Politics & Environment

A River Runs Through Us

A Trump cold front settles on our happy valley.

By Ted Katauskas January 25, 2017

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Christo on Colorado's Arkansas River in August, 2014.

Image: Karl Wolfgang

As Vail-Beaver Creek’s editor, I generally stay well out of the fray when it comes to politics. But in these troubling times, politics have a way of catching up with you, even in a paradisaical resort town.

After a blissful morning bombing down Ptarmigan and Ricky’s ridges on Vail Mountain, I arrived back in the office at lunch last Wednesday to find K.D., vailmag.com's digital editor, on the phone with a ranger from our local federal forest office, flabbergasted as she attempted to fact-check basic statistics from a soon-to-be-published story about the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area. The ranger could neither confirm nor deny that Vail Pass is indeed the most-visited federal forest in the nation, and informed K.D. that due to a new directive from Washington, D.C., all media inquires now would have to be vetted and approved by an agency minder, and apologized that a “public organization can no longer give information directly to the public.” Apparently a Trump Administration gag order, instituted after a National Park Service employee retweeted a photo comparing crowds from the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations, now applies to our federally funded White River National Forest stewards in Dowd Junction.

As K.D. hung up the phone in frustration (and picked it up again to register a complaint with our legislative representatives), I received a ping from my Twitter feed from Christo, the internationally lauded environmental artist who famously Saran-wrapped the Reichstag, a retweet from The New York Times: “The artist Christo has decided to walk away from a Colorado public art project in protest of Trump.” (You can read the NYT's full story here.)

The art project? Over the River, a proposal to cover miles of the Arkansas River near Canon City with translucent fabric panels—his most ambitious installation in Colorado since he hung a giant orange curtain across the Rifle Gap in the 1970s. Three summers ago, I rafted the Arkansas with Christo. As we floated down the river, the artist imagined how the light of the day would filter through those luminous panels, how he saw every mile of the project unfolding “like a symphony score.”

One we will never see, or hear.

In the political chill, Over the River, like our local forest ranger, has been frozen into silence. 

Editor's note:

Earlier today (Wed, Feb 1), I received a phone call from Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District district ranger Aaron Mayville, who wanted "to clarify what's going on." While there is a new policy requiring that the U.S. Forest Service's regional office be alerted to all media requests for information and/or interviews, he stressed, "It's more of a heads up, and it's likely a temporary thing until we get the new administration settled."

In other words, there is no gag order on our local rangers.

"With all administrative transitions--this one included--we try to take steps to make sure our communication is in alignment," he added. "Our official position is that we are coordinating our communications efforts to make sure we are releasing consistent information. ... We have stories coming out daily and we are still calling members of the media."

Me being a case in point. 

"Obviously, there's a lot of change going on in the country," he concluded. "I want to clear one thing up: We are open for business, and we are continuing to care for the land, and serve the public."

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