It ain’t just us…looking for lessons from the beach

We’re not the only ones grappling with possible solutions to the issues that inevitably come with increased tourism. I am at the beach this week. I know…why leave Crested Butte in what is normally one of the best weather weeks of the year? But it is the every-other-year family tradition for an extended family reunion in South Carolina and while not as perfect as a June day at 9,000 feet in the mountains, it is pretty, pretty.  

There seems a common bond between people who live in communities that deal with tourism. It is easy to strike up a conversation with like-minded people who understand the unique situations that come with resort communities: STRs, housing, on-season versus off-season, congestion, climate. 

It is easy to spot the similarities between two attractive places. The hope was that perhaps they’ve discovered something we haven’t yet, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. There is the heavy morning and evening local workforce traffic. The visitor traffic surge that pops on Saturdays between the beach and the airport that is normally an hour away but at times can be two. The high school kid bagging groceries said the Saturday mayhem will happen every week through the summer and the store will look like a war zone at the end of the day. It seems that the issues continue to be simply centered on numbers. 

On the island, there is a plan to add more roundabouts and bike paths to an increasingly busy area. Removing medians and improving pedestrian buffers is in the future. Using paid and free parking to push people from one area to another is being considered. There are new, somewhat controversial fees attached to short-term rentals that are based on the number of bedrooms and locals feel it is fair to tap the “rich” owners of the condos and homes on the island. Some of the “rich” owners who have had their properties for decades say they are more middle class than rich. They understand the need for funds to help workers live in the area but there is only so much they can afford before they feel they have to sell to the short-term rental conglomerates that care only about bottom lines and spreadsheets and not the neighborhoods. Three out of five workers don’t live on the island because wages can’t support housing prices. Sound familiar?   

The guy who runs the court (tennis and pickleball) complex said the tourism pattern has shifted. Summers are super busy but shorter in length. He isn’t sure why so many people would come to the island in the increasingly hot summer when last year there were six straight weeks of 100-degree-plus heat index days. He said it would be 115 degrees or hotter on the courts. He wonders how the increasingly hot climate will shift visitation patterns and what the storms and extreme weather will mean to his daughter who is due to be born in early July. The expectation over the next 40 years is that the days will become much hotter and high tides will grab more land. 

They have restrictions to protect sea turtle nesting, while we look after the Gunnison Sage Grouse. They have the workforce housing “framework” with four core pillars, we have the Community Compass. Both have similar buzzwords, aspirations and emphasize community engagement, stakeholder partnerships and quality of life. The issues in the mountains and at the beach seem pretty much the same and potential solutions are more mitigation than cure-alls. That just seems to come with numbers. Good places attract more people, and more people bring more issues.  

How can we think out of the box and use the numbers to our benefit to retain a unique community that respects all of us — the locals, the tourists, the second homeowners— and keeps the core values of CB intact? It will take not just government funding but alliances with private business and those who feel a deep connection to the community even if they don’t live here full-time. The beach town is on the same path. CB still has the opportunity but it won’t last forever. 

Housing, climate, congestion, tourist surges…it happens in the mountains, and it happens at the beach…and it all sounds familiar. We’re not the only ones.  


—Mark Reaman 

Check Also

Flooding the zone with planning meetings

Just so you know…there’s a lot of stuff brewing in Crested Butte. I’m not talking …