove that the sale of guns is legal on the Swap, so we have to remove these posts. Sometimes people take this personally and get really angry about it.”

All three Swap administrators have received heated or even aggressive messages from disgruntled users, their complaints ranging from deleted posts to disputes about payment for listed items.

So why do they keep doing what they do? Each admin spends nearly an hour a day volunteering to keep the Swap in line.

“I just feel that it’s a really important community resource,” Sylvia says. “In lots of different ways. The three of us could always just pass the baton to someone else, but we would hate to see it turn into a page where people are allowed to bash each other. Plus, it’s very revealing how much stuff we’re keeping out of the landfill—items can be sold or given away for someone else to use rather than ending up in the trash. It’s amazing.”

The others agree, noting that the Swap’s benefits to the community outweigh its shortcomings.

“For the most part, it actually functions pretty well,” Jess adds, as Ray concludes simply: “It’s just too good of a resource to give up.”