Jim Webster: Think smart, be respectful when considering visitor growth in Steamboat
Trying to limit visitor growth to Steamboat would be a little like trying to control the Great Serengeti Wildebeest Migration in East Africa. You just might get run over by the Wildebeests or eaten by a crocodile in the Yampa, if you stand in the way.
With the return of global economic growth, visitors are overrunning tourist destinations worldwide. It is not a trend peculiar to Steamboat. We should be thankful we do not have cruise boats docking here and unloading thousands of tourists to wander the streets and trails.
This surge of visitors is truly a worldwide phenomenon resulting from aging populations, greater prosperity, cultural changes and availability of many different affordable travel options. Just how would you limit growth if you were in charge? Create bonfires to put smoke in the valley? Hold vigilante rallies against non-locals? Put up laws to restrict the number of golf tournaments, balloon festivals, bikers and marathons?
I think you get the idea that trying to stop growth is an effort in futility and could be downright dangerous to your health. In fact, it is somewhat disingenuous for those who are well off and retired here to promote a view that could be destructive to younger people earning a living.
All of this is not to say that we should be careless about how we manage our town, our roads, our air and our trails. We need appropriate speed limits and synchronized traffic lights. We should paint lines and warnings on the core trail to separate walkers and bikers. (The core trail is downright dangerous for walking people. I am surprised there are not more accidents.)
We need places for dogs to roam off leash away from wild animals and non-dog loving people. We need to educate visitors on using the Yampa and hire personnel to enforce our rules. Our building codes should be stringent, and we should be stingy about allowing variations. We should provide notices about disposing of trash correctly so bears are not provided a source of human food.
If we could move the post office, it would likely remove some traffic congestion, which will only get worse with the expansion of Old Town Hot Springs and more growth. Getting Ski Time Square developed would divert some people from the downtown core. Extending the core trail would spread out the people more. Reducing the number of waste management companies and/or the number of overlapping routes would be more efficient and less wasteful.
Just like the Serengeti Wildebeest migration happens every year so will the annual flow of visitors to Steamboat. I suggest our institutions and businesses make a real effort to be smart about how they cater to our visitors.
I am hopeful all concerned will be respectful and courteous to locals and visitors alike. Otherwise those crocodiles in the Serengeti might not distinguish a local from a Wildebeest.
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