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Our lifestyle paradox

Matt Zalaznick

We mountain folk love the sound of rushing streams and rivers. Even if we don’t fish or kayak, we dig the clear waters tumbling down our valley. But we don’t like icy roads. We just hate sliding into guardrails. Our affection for waterways and disdain for SUV bobsledding represent a High Country conflict – conservation of the environment vs. conservation of our cars, and sometimes, our lives. The road sand spread to give us traction on the interstate oozes down hills and chokes off streams and makes life worse for fish and the bugs they eat. The interstate and all that traffic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Regardless of what politicians and residents say about conservation, commerce is king. Whether its truckers or tourists, the vehicles mean money. So the sand, salt and other chemicals aren’t going away, either. They’ll be part of our environment, the state should continue researching chemicals that may do less harm while keeping roads from turning into hockey rinks. The state should also continue working to keep the sand that spills now from getting into nearby streams. They can do this with roadside basins and other structures. This should be a priority. But the road-sand problem represents the paradox of living at the top of the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by national forests and vast wilderness. It’s a balancing act between keeping the High Country pristine and actually living here. In nobody’s wildest imagination (except for the folks in Bentonville, Ark.) does a Wal-Mart belong within sight of the peaks around Beaver Creek. But nobody imagined just how expensive it would become to live here. And when people have to work multiple jobs to scrape by, a store like Wal-Mart is a very appealing convenience.Supporting mom-and-pops is nice, but it’s becoming less and less of an option with every monthly report that says real estate sales have set another record. But look up from that Wal-Mart parking lot. Should a chairlift really scar the side of the beautiful mountainside? Well, experiencing that beauty is why we live here and some of us don’t like hiking to the top of a beautiful, powder-packed bowl. It’s more convenient to ride a lift. Also, this beauty is our No. 1 product. So we sell it to people who are even less interested in hiking up the side of a mountain. And we build even faster chairlifts to accommodate their disdain for putting on the skins and working their way to the peak. And the skis and hotel rooms they rent, the dinners they eat, and the art they buy make up those salaries we have to subsidize with second and third jobs just to spend it at Wal-Mart, which creates a market for big boxes and lures Target or some other giant retailer to town. That’s the paradox – even with the best intentions, it’s hard to enjoy the mountains without also damaging them.Vail, Colorado


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