November 8, 2011

A River Runs Under Fabric

Christo, the artist known for huge projects like The Gates in Central Park and the wrapping of Berlin’s Reichstag , received permission this week from federal regulators to install nearly six miles of anchored fabric over the Arkansas River in Colorado.

The artist's drawing of the proposed Christo installation, "Over the River."

The environmental impact statement submitted for the project drew thousands of comments.  (Christo’s works often inspire heated debate.) The Colorado Wildlife Commission urged federal officials to reject the project because of concerns about the area’s Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and another group cited road safety as a reason to turn down the proposal.

But the project, called “Over the River,” could draw 400,000 visitors and $121 million in economic output to the state.  And Christo has agreed to “mitigation measures,” like a fund to help the sheep population adapt during construction, and restricting activity during lambing season.

It’s inspiring to me that so many people weighed in on the environmental impact statement, though it certainly sounds like tourism tipped the scales in Christo’s favor.

I love Christo’s work and the way it honors the power of nature and human ambition — but am deeply torn about the impact the resultant tourism can have on formerly pristine areas.  At what cost majestic statements?

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