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?
Editor, Angling Trade