Last week I received an e-mail from the Continental Divide Trail Alliance, the nonprofit formed in 1995 to construct the Continental Divide trail, with the sad announcement that they are ceasing operations. Their Board of Directors had to make this difficult decision due to “increasing pressures from development in the West, rising land costs, and challenges with the longstanding down cycle in the economy”.
The Continental Divide Trail is a hiking trail that stretches all the way from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide, and in Colorado it traverses the backbone of the Rocky Mountains. As of 2011, 2,268 miles of Trail have been completed, and volunteers were responsible for 525 of those miles, and to date 832 miles remain to be constructed.
The CDTA was a long-time graphic design client of mine. From 2001 to 2010, I designed their quarterly newsletters, event flyers and posters. I was proud to have contributed to the success of their campaign in this small way, because I believe that the completion of the trail is not just good for state tourism and mountain economies, but for providing low-impact ways of re-connecting people with nature and wilderness. This is important to the future of our planet. The news that they’re closing their doors was not just a shock, but pained me to think that this project may never be completed. I certainly hope that I’m wrong about that.
How many hikers have experienced moments of wonder, transcendence and revelation on the Continental Divide trail? How many families came to volunteer through the last 15 years to swing a pick and shovel dirt and be a part of this legacy? What kind of impression did that make on kids, and how were their lives affected forever? How invaluable are these experiences to future generations?
We need more nature in our lives, and low-impact access to wilderness such as the CDT, the Colorado Trail or the Appalachian Trail, not only provides this kind of access to anyone of virtually any background, education and income level, but helps stimulate local and state economies with tourism. People come to Colorado from all over the world to hike these trails in the summer. It helps mountain towns maintain a decent economy in the summer, when ski resorts are closed. Being able to experience the peace and beauty of wilderness on a well-maintained and relatively safe trail with others is something we may have been taking for granted during the economic boom of the later part of the last century. When the economy takes a downturn, as it has in the last several years, everything but the most critical of services and support systems gets underfunded or neglected.
In the current worldview, access to nature is not seen as a “critical” service. As things get progressively more uncertain, it seems that jobs and money take precedence over beauty, human health, ecological health and sometimes even common sense.
About the same time I heard of the demise of the CDTA, I read that oil and gas companies were gearing up for more fracking operations along the Front Range—this time in a couple of state parks. I have already witnessed more oil and gas operations setting up shop in Dacono, Erie, Commerce City and Broomfield. Energy is something that is almost never in soft demand and as we fall on the downward slope of the peak oil parabola, we are becoming more and more desperate to eke out anything we can, anywhere we can find it. Nothing is sacred anymore. Drilling near suburban neighborhoods, schools and playgrounds? Sure, why not? We need the jobs, and the gas. Setting up a rig in state parks and maybe even National Parks? Well, where else are we to find new pockets of energy?
These operations are not just unsightly and polluting, they are a disturbance to the wildlife and human residents. A Denver Post commentary from October, 2011 sums it up nicely: there are things that are priceless that are worth protecting for future generations. Clean air, clean water, quality of life.
If I extrapolate the future based on what I’m seeing today, I will predict that in ten or twenty years we will have less nature and more oil and gas rigs. We will have sold out our precious, irreplaceable resources for a quick buck and in the end, we will not have avoided economic and societal collapse, we will have just postponed it a few months or years. We will have less and less unspoiled stretches of wilderness and more cancer, more poverty and more despair. This is the future, unless we all commit to educating ourselves and doing some deep soul-searching.