Mountain Town News: What do our statues say about us and our ideals? |

Mountain Town News: What do our statues say about us and our ideals?

ASPEN, Colo. – Two years ago this June, a 21-year-old white supremacist slipped into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and after praying with the parishioners, all of whom were black, he shot and killed nine of them.

The shooting reignited the long-simmering conversation about symbols. The convicted killer, Dylan Roof, had posed for photos with the flag of the Confederacy. While some argued that the flag represented regional pride, others had said no, that the Confederacy was all about preserving slavery, and in particular the slavery of black people.

That conversation continued in 2015 the month after the massacre in a riveting session at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Walter Isaacson, then the chief executive of the Aspen Institute, interviewed jazz giant Wynton Marsalis and Jon Batiste, soon to be the band leader for the Stephen Colbert Show. Isaacson is white, the two musicians are black, but all three are natives of New Orleans.

For decades there had been discussion in New Orleans about whether 19th century statues that paid tribute to Confederate leaders should be toppled. The most prominent statue honors Robert E. Lee, the leading Confederate general, while others honored Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and another general, P.G.T. Beauregard.

Marsalis said he believed the Robert E. Lee statue had to go. Lee had never fought for New Orleans, and the statue was erected decades after the Civil War during a time when whites were abolishing the bi-racial government and reasserting white supremacy.

A statue at a city’s center should celebrate what that city is about, said Marsalis. A statue honoring a general of the Confederacy, which was first and foremost about preserving slavery, should not be what New Orleans is about.

The principle is true in New Orleans, he went on to say, but also more broadly across the United States.

“Our history has both strains, a strain of terrible and ignorant things and the strain of wonderful things,” Marsalis said. “So the question of our symbols is always important because your symbols will determine what aspect of your personality do you choose to embody.”

We need to choose our symbols well, he went on to say.

“When all of our symbols are a celebration of smallness, it will lead us to doing things that are small. When our symbols are big, they will lead us to big things,” he said.

Earlier this month, New Orleans began toppling its statues.

“These monuments have stood not as historic or educational markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in celebration of it,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who had been to Aspen for the Ideas Festival. “I believe we must remember all of our history, but we need not revere it.”

First to be removed in the dark of night by workers wearing bullet-proof vests was a statue erected to honor the white supremacist of the late 19th century who had imposed segregation and Jim Crow laws. Landrieu called it the most odious of all the statues. Then the Jefferson Davis statue came down, and by the time you read this, those honoring the two generals may have been removed.

In the Aspen area, a resident took to Facebook to share his conflicted feelings. Ken Neubecker said he had ancestors who had fought on both sides of the Civil War, and he thought they all meant well. But those who died fighting for the Confederacy were “wrong, damn wrong, and deserve no such honor as a monument.”

Robert E Lee, if a brilliant soldier and devoted to the South, was also “wrong. Very wrong. He himself recognized that in his last years.”

Even Aspen has a statue on the grounds of the Pitkin County courthouse. It consists of a male soldier, rifle in hand, dressed in what appears to be the clothing and hat of a Union soldier. The text, however, is neutral, honoring “soldiers of 1861-1865.” Megan Cerise Winn, archive technician at the Aspen Historical Society, says the local cemetery has a Civil War section, with soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

In 1901, the Aspen Democrat observed the dwindling number of Civil War veterans. “As the survivors of the rebellion go down one by one into the grave, the bitterness and rancor of those terrible days dwindle away and the bond of good fellowship binds the veterans of the blue and the gray more closely together. All the spite and venom of the days when Yank and Rebel clashed together have died out, and nothing remains but the spirit of brotherly love.”

Perhaps the newspaper spoke too soon.

Park City adopts ban on

free plastic grocery bags

PARK CITY, Utah – Jennifer Gardner got ridiculous to make a point. Appearing before the Park City Council, she wore a wig fashioned out of plastic bags.

She told the city council that if plastic bags were prohibited, people will learn to use reuseable bags. “It is not a big deal. We will all just learn,” she said.

And the council agreed, putting the kibosh on single-use plastic bags such as are given out by grocery stores. The law will apply principally to three larger grocery stores in Park City.

A memo given the city council by the town’s sustainability officer said more than 230 such bans had been adopted by municipalities or county governments in the United States. As well, two states have banned plastic bags: Hawaii and California.

Among ski towns, Telluride was the first to adopt a ban. It was followed by Aspen, Breckenridge and Vail, among others.

In Vail, there were a “few hiccups and a couple of bumps,” says Kristen Bertuglia, the town’s director of sustainability, “but it was really not the big catastrophe that many people thought it would be.”

Vail bans plastic bags but allows grocery stores to sell paper bags, at a cost of 10 cents each. The money goes to a fund for recycling. Before the ban began in August 2015, stores were giving out 3.5 million plastic shopping bags a year. There has been some gains in the sale of the paper bags, about 300,000 a year.

Locals quickly adapted, and lodges have been supportive by providing reusable bags to their patrons with the brands of their hostelries. If all else fails, customers can buy reusable bags at the stores for just $1.

If Vail’s ban hasn’t resulted in any lessening of the expanding swirl of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, it has “drastically reduced” the plastic bags found in Vail. “We just don’t see the plastic base waste we used to see, hung up in bushes or trees or in Gore Creek,” says Bertuglia.

The Park Record reports pushback at the public meeting from the Utah Food Industry Association. One prediction is that the Utah Legislature will override Park City’s ban. Legislators in neighboring Idaho and several other states have adopted laws precluding local authority to enact bans.

Like many other plastic bans, Park City’s new law exempts a great many plastic bags, including those used to package bulk items, wrap flowers, and cover dry-cleaned clothes.

Gateway town hoping to

lessen wildlife attractions

CANMORE, Alberta – A new law seeks to make Canmore, at the gateway to Banff National Park, less attractive to bears and other wildlife.

The new law makes feeding wildlife subject to a $500 fine, while failing to remove fruit that has fallen from a tree can result in a $100 fine. Same goes for having a bird feeder or nectar accessible to wildlife.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook says that crabapple trees have become a magnet for black bears, with upwards of 20 bruins being captured and removed from the community in 2016.

A volunteer program has had great success, with people at 30 homes volunteering to have their fruit trees removed.

Aspen raising age for

purchase of tobacco

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen’s elected officials last week took the first step to making the city the first municipality in Colorado to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.

This in accordance with a nationwide effort called Tobacco 21 initiative that aims to match the legal age for purchasing tobacco with that of liquor.

If approved at a second and final hearing in June, reports the Aspen Times, it will take effect Jan. 1.

“I have two boys between the ages of 18 and 21, and (I) very much support this,” Councilman Art Daily said.

Dr. Harvey Mitchell told council members that 90 percent of lifelong smokers started before they were 18. He said studies show that 8.6 percent of Colorado high school-aged residents are daily smokers, while 26 percent say they have tried e-cigarettes.

The city also received separate letters supporting the age raise from Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy, Aspen Valley Hospital CEO David Ressler and Aspen Chamber Resort Association president Debbie Braun.

The ordinance would apply to purchases not only of tobacco products, but such nicotine devices as vaporizers and e-cigarettes.

Both Hawaii and California have specified 21 as the minimum age for tobacco purchase. There are at least 225 U.S. localities, the majority in Massachusetts, with the same standard, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

More wet in Sierra winter this

year than last four combined

TRUCKEE, Calif. – After getting 714 inches of snow, Squaw Valley and adjoining Alpine Meadows will be open until at least the July 4th weekend, and possibly later. The June operations will be limited to weekends.

That’s a lot of snow, but less than was recorded in 1983. The precipitation—which includes rain as well as the water in snow — is a record, however in the portion of the Sierra Nevada where Squaw and other Truckee-Tahoe resorts are located.

“That it was wet this winter in California is an understatement,” says Climate Central. The news agency points to new data from the NASA Earth Observatory that “reveals just how extreme this winter was while also putting the four bone-dry years preceding it in perspective.”

The winter snow water equivalent in April was greater than the total snow water equivalent measurements taken on the same date from 2013-16 combined. This is for the Tuolumne River Basin. The river originates in Yosemite National Park.

Durango official cited in

federal methane debate

DURANGO, Colo. – A county commissioner from a mountain county in Colorado may have had an important role in a major climate change issue.

The Trump administration wanted to roll back rules that sought to prevent venting, flaring and leaks associated with oil and natural gas production on federal and Indian lands. Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas that can trap heat 23 times more effectively as measured over a century than the more common dioxide.

Siding with Democrats to block the rollback were three Republicans, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, from Arizona. The New York Times reported that Gwen Lachelt, a county commissioner from La Plata County, where Durango is located, buttonholed McCain in a Senate elevator to tell him that county residents have suffered from methane pollution drifting from New Mexico.

“I’m not taking credit for swaying Senator McCain’s vote, but I told him that right across the state line from my county are 35,000 oil and gas wells in New Mexico,” she said. “We all share an airshed and the winds that bring methane pollution our way, and without this federal rule, I have no way as a county commissioner to protect the people in my county. In the Four Corners, we all live under the largest methane cloud.”

Green Party makes big

strides in B.C. elections

WHISTLER, B.C. – The Green Party in British Columbia achieved a triumph, of sorts, in last week’s provincial elections. The party gained almost 17 percent of the popular vote, managing to get three party members of the total 87 members of the provincial governing body.

In the corridor between Vancouver and Whistler, the Greens did even better, taking nearly 29 percent of the vote.

Clare Ogilvie, editor of Whistler’s Pique newsmagazine, asserts that the election took the Greens “from obscurity to legitimacy.” She says that the Green Party was aided by the endorsement of David Suzuki, the well-known environmentalist. But the Green party has broadened its agenda.

“More and more, the electorate is considering that voting Green is not just voting for climate-change issues; it is voting for a party that has a full platform on education, social issues, the economy and more.”

Where the Green Party can help, she says, is in ending the grizzly bear trophy hunt. “It is simply morally wrong to hunt these animals in this day and age,” she writes.

Jasper thinks it wants growth,

Suzuki thinks not so much

JASPER, Alberta – Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland recently shared his thoughts abut the state of the municipality, and he made the case that Jasper, like Banff, needs to be treated differently by the government of Alberta.

The two municipalities, located within national parks, do not have the ability to expand revenues because they are landlocked, he said, according to a report in the Jasper Fitzhugh.

“Jasper doesn’t have the opportunity to fund on the basis of growth. We have a municipal boundary established in federal legislation and even within that fixed boundary we face a commercial development cap. Real assessment growth in our municipality is negligible,” said Ireland.

Property taxes in Jasper are the major source for municipal operations. Taxes discussed – but unavailable to the government—are a real estate transfer tax and a tourism levy, which is similar to a sales tax. Most ski towns in Colorado are fueled by sales tax collections.

“We can’t finance tomorrow on the basis of today’s growth.”

If not responding directly to Ireland’s comments, David Suzuki, in a column published in Whistler’s Pique, would seem to be arguing against the mayor’s core logic about economic growth. He makes the case for a shorter work week—and yes, with less disposable income—as a way to “break the cycle of constant consumption and allowing people to focus on things that matter — like friends, family and time in nature.”

Less work would also reduce rush-hour traffic and gridlock, which contribute to pollution and climate change. It could help reduce stress and the health problems that come from modern work practices, such as sitting for long hours at computers.

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