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Dobbs: Distracting from nature’s beauty

Greg Dobbs
Valley Voices

Many years ago now, my wife and I went to see Niagara Falls. Then not long after that, while reporting from the civil war that turned Rhodesia into Zimbabwe, I went to see Victoria Falls. The contrast could not have been sharper. Not because of the waterfalls themselves, but because of what man had erected at their edges.


At Niagara Falls, man had erected signs almost every step of the way to tell us that we stood on recommended “Kodak Photo Points” (for those too young to know, Kodak once was a premier producer of cameras, which are curious handheld devices that take photos but have no mechanism for phone calls, games, or social media). Signs, concessionaires, paved paths, that was the experience at Niagara Falls.

At Victoria Falls, man had erected nothing. As I walked toward the waterfall, there was nothing but nature: the deafening roar, the drenching spray, the muscular force of the water.



Trust me, Victoria Falls was better.

Which brings me to Bighorn Park in East Vail. Given its location at almost the easternmost edge of the Vail Valley, most of you probably never have been there. But it is a lovely park for sitting, for strolling, for sporting — and it’s dog-friendly too. At Bighorn’s southern border are the East Vail Chutes. At its northern border, Gore Creek.



But something has happened at the park that distracts from nature’s beauty.

The StoryWalk placards at the Bighorn Park in East Vail.
Gregg Dobbs/Special to the Daily

With the best of intentions, the Vail Public Library has erected signs, 21 bright signs every 50 feet or so, all along the periphery of the pond in the heart of the park. They are signs for what they call the StoryWalk. As they describe it online, “StoryWalk is an innovative and delightful way for children— and adults! — to enjoy reading and the outdoors at the same time. Laminated pages from a children’s book are attached to frames and mounted on wooden stakes, which are installed along an outdoor path.”

The trouble is, the mounted frames with their incompatible colors change the park. I can’t fault the principle behind the library’s project, but in the interest of teaching children about the beauty of nature and the beauty of books, these signs diminish the beauty of the path.

I can’t claim they “ruin” the experience — it would take a lot more than this to ruin any experience in Vail — but they do change it, and not for the better. One sign at each entrance to Bighorn Park? Maybe. But 21 of them ringing the path? They’re simply incompatible with their surroundings. Whoever approved this project evidently didn’t take its intrusive visual impact into account.

The harm doesn’t hold a candle to bigger harm threatening our nation and our world these days — and anyway, it’s due to come down at the end of July. But if someone doesn’t speak up now, something similar might soon be coming to a park near you.

Greg Dobbs is a speaker, author, and veteran television journalist who is a part-time resident of East Vail.


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