Art Project Threatens the Arkansas River

Written by: Greg Felt, guide service manager, ArkAnglers

Christo Arkansas River

The proposed Over the River project would suspend fabric eight to
twenty feet over Colorado’s scenic Arkansas River.

AP Photo/Christo

The artist Christo Javacheff, creator of The Gates project in Central Park, has proposed a massive industrial-scale art project for Colorado’s Arkansas River. First envisioned in 1992, Over the River would suspend translucent fabric panels above 5.8 miles of the river in several segments along the 45 miles of Bighorn Sheep Canyon. While the artist’s vision may seem compelling, the nuts and bolts of making it happen are quite another matter. The recently released Final Environmental Impact Statement, published by the US Bureau of Land Management, notes threats to fishery health and the riparian zone, as well as “significant adverse impacts” to access for the angling public and to the economic viability of the region’s angling industry. The report notes that more than 9,000 anchor holes will be drilled in or adjacent to the riparian zone in order to support the 1,100 cables that will cross the river at eight to twenty feet off the water. And while the impacts have been analyzed and clearly described, the BLM has required no mitigation for these impacts in its support for the project.

The Over the River project as proposed would take two years to construct, two to four weeks to display, and about a year to dismantle. During that period, angling access would be severely curtailed; this on a river that was recently found by a Division of Wildlife survey to be the most popular fishery in Colorado. Opponents of the project, including ArkAnglers, LLC and Arkansas River Fly Shop, have filed a lawsuit in district court against the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Division of Parks and Wildlife. The complaint alleges that the DNR ignored its own regulations and established processes in a rush to approve use of state lands by Over the River prior to release of the Environmental Impact Statement. In addition to the previously mentioned impacts, the report projects impacts to terrestrial, avian, and aquatic wildlife.

christo_8

This artist’s view shows what the project would look like to the river’s many users,
including rafters, fly fishermen, and fishing guides.

photo from overtheriverinfo.com

In a recent press release, Christo Javacheff, President of the Over the River Corporation, had this to say about the recent BLM issuance of a Final Environmental Impact Statement, “[T]his is a significant milestone for us and for artists everywhere who want to create art on public lands.” Even if you rarely get to fish the Arkansas, you may find projects of similar impact proposed for your home waters as a result of this approval.

Arkansas River Fly Shop proprietor and ArkAnglers co-owner, Rod Patch, had the following comments on the approval: “The project as proposed would cause irreparable harm to a high-desert riparian ecosystem and threaten the health of the fishery. Anglers will be kept away from the river by private security and access to State Park sites will be controlled by the artist. The list of impacts is extensive, but anyone with any business managing natural resources would throw a red flag at the drilling component of this project. 9,100 holes in and adjacent to the riparian zone…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

For those who would like to weigh in on this project, the following contacts are useful:

Mike King, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources
Mike.king@state.co.us

Rick Cables, Director of Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife
Rick.cables@state.co.us

John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado
Use the input form here.

Keith Berger, Royal Gorge Region Manager, US Bureau of Land Management
kberger@blm.gov

Ken Salazar, US Secretary of the Interior
exsec@ios.doi.gov

Greg Felt is guide service manager for ArkAnglers.

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