Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more / More people, more scars upon the land. – John Denver, “Rocky Mountain High”
It’s a simple thing I cannot comprehend.
With the driving of the golden spike that joined the Union and Central Pacific railroads at Promontory Point, UT on May 10, 1869, the United States became united west to east. In so doing, it drove a stake into the heart of the buffalo, sealing their fate. So-called gentlemen riflemen found sport in cutting down whole herds of buffalo from a stationary train platform sitting on the tracks, littering the plains with rotting carcasses.
It’s an ancient story, repeated around the earth by every nomadic culture, which is to say, humanity. Wherever homo sapiens roamed, degradation, destruction, and extinction followed.
Ten years prior to the union of the railroad and the states, George Jackson made his way up into what we now call Clear Creek County. His blazoned trail soon became a rough road that grew into a paved road, then a highway, and now a super highway insufficiently wide to handle numbers using it in “peak periods.” Like the railroad, that highway has been a two-edged sword: Bringing hope and answering dreams while impacting the eco-system profoundly.
In Collapse: How Societies Choose or Fail to Succeed, Jared Diamond presents evidence on how ecocide, the destruction of a people’s environment, largely contributed to certain societies’ demise. It’s a lesson replete with underlying values. Man’s approach to his natural surroundings is practical and psychological, emotional, even spiritual. Practical in the economic sense; the rest in how one, whether a dreaming romantic or a weathered rancher or farmer who has invested sweat, tears, and soul into the land, becomes one with it. We come to love the land because it both allows and supports us physically and nourishes our souls. Disregard of that soulful aspect is indicative of a soul devoid of humanity, focused solely on ego, a callous me-ism.
Our essential problem is the crush of humans. It’s exacerbated, though, by unethical, uneducated, and indifferent individuals who willfully abuse nature by, for example, discarding trash along roadsides, on trails, and around Georgetown Lake and by going off trail in sensitive areas such as the tundra. That already exacerbated problem is being exacerbated further by an obsessive compulsion to cater to human whims by making what ought to be challenging easy and convenient. I made that point in my column two weeks ago about an answer to Mount Bierstadt’s duress lies in making it harder to access and hike: Close the road and remove the boardwalks through the willows.
That scenario is likewise playing out on Interstate 70. Excessive numbers of people want to ski, hike, camp, and do other mountainous activities on the cheap and as conveniently as possible, primarily on weekends and holidays. In response, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s answer is to lay more asphalt in the hope it will get us by for a couple of decades until, as one CDOT presenter put it, “when cost and technology meet” for an Advanced Guideway System.
Every eco-system has a carrying capacity. Like a sponge, it can absorb only so much before it reaches its saturation point. That natural law is met head-on by modern man’s dogma about growth. We’re presented with a false dichotomy—grow or die—by capitalism, which is the economic expression of man attempting himself from nature’s immutable law that requires all life to live sustainably within limits.
Our dilemma is ethical, economic/financial, and political with the last—political—being the most powerful. The pressure is on from a segment addicted to driving whenever and to wherever it wants. The question is how strong will we stand in resisting that pressure.
A sign of insanity, it is said, is repeating an act expecting different results. Like adding lanes to accommodate more traffic. It gives people a false sense of an easier commute.
Officials in Zion National Park have recognized the need for limits. They’re considering adopting a reservation system to limit human traffic.
It’s time we set limits here. Restrict access to Mount Bierstadt and say no to a westbound toll lane.