Monday, July 13, 2020

Turquoise rocks, the reunion, the sea-change, a comedy festival and….

Let’s start with the positive.

I love it when I happen upon a painted turquoise stone anywhere in town. It has happened for years and makes my heart smile. Thank you.

The long anticipated Crested Butte 40 Year Reunion is here this weekend. This will be a legendary gathering of the legendary “‘mid-timers” who turned the tide from Crested Butte being basically an old, pretty much shuttered mining town to the start of the tourist community it has become. My guess is that the experience this weekend will blow some minds—and if you’ve heard any stories about the ’70s and ’80s, these are people who have had their minds blown…a lot. Welcome to the soul place at the end of a road and look up to the mother rock between potluck dishes on Saturday and say a prayer of gratitude for what you all were able to experience—then and now.

For those still living here and struggling in the moment—keep it all in perspective. July has for many of us become the “sacrifice zone.” Many small town things are sacrificed for the future ability to live here as the economy peaks in July. It is the month of anomaly when crowds, cash, speeders, lines, noise, slower-than-normally-slow-internet, and loss of patience dominate. But do not forget: It is an anomaly. If it wasn’t, chances are you wouldn’t be living here.

It will not seem crowded in three weeks and really won’t be crowded in four. The drivers who don’t understand a maximum 15 mph on Elk Ave. or a minimum 55 mph on the highway will return to the city soon.

Breathe (deeply) and get out to where the people aren’t. I went on four different trails in four days last week and saw a total of about a dozen people. There are places nearby to find the solitude if that is what you want. I did not go on the Lower Loop. Choices matter.

Speaking of choices…the latest exposure pitch for the place is a potential comedy festival for the valley next June. Apparently, the idea is that the weekend would bring in a few thousand people and get shown on HBO or Showtime or some national television network with millions of viewers.

You know, the weekend part of the deal sounds fine. Bringing in some people in mid-June when businesses are running out of the winter money to pay the bills, and putting on something funny that locals might appreciate is good. Let the I-Bar host the giant venue and then spread the wealth around to smaller stages. Bring in some fun and early season dough. But the rest of the equation is questionable.

Does the upper valley need more summer exposure? I would argue we have enough people visiting in the heart of summer. While it is possible to still find quiet trails, the goal shouldn’t be to fill them all up all the time. Can our elected representatives support the event with the caveat that there not be any pretty summer pictures of Crested Butte as part of the production? Sounds sort of crazy, doesn’t it? I’m serious. Take the June bump without the national promotion. How much more summer marketing do we need? Are there still some who do not see the consequences of simply adding to the numbers here?

Side note: In the grand scheme, the county commissioners should begin to consider using public Local Marketing District dollars on the same level as the Tourism Association allocation to protect the value of the place. If the TA is granted $1 million in LMD funds for promotion, then $1 million in LMD money should go toward mitigation measures like backcountry management, parking, trailhead improvements, toilets, visitor info, traffic control. Such spending will entice visitors with appreciation of the place to return and not just bring in a revolving door of new people. That is smart marketing action in my opinion. It too is a community choice.

As a respected mid-timer businessman said to me a few weeks ago, “It seems we are experiencing a sea change. It is over-the-top.” He is not wrong. The sheer numbers have brought in a new tide that is really impacting the place right now. So the even bigger picture now needs to be considered with every decision we make whether it is new festivals or new subdivisions. In the election platitude of being all about “Sustainable Tourism,” the sustainable part is really important.

Okay, slow down, Reaman. Back to the “smaller picture” of a proposed comedy festival with big names. The power of a celebrity touting the place can mean huge changes. Just look at Aspen and Telluride. Is that the goal? Do the local politicos have the cojones to push against that Hollywood mojo? Maybe, but I’d be surprised. Heck, half the Crested Butte council – including the two known mayoral hopefuls – want to consider turning the ice rink into a Vegas theater space. Geezus. Even the downtown business rep on the council expressed dismay at that. So, it just might be too different for them to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to that exposure. But making decisions different from other tourist towns can help keep the valley more attractive in the long run for both residents and visitors.

Okay, from choices back to perspectives, which sometime intersect.

I recently waded into the pool of Elk Avenue and saw a woman in high heels taking a photo up the street of what to me appeared chaos. To her though, it was probably a scenic picture of colorful buildings in a quaint town with a cool mountain hovering over the main street. Where I saw mayhem, the woman in heels perhaps saw beauty. Neither of us was wrong but her choice of perspective might have been better than mine. Some scientific studies indicate happiness is a choice. So why not dig deep and choose happiness even in the mayhem that is July? Do it with the knowledge that this place is pretty great overall and this particular time is an anomaly—one that helps us live here in the normal times.

It is still okay (and I’d say a positive action) to yell at someone who blows through a stop sign and almost hits someone. But in the long term, let’s choose major policy decisions that can help the people living here to touch happiness.

While this place isn’t what it was 40 years ago or even yesterday, it’s a hell of a lot better than 90 percent of the other places in the world. I can still walk into a bar or restaurant like I did last weekend and get a hug and a beer with friends. I’m not going anywhere and I want my middle-class friends to stay here as well. To me, that is the real challenge facing this place. But that’s another editorial. We will get through this July sacrifice zone but choices made today determine the future. Let’s not be afraid to make the “different decisions,” that separate us from the herd.

Okay, let’s end with the positive. I hope the reunion people enjoy their weekend. I hope they all stumble upon a turquoise rock or two when they don’t expect it. It is a reminder of what keeps this place just a little different and really special.

—Mark Reaman

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