Eclipse, growth angst and Emma

The “Path of Totality” sounds like something looming in a Game of Thrones episode. It sounds scary and full of chaos and upheaval. It is actually the line where Monday’s solar eclipse will be total. We are not in the Path of Totality. We are in the Path of Partiality where about 89 percent of the sun will be blocked late Monday morning.

But maybe this somewhat rare astronomical event is impacting us here in the valley anyway. It sure feels as if the energy is whacked out right now. People seem busy and stressed and pulling their hair out. Chaos and upheaval seem to surround us. As we begin emerging from the deep end of the pool that is summer tourism season, normally we have some room to breathe. Right now it seems the collective “we” can’t yet catch a breath because there is too much going on. It is reflected in the recent letters and articles in the paper.

As we stand on the cusp of what appears to be the next major change for the valley in terms of growth and identity there is no shortage of issues that accompany that change:

There’s the negative impact of more humans and more houses and more SUPs on the wildlife we share this valley with, whether it is the blue herons in the upper Slate River or the elk herds that are watching as one of their migration routes is now being dug up for a new subdivision. There’s a new debate about whether we should ever pave the downtown business district alleys or leave them dirt. The question about appropriate affordable housing and where it should be located and how much should be done at once while respecting the future workers and those of us living here now. The idea of a new Crested Butte Comedy Festival that in itself is not an issue but the potential impacts from Will Ferrell, Tina Fey or Kevin Hart tweeting that they’ve found the perfect Rocky Mountain hamlet and they can’t wait to come back when the middle of summer has reached max capacity in the northern end of the valley. How about the backcountry issues of managing the sheer numbers, updating the regional Forest Plan or using the Gunnison Public Land Initiative to protect swaths of nearby public land?

There’s the environmental conundrum of using tax money to incentivize more jets coming to the valley while trying to stay “green” or dealing with a dying coal mine industry in the county while figuring out what to do with the methane that contributes mightily to climate change. There is the friction that comes with tightening the rules in a place like Irwin that has always been a wild outlier for independent-minded locals. There is no shortage of possible tax increases to address everything from firefighters and EMT to affordable housing, vacation rentals and probably the need for an expanded school in the coming future.

There is no silver bullet to any of these issues and I don’t see any grand master plan at the moment, so the angst level is high as the ramifications of change begin to overshadow all of us.

It is as if some want to try to stop the eclipse. You can feel their helplessness as they stand on a hill with their arms pushing against the coming shadow. And maybe it will work. After all, the prediction of the coming eclipse is based in science and the vast majority of scientists predict sea levels will rise as a result of climate change contributed to by humans, but I hear from those in charge in Washington that that is not true. So maybe the eclipse is also fake news and it can be stopped or simply won’t happen.

I’ll bet on the scientists and count on the eclipse peaking over us here on Monday morning at 11:46. And remember, whether you are in the Path of Totality or just getting a partial eclipse, the “fact” is the sun will come back out.

So while there may be some who try to stop the growth coming this way, it is probably better to try to direct the growth and put in place mechanisms to guide that growth and deal with its impacts. Remember too that the pace of the current growth will ease up as it always has. The economy always pulls back at some point. So there is opportunity for shaping the coming change. That takes community discussion and minds open to finding solutions that keep our values intact, even when the shadow of growth is a given. But it also means finding commonality and making sometimes difficult choices. Will we choose SUP parties over blue heron rookeries? What really is the appropriate number and type of units at Brush Creek? Will road base work as well as pavement?

And one last thing if you want a ray of sunshine: Crested Butte has a world champion in Emma Coburn and her surprise victory last week in London. Her talent, work ethic and perhaps more important, her humble demeanor, are qualities all of us here can be proud of and hold on to as a positive example while sometimes feeling overwhelmed. Congrats to Emma!

Now let’s all remember to breathe.

—Mark Reaman

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