Point: Springs upgrade would be South Canyon’s destruction | PostIndependent.com

Point: Springs upgrade would be South Canyon’s destruction

Jim Olp
Guest Opinion

"Development" is a synonym for destruction. What Steve Beckley is proposing and City Council is considering for South Canyon is nothing less than the utter and permanent destruction of some of the most hallowed but least regarded assets the city has.

These include:

Wildlife refuge and habitat

Over the 45 years I have hiked and explored every nook and cranny of South Canyon, I have observed virtually every species of wildlife in Colorado. This includes bears, lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, elk, deer, hawks, eagles and all of the small critters as well as migrating moose and a possible lynx.

This is only a partial list and does not include the wide variety of birds and species variations that live there. In particular, the Canyon has healthy populations of bears, beaver, turkeys and minks.

For the past decade, South Canyon Creek near the hot springs Mr. Beckley wants to "develop," has been home to families of beaver. Within weeks of the start of development, they will no doubt evacuate forever. Other species will unavoidably be permanently displaced, disturbed and/or destroyed. It is inevitable that many current native residents of the Canyon will be controlled (i.e., killed) to enable human activity.

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Glenwood Springs historical foundations

A hundred years ago South Canyon had a population of 300 to 600 people involved in coal mining. In addition to the mine-related structures, there was a railroad, homes, bath house, post office and the other facilities which comprise a community. Vestiges of these structures are still there today, spread from the river up the Canyon. This represents a significant part of our heritage, which the city has pretty much ignored since it purchased the land in 1956.

Much of this will invariably be disturbed, obliterated, paved over, and generally ignored in the process of new development.

Is this important? Clearly, the answer depends upon your values. Many long-term Glenwood families originated in South Canyon Coal Camp. Over the years, I and others have led historic tours here. Professor Sandy Jackson from CMC has taught archaeology classes in the Canyon using the many historic artifacts. Willa Kane has written numerous articles in the Glenwood Post Independent describing individuals, social life and various structures in here.

Clearly, we all think our history is important. Equally clearly, Mr. Beckley and possibly the current City Council do not.

Low-impact recreation

The Canyon already provides opportunities for low-impact recreation.

We have the informal snow sledding area, archery range, hiking, horseback riding, cross country skiing, wildlife observation, fishing and soaking in the hot springs, as well as CMC archeology classes. Every single day there are opportunities for wildlife viewing, exploring our history and simply enjoying the peace and quiet of an undeveloped, wild, serene and scenic area. All of this will be lost!

There are possibilities for similar relatively low-impact activities including a new bike trail.

Sometime after purchase, the city designated South Canyon as a "Wilderness Park." In 1994, the city reaffirmed the wild character of the Canyon, officially classifying it as a "natural environment area." Now, the current council is considering running roughshod over these long-standing designations in the name of "development."

If Mr. Beckley wants to do something for South Canyon and show his good citizenship, let him create a foundation to support this "natural environment area" and promote no- or low-impact activities for human enjoyment.

Such an organization could:

• Resurrect and expand the historical information signs city planning employee Mike Pelletier created years ago.

• Create opportunities to teach children and adults about wildlife and their habitats.

• Create other environmental education opportunities.

• Conduct tours of the historic sites.

• Encourage police patrols through the Canyon to stop the illegal activities.

• Hire a full-time docent/wildlife expert/security guard to oversee Canyon activities.

• Eliminate illegal dumping sites, roadside shooting and illegal camp sites along the road.

• Explore other low-impact activities in the Canyon.

Opportunities for enjoying and developing South Canyon are many and they need not include destruction, construction and permanent elimination of the valuable assets we already have there.

The "sketchiness" John Stroud refers to in his article of Jan. 20 has little to do with the environment of the Canyon itself and everything to do with multiple city councils over decades that have time and again refused to spend money and make the commitment to preserving and protecting this precious resource. Robin Millyard, public works director, described the council's policy toward South Canyon as one of "benign neglect."

Over the decades, the results have certainly been those of neglect, but there is nothing "benign" about it. The so-called sketchiness is a direct result of that long standing policy.

Is the Council now ready to stand up and take responsibility for this resource, to do what they have never done before, namely preserve and protect the "natural environment area" the city designated so many years ago?

Again, "development" under the Beckley proposal means destruction of this land, these animals, an important part of our history, the natural beauty, and even the slightly "sketchy" hot springs we have enjoyed for decades. The primary thing being developed here is Mr. Beckley's pocketbook!

Jim Olp of Glenwood Springs is a longtime environmental activist, periodic CMC instructor and former director of the Conservation Science Center of Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies, a scientific research and education foundation in Yellowstone National Park.