Gustafson: Packaging nature
If that which is untouched is unloved, then as the next generation begins to learn about their environment, our children must touch nature in order to become the future stewards of this planet. Our environment depends on how the children of today connect with and love the Earth.
As kids, my friends and I hiked all over these hills during the summer months. We didn’t always head out on long overnighters or trek the marked trails. We often walked out the door with no destination in mind, saw a hill and felt compelled to reach the top. We waded and bushwhacked our way down Brush Creek; forged through the prickly sagebrush hills that line the area, now known as Sky Mountain Park. We scrambled over the wild rocky fields of the still undeveloped Two Creeks runs. Climbed over the shale-bluffs behind the Snowmass Recreation Center; and explored the hidden Aspen tree stands over the hills near where Public Works now resides. And we all but memorized every inch of Snowmass Mountain.
Our adventures were endless and spontaneous, and our expectations were, well, nonexistent. And that is what seemed to make up an adventure, not knowing what we were in for or where we would end up.
Exploration by definition comes with a desire to simply see what you can see in an unlimited and unpredictable way. The only element that can be anticipated is a unique experience, something that can’t exactly be recreated and usually must be earned. Herman Melville described it best for me, “It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
When you have a wild and unexpected connection or encounter in nature, it urges you to respect its dangers and give pause to appreciate its power and beauty. And what better way to fall in love with something than to touch it and explore, appreciate and respect it. And that we did; in fact, for me, the Earth has never felt like just a resource, or a vessel, it isn’t here to entertain or sustain me. It is a vast and pulsing living creature with which I am in constant awe, and I learned to honor and depend on it by growing up within it. And in turn I feel obligated to protect these environments that I so deeply love.
With an economy that depends on our tourism, we are constantly struggling to bring visitors here, to entertain them and expose them to something unique that will leave them yearning for more. It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to offer a family of vacationers, here for a week, that untamed and wild exposure to which we are still fortunate to have access.
Those layers of free exploration are more pure, they happen organically, especially during the years of early childhood wonder. But every experience doesn’t have to be an adventure. It’s often a fresh breeze tickling the golden aspen treetops in the fall, or the sounds of the spring birds greeting the early mornings in May, or catching a glimpse of a sparkling snowy mountain vista on a bluebird day, or the deep rich smell of soil after a summer’s rain that keep us so well connected here.
We take for granted our rich immersion in nature and forget that for most of the population, city life is the norm. And city parks are the closest things to nature most children have in this day and age.
For those fortunate few who are able to vacation in our backyard, the experience here can be more of a “nature package” that we create for our visitors. Skiing is one package that can offer nature immersion and it is an earned adventure for most. However, with seemingly endless enhancements to mechanical transportation, even beginners can now enjoy mountain-top access.
As new ways to explore our environment arise, I do think we should take care as to how the nature experience is presented. We also are the stewards of this environment and should continue to respect how much we package nature for our visitors.
While we usher visitors onto these mountains, it seems important that the connection to the environment still remains the key focal point of every adventure. It seems like there becomes a point at which we maximize the development of nature adventures and find ourselves at the edge of a slippery slope, in danger of loosing that delicate balance.
Diligence is necessary to avoid toppling over into the realm of Glenwood’s Cavern Adventure Park, where the natural wonders of the Fairy Caves are diminished by man-made manufactured amusement-park appeal. Or even more specifically, I vehemently caution against loosing our integrity and turning our natural wonders into anything close to the Wisconsin Dells.
I believe that the newly proposed alpine coaster and zipline through the trees are well planned, contained and sensitively designed so they will allow some people to explore nature and experience a packaged adventure that they may otherwise not have had the opportunity to experience. And because it is so important to encourage those natural connections, though becoming increasingly harder to have, there is some value in allowing for more manufactured ways of experiencing nature here. However, I would caution against going too far down this rabbit hole. I think there is certainly going to be a point where we reach that “just enough” balance, and as amusing or entertaining as some things may be in other places, we do not need to bring everything here.
Our environment can, and has, sold itself. Our majestic peaks and snow-covered slopes, our sunny summers and wildflower-fields should remain our biggest attraction. Finding ways to encourage people to come and experience this environment is necessary and valuable, not just for our local economy but for our planet, as it assists city folk in learning to love nature.
We are living in a time when becoming immune to, or detached from nature, may result in a willingness to accept claims that global warming isn’t a reality and that our natural environment isn’t at risk. Therefore sharing this beautiful place with others is the best way we can to help encourage the next generation to love and honor nature so that it may outlast us all. Children’s naturalist and author Terry Krautwurst put it best when she wrote, “Our challenge isn’t so much to teach children about the natural world, but to find ways to nurture and sustain the instinctive connections they already carry.”
Let’s be thoughtful so that the places we love the most do not accidentally become the places we loved a little too hard.
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at email@example.com.
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Trails at Sky Mountain Park are officially closed for the season and a COVID-19 testing center reopens at Town Hall. Plus, winter programming is back in action at The Collective.