Art, ranching, film, biking, cow pies and our backyard

Art is meant to be enjoyed but also make one think. Here is a shout out to the Crested Butte Film Festival for providing some of both this past week. The festival just concluded its fourth year over a beautiful four-day fall weekend and the showings were both enjoyable and thought-provoking. They were also filled with people and this event is providing a sophisticated town vibe at the end of September.
Some 90 films were screened this year. I saw only a handful and all were interesting. But one worth mentioning here is a locally created film by Western State Colorado University associate professor of communication arts Jack Lucido. His 27-minute film, Across the Fences, focused on four ranching families in our area. The ranchers provided some history and perspective for this place that is sometimes taken for granted. Before the era of tourism, this place was world-renowned for its hay and cattle. The ranchers talked about new sustainable ranching innovations and the love for the land. Perhaps most important for many of us, they touched on the relationship with those who use the land to play on as opposed to work on and how it impacts their business and their lives. It’s not always good.
I’m one of those recreationalists, and the film re-reminded me of the value of the local ranching community. There used to be real animosity between bikers and cowboys. That period seems to have faded somewhat. There have been real collaborations in the last 20 years between recreationalists and ranchers. That doesn’t mean it is all easy and good but honest efforts on both sides have been productive.
The film that played Friday night was a good touchstone for the new residents and, as I said, a re-reminder for me.

Let’s all be real and aware. As this place becomes more and more a tourist-oriented destination, one of the things that sets this place apart from other similar mountain tourist towns is the working ranches and open spaces.
A recent Gunnison County economic task force review indicated that one unique benefit of the entire area is that real families continue to really work the real ranches in the local valleys. The task force concluded there is still a lot of agricultural property in this county and it is controlled by a few long-term ag families. That is a good thing. It is not a long-term sure thing, but it is a good thing.
Much of the open spaces in our backyard or along the highways would not be “open” without ranchers. Without the ranchers, the open spaces would likely be filled with condos or big second homes on 35-acre parcels. Without ranches and their water, the green living meadows flanking the beautiful mountains would be dried dead fields of brown. The ag families could probably sell the land, the water, or both and have millions of dollars for their great-grandkids. But in Lucido’s film, these men and women spoke about how their families are emotionally tied to the land and have been, long before a ski lift was even imagined.
As explained in Friday’s film, the Forest Service lands that hold our biking and hiking trails must sometimes be shared with cattle so they can forage. And while I have ridden through herds of giant cattle and squished through piles of giant cow pies, it should not be considered a burden. It should perhaps instead be embraced as a pleasure.
So at the very least, those of us who bike or hike the trails on the public lands that we share with cattle should remember to close and latch the gates. That’s an easy but really important thing. An open gate could mean a stray cow that could mean a day’s work for a rancher. It could mean a car killing a piece of the ranch and thus a piece of the bottom line. It should not be hard to see why ranchers might have a hard time dealing with those who, intentionally or not, carelessly don’t think about the gates.

Another quick shout out in this realm: The Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association has worked to keep the lines of communication friendly with the ranching community. CBMBA vice president Doug Bradbury has developed what he calls a “metal rollover,” sort of a raised cattle guard that helps eliminate the need for gates. If you’ve ridden the Lupine trail, you’ve used it and seen how well it works. That is a creative solution to the gate issue and a huge benefit to everyone.
I would throw out the idea that the all-volunteer CBMBA group could use some financial support in caring for the expanding local trails and finding a balance with the local ranchers. But where could that money come from? Hmmm…Whatever.

So, thanks to Crested Butte Film Festival creators Michael and Jennifer Brody for giving us a weekend of art that might make people think outside the box and appreciate the neighbors they may not know—but certainly owe.
The festival’s website states that it is “inspiring and educating our audiences through films and discussions that spark creativity, cultural awareness, and social and environmental change.” They are. Thanks to Jack Lucido for seeing a local story and telling it so well. Sometimes you don’t have to travel to Africa to find a new cultural awareness.
And most important, thanks to the local ranchers for dealing with the bikers and hikers who are trying not to make your life harder, but don’t always understand.

Maybe those who enjoy the riding on Strand or 401 should take some pride as you wash the cow pie off your $3,000 bike frame. That melding of metal and waste is a symbol of why it is still special here. Think of it as art. Art that symbolizes a still special place and makes you think.

—Mark Reaman

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