Janet Urquhart: Visit Aspen – we’ve got bears!
May 31, 2002
If you ever need to bring traffic on Independence Pass to a halt, just stand by the side of the road and point into the trees.
For an added, irresistible effect, peer occasionally into a pair of binoculars. Every curious twit in the vicinity will pull over, slow to a crawl or veer across the center line as they strain for a peek at whatever it is you’re looking at. Even if you’re looking at NOTHING.
The throng of rubbernecks will multiply exponentially. People will stop and stare without even bothering to ask what it is everyone else is looking at. (“Look Gladys, people are peering into the trees!” “Pull over, Harold, pull over.”)
Then someone whispers the magic word: BEAR. The crowd presses forward with feverish anticipation of an ursine sighting. People start snapping photos of NOTHING and hoisting small children onto their shoulders.
I know for a fact that this can happen, because I am a curious twit. I nearly rode my bicycle into a ditch while I was busy scanning a hillside for a peek at what everybody else was looking at, which turned out to be NOTHING.
The way I figure it, some tourist with an overactive imagination spotted a dark-colored blob in the underbrush of the greening aspens and stopped for a closer look. He pointed out the alleged bear, aka boulder, to his wife and the situation escalated out of control in a matter of minutes.
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I arrived on the scene fairly early and quickly noted there wasn’t so much as a squirrel rustling around on the hillside. I’m pretty sure I’d have noticed a 400-pound mammal making tracks away from the amassing morons below.
By the time I left, traffic was stopped in both directions and gawkers were hanging out the windows of their SUVs in hopes of seeing something. Gladys was headed back to the car to grab the binoculars.
I was back on my bicycle when inspiration struck. We want tourists. Tourists want bears. How much simpler can it be?
Aspen just chucked one marketing campaign so it can throw hundreds of thousands of dollars into some new attempt to lure tourists to town. Instead, we ought to be luring the bears. The tourists will follow.
Here we are locking up our garbage when we ought to be leaving platefuls of macaroni and cheese on the mall every night. Aspen can be the land of milk and honey again if we just leave a little of both on our doorsteps.
The next time we send postcards to sensation seekers in target markets, make sure there’s a picture of a bear on the front: “There’s fun and excitement a-bruin in Aspen!”
Maybe we could get a dancing bear for the mall. You know, one that wouldn’t maul anybody and could pose for pictures with the kiddies.
For the winter ad campaign, we switch to polar bears. Last year, we spent beaucoup bucks telling potential visitors they’d find their inner sexy self here. If we think they’re gullible enough to buy that, surely we can market our polar bears. Or, just tell them that black bears turn white for the winter.
We need advertisements that show ecstatic skiers reveling in a glimpse of a polar bear on the slopes.
Then, when they get here, we just have a few well-compensated conspirators (I’m up to the task) stop along the edge of a ski run and point excitedly into the woods. Satisfied guests will go home swearing they saw a polar bear in Aspen.
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