Mountain Town News: Overtourism in Whistler, and protecting Crested Butte’s funk
September 30, 2017
WHISTLER, B.C. – From Whistler to Crested Butte, the discussion continues about how to make a living from tourism without being overwhelmed by it.
It's a familiar quandary for mountain towns, but now a new word has been coined to capture the dilemma: "overtourism." One website traces the origin of overtourism to a Twitter hashtag in 2012. An Irish website says that overtourism went mainstream in the summer of 2017.
In Whistler, Tourism Whistler has put the issue of sustainable tourism and overtourism on its agenda, reports Pique Newsmagazine. There's an official cap on the bed base in Whistler, but it's being challenged by the invention of ever-more inventive ways to draw new visitors. Vail Resorts, despite its goals of net zero for landfill waste and carbon-based fuel, has a business strategy that's all about constant expansion.
Now, Whistler tourism chiefs are talking about broadening the community's appeal by emphasizing its cultural attractions, including a major new art museum. But the bottom line is the same, observes Pique columnist G.D. Maxwell. "It's designed to leverage culture to put heads in beds."
"Tourism is what we do and we do it well," notes the same newspaper in an editorial. "The challenge now is working to find a balance between providing an outstanding guest experience and supporting a community that people can afford and want to call home."
Whistler still manages to boast that 80 percent of local employees live locally, thanks to a steady effort to build affordable housing. Crested Butte has outgrown its mining town roots and struggles to find room for its employees.
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The answer? Mark Reaman, the long-term editor of the Crested Butte News, offers none, but he does find a current proposal for 240 apartment units suffering from having an "overall mainstream feel" and worries "where it leads Crested Butte as a funky mountain town."
"It doesn't fit with what this place represents. It brings to our front door a taste of what most of us consciously left," he writes. "We proudly live and visit here in the (admitted) bubble specifically not to be in the mainstream. We all enjoy the small town, quirky, high mountain village that is not like everywhere else. We appreciate our unique 'built environment' that really is different from other places — even other mountain towns. We purposely look different. We purposely feel different. Choices made as a community the last several decades have kept it that way," he adds.
"People who choose to live, visit or have a second home up here know it can be a challenge. There is the challenge of isolation, climate, and scale. Not everyone can cut it up here and most who do become fiercely protective of the character they believe helps define the place. Not only does Crested Butte … not want to be like everyplace else, it doesn't aspire to be like other mountain ski towns. Drive along I-70 by Frisco or Vail and you see the apartment projects 'where the workers live.' It is obvious.
"The local politicians and government experts touting this 240-unit project look at an affordable housing need and see a solution on paper. They legitimately see a way to address a public concern and put a check mark on the 'to-do list.' That's not a bad a thing but is single-dimensional. I think they are missing the feel, the intangibles that make Crested Butte what it is. The underlying philosophical problem with this project is that it is a formulaic step that might look good on paper but is another step toward the gentrified mainstream."
Dreamers march to protest Trump's proposed policy
JACKSON, Wyo. – A march on behalf of the American dream was conducted in Jackson on a recent Saturday. But it was a quiet one. Many of the marchers had taped their mouths shut with black X's.
Marchers wanted to bring attention to the Trump administration's vow to end the legal protections for children of immigrants under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The DACA children have been called "dreamers."
Dreamers who had been brought up in Jackson but without legal status were cheered as they walked on the city's streets. "These people are here through no fault of their own," Carol Wauters told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. "They are contributing to our society and our culture, and trying very hard to be responsible people, I think we should reward that instead of punishing them."
The News&Guide told the story most poignantly through the lives of individuals such as Maggie Ordonez. She grew up playing in the park, visiting the local library and delighting in the sugary confections at Jackson's candy store.
Until she was a freshman at Jackson Hole High School, she had no idea she was undocumented. She had arrived in the United States when she was 7.
"I couldn't start taking driver's ed. Things like that, you can't do," she said. "You have to be cautious."
Then came DACA in 2012, offering immigrants who had entered the U.S. illegally as minors protection from deportation and making them eligible for work permits. That allowed Ordonez to get a Social Security number and a Wyoming driver's license, which in turn gave her access to higher-level jobs.
"Sometimes people take these things for granted, but they are basically your identity," she said. "Before DACA, I didn't have any identity. I didn't have anything to show who I am."
In Colorado, Claudia Garcia told much the same story to the Telluride Daily Planet. Arriving in the United States at age 6, she discovered at age 16 she was different than her peers, because she was ineligible to get a driver's license.
Then came DACA, which led to her employment by a Dallas family as a nanny. The family visited Telluride regularly, and that's how she decided to move there, too.
DACA does not deliver her citizenship. She describes it as "somewhere between being undocumented and having a visa — because with a visa you actually have a pathway to citizenship."
This half-way world comes with a price: She must reapply every two years, and it costs her $2,000 in attorney and application fees.
Her bottom line: "I consider myself American, but I just don't have the right documentation."
Jasper to get crosswalk painted in rainbow hues
JASPER, Alberta – Jasper municipal councilors have decided to allow a pedestrian crosswalk painted with the rainbow colors commonly used to identify the gay, lesbian, bi and transgender community.
OUT Jasper, the local applicant, must bear the cost for the painting and maintenance of the crosswalk. Under the new policy adopted by Jasper, it must reapply after two years. Others may also apply for non-standard crosswalks under the new rules, reports the Jasper Fitzhugh.
The rainbow colors actually don't represent sexual identity, but rather beneficial aspects of life, according to Mychol Ormandy, executive director of OUT Jasper. Red is for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, and violet for human spirit — inclusive to everybody, he said.
But one council member, Gilbert Wall, remained opposed — not because he objects to various sexual identities. "I will proudly walk across the rainbow crosswalk. So will my family," he said during a council meeting. But he said he continues to oppose such symbols that reflect group identities as he believes they encourage "divisive politics."
Hotel needs upgrades to stay current with trends
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – The Viceroy Hotel at Snowmass Village has apparently lost the lodging equivalent of that new-car smell only eight years after its opening.
The Aspen Daily News reports the hotel is closed for the fall shoulder season as $3.5 million in upgrades are installed to "keep the property current with luxury hospitality trends and to ensure its continued status as Snowmass's premier hotel."
The upgrades will occur in the public areas and will include efforts to make the lobby "more welcoming and cozy" and a fitness center with "extensive natural light and all new state-of-the-art equipment."
Getting a grip on the size of internet-based rentals
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. – Ski towns of the West continue to struggle with how to deal with the power of internet-based vacation rentals, gaining the benefits but also the revenues while ensuring that neighborhoods don't get trashed.
In South Lake Tahoe, located on the California-Nevada border, city officials recently heard from a Bay Area firm that offers a suite of services designed to manage the vacation home rental sector on behalf of towns, cities and counties.
As reported by Lake Tahoe News, Host Compliance has software that it claims is time-efficient in monitoring the private homes being advertised on the internet for rentals. It monitors primarily the listings on Expedia, Trip-Advisor, Airbnb and their 25 subsidiaries. South Lake Tahoe currently does this manually.
Fluidity characterizes the market of rentals in South Lake Tahoe. For example, 1,832 homes became available for short-term rental in the area last year while 1,488 were de-activated.
The company says its 70 clients in the U.S. can earn three to five times the return of investment through added revenue collection of taxes that above-ground rental businesses must pay for short-term rentals.
Lake Tahoe News says many in South Lake Tahoe complain that ordinances governing short-term rentals have not been enforced.
In Colorado, Crested Butte town officials have decided to charge $750 per property for unlimited short-term rentals and $200 for a license that would go to primary residents who want to rent their homes out for a little extra cash but a maximum of 60 days/nights a year.
In effect, there was no fee before, save for a $100 business license, notes the Crested Butte News. "I think a lot of people will stop doing short-term rentals at the unlimited level when they have to pay $1,500," predicted Councilman Paul Merck.
Snowmass tepidly considers the sale of cannabis products
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – Snowmass Village councilors plan to get the opinions of voters in coming months to see if there is interest in allowing sales of medical marijuana or recreational marijuana, or both.
Colorado began allowing sales of marijuana for recreational purposes in January 2014. A theme quickly emerged. Those towns that tend to be most liberal legalized sales. Sales commenced in Aspen, Crested Butte and Telluride. But their adjacent slope-side towns — Snowmass Village, Mt. Crested Butte and Mountain Village, all more conservative by nature — decided to wait and see.
Increased tax revenues remain attractive to towns, though. Tax collections have increased from $76 million in Colorado in 2014 to $200 million in 2016, according to the July study by a company called VS Strategies.
Meanwhile, cannabis purveyors in Colorado have a new restriction effective Oct. 1. Edibles infused with THC, the primary psychoactive agent of marijuana, cannot be in the shapes of humans, animals or fruits, whether artistic or cartoonish in the renderings.
The goal of the new regulations is to prevent edible cannabis products from being attractive to children. They can still be sold in geometric shapes and with fruit flavors.
Colorado's new rules also require that packaging of edible products contain notice of the marijuana contents in typography that is at least two font sizes larger than the surrounding label text.
Advancing technology will be applied to canyon travel
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – New technology is being deployed on Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon to produce better traffic flows in inclement weather through real-time messaging.
Three weather stations are being installed along with 17 new dual variable-speed limit signs. The intent is to increase the standard speed limit to 60 mph for passenger vehicles and 50 mph for heavy vehicles through the 14-mile canyon, but lower the speed limit as necessary.
Nine closed-circuit cameras will be installed this autumn to aid live monitoring and viewing of roadway conditions, according to a press release issued by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
More charging stations likely as result of Volkswagen case
VAIL, Colo. – Colorado's most heavily used transportation corridors, including Interstate 70, will likely get additional electric charging stations courtesy of the Volkswagen settlement.
Coloradans bought nearly 10,000 Volkswagen diesel vehicles that had software designed to dodge clean air laws. As a result of the lawsuit settlement, Colorado will get $68 million from Volkswagen. Of that, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment envisions spending $10.3 million toward installing at least 60 new electric fast-charging stations.
Last year, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project concluded that the fast-charging stations, spaced 30 to 50 miles apart on Colorado's major highways, would allow drivers to get an 80 percent charge within 20 to 30 minutes.
Thad Noll, the assistant county manager of Summit County, calls the installation of electric charging stations a "game changer" because the infrastructure makes it "more viable for Joe Schmo to own an electric car because the fear of not having a charger is gone."
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