“Over the River” is Over the Limit

Arkansas River Valley

By Kirk Deeter

I appreciate fine art.  I encourage creative expression.  I write about things that promote tourism, almost every day.  And I think the Arkansas River in the Colorado high country is worth visiting.

Yet, for the life of me, I cannot understand how the artist Christo’s proposed “Over the River” project makes any sense at all.

In a very brief nutshell, Christo plans to hang several miles of fabric material over the Arkansas River.  Christo has accomplished many interesting nature-meets-landscape art projects, from drapes in New York’s Central Park, to encasing the German Parliament building in fabric, to a curtain across Rifle Gap in Colorado (which lasted less than two days before the wind blew it away, though those of us who fish that area still see the 40-year remnants of the project).

My gut reaction to his latest proposed plan is, “How vain?”  How dare anyone attempt to “beautify” what’s already there?  It seems to me that God/Nature or whatever you feel inclined to understand has already created a magnificent landscape that is more visually spectacular, more honest and real, than anything any artist might improve, augment, or comment on, even for a short span.  Why would we trade the “what is,” for a concept, or a statement?

The apparent answer is dollars, plain and simple.  And the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, and others, have rolled over and given their blessing to this project, in the name of tourism.  But that tourism doesn’t necessarily equate to fly fishing tourism.

Yes indeed, the project will fill hotel rooms, sell T-shirts, and send cups of latte running over.  But the fact of the matter is that this art project will also entail massive machinery, over 9,000 drilled holes (as anchor spots) in an environmentally sensitive canyon.  When this project is a postcard memory and a notch on Christo’s artistic belt, I fear the negative effects may still remain.

Okay, maybe the hung canvas will create a constant shade, and maybe those epic Arkansas River caddis will hatch uncontrollably as a result.  I doubt it.  My partner Tim Romano, who holds a fine arts degree, admitted he’d like to row his raft under the drapes, just to see it (but, as an angler, he also said he would never trade that possibility for the “what is” in that canyon he already enjoys).  What most in the fishing know forecast is dust and sediment in the river, and much more that will deplete the fishery and landscape. They see gawker traffic, and impacts that will crush fly shops and other businesses.

Rod Patch of Ark Anglers said: “The fact that this project has come as far as it has blows my mind.  No longer do I consider Colorado Parks and Wildlife or the Bureau of Land Management to be resource managers.  Instead, they are resource brokers, and in this case they are risking what is already a gem for something else.”

I sum it up by saying that if this were a natural gas development project that threatened to pincushion this river corridor in the name of profit, more people would be upset.  In fact, many of those people who wear environmental concern on their sleeves would already be hopping mad, but for the fact that this project is planned in the name of “art” rather than energy.  Philosophically, it’s apples and oranges, but in Colorado fishing reality, it’s all the same.

Actually, energy companies have already sworn off drilling in that area, acknowledging its environmental sensitivity.  As such, I think the art campaign poses a serious environmental and economic threat that is being swept under the rug.  Why, then, do all the tree huggers shy away from this issue?  Because the poking is to be done in the name of art?  How about an equal standard?

After all, Christo himself said after BLM gave his project its blessing: “This is a milestone for us and for artists everywhere who want to create art on public lands.”  Think about that very carefully in the context of the public lands around you.

In the end, it’s all about tapping a landscape for profit.  Are open eyes, and open opinions too much to ask for?

Kirk Deeter
Editor, Angling Trade

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6 Responses to “Over the River” is Over the Limit

  1. Zeke Hersh says:

    Well said Kirk!

  2. This is one of the most asinine projects I’ve ever heard of. I’m all for art (I just interviewed an artist on my blog) but this kind of impact to make a grand personal statement (plus a lot of money) is a gross violation of a public resource. My biggest concerns are the fish and the birds. How will local birds react to this massive drape over their water supply? What about other wildlife? Since when is art the purview of the BLM and other government agencies? They need to look after the resources entrusted to them, the artists can look after themselves.

  3. Mark Lewicki says:

    Kirk,

    I absolutely love that watershed. What can someone in Arizona do to help fight it or is the fight already over?

  4. Sue Bookhout says:

    Kirk, I couldn’t agree more. It’s another case of a rural area that could use some quick income, but the long term effects are not in the best interest of the river, the community or the ecosystem. Hey Christo, show us the carbon foot print of “Over the River.”

  5. J says:

    In my Google search of “arkansas river fly fishing” the first 2 pages gave me at least 10 business that, I’m quite sure, would be glad to take my money and give me a guided trip.
    Would this not also be “tapping the landscape for profit”?
    Being a Photographer and Writer myself, I deal with the “love/hate” thing with my own work. Like Lydgate said, “..all of the people some of the time”..etc..etc.
    So, good choice on Christo’s part?.. prolly not. Good choice on CDPW?..nah. But vain…prolly not either.
    That would be tantamount to PETA calling you vain because you indulge in the “art” of Fly Fishing….nonsense
    A visit to the site shows the they are still in the planning stage, with public meetings scheduled for first part of Feb, and public comments are now being accepted.
    Seems to me this is where the focus should be, where all who enjoy this “gem” should be getting their voices heard… ya think?
    That would be Anglers, Sportsmen and Sportswomen, AND “tree huggers” (or, if some are one-in-the-same) as well as other interested parties…. but I saw no link here…hmmmm?
    Ill cover for you;
    http://www.roarcolorado.org/
    They have the skinny, and as a somewhat frequent visitor to the great state of Colorado, I will be writing my letter as soon as I finish this.
    A follow up from the front lines would be good Kirk.
    J out

  6. OQ says:

    Dear Kirk,

    you “appreciate” fine art. You” encourage” creative expression. But not in “your” garden. Right? For most of the people that are interested not only in fishing but also in art, “making sense” is not the driver of it (as it is not in fishing, because the fishmarket is closer and cheaper). And this project is definitely not about beautifcation – unless you take art as “that beautiful picture that perfectly fits on the bare wall between those two windows”.
    Personally, I would love to fish under that new sky. Maybe it would give me a new perspective. Maybe it would make me understand why evolution gave us the ability to catch fish – and not vice versa. Imagine that!

    Best Regards,

    Jan

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