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Christo's Panels Threaten Arkansas River

Christo's Panels Threaten Arkansas River
Bighorn Sheep Canyon on Colorado's Arkansas River would ge one of the areas draped by artwork.

Public outcry is the only hope to halt this ill-conceived industrial project.

On August 10 Greg Felt and Rod Patch, owner operators of Arkanglers Arkansas River Fly Shop in Salida, Colorado wrote an urgent letter to Bruce Olsen, sales director of Umpqua Feather Merchants, outlining the imminent threat to the Arkansas River posed by an industrial artwork project proposed by Christo Jav

Bighorn Sheep Canyon on Colorado's Arkansas River would ge one of the areas draped by artwork.

acheff that will, if finally approved by state and federal governmental officials, close a long stretch of the river to public fishing while jack hammers drill holes for 9100 anchors to hold cables that will suspend 5.9 miles of "art" panels from 8 to 20 feet off the surface of Bighorn Sheep Canyon. No pedestrian traffic will be allowed for three years for one half mile upstream and downstream of the construction sites. This is public land( federal) that currently provides 60 miles of publicly accessed fishing on one of the top aquatic insect- and wild-trout-rich streams in the U.S. (It's the top river in the Rocky Mountain West for annual fly-fishers use, and one of the best dry-fly rivers I have ever fished.) And, as Rod Patch points out, the Christo project, though planned quietly for many years, was sprung on the public for comment only in late July, 2011, with just one month for public comment (which closed Aug 30), leaving one last hope for comment and challenge to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission before Sept. 15, 2011. We urge all fly fishers who cherish the last remaining blue-ribbon wild-trout waters of North America, and particularly the Arkansas River, to immediately contact the Commission members and other agencies listed below, voicing your opinions, in a last public effort to halt this industrial project. Please read the Felt/Patch letter below for details on the project.

ArkAnglers, LLC

7500 W. Highway 50

Salida, CO 81201


Bruce Olson

Umpqua Feather Merchants

August 10, 2011

Dear Bruce,


The industrial scale art project proposed by the artist Christo Javacheff and his Over the River Corporation (OTR) will significantly impact the Arkansas River corridor from Salida, Colorado downstream to Canon City.  The artist proposes to suspend 5.9 miles of fabric panels over several segments of a 45-mile reach of the river, 8-20 feet off the surface in areas of prized public fishing access. In order to anchor the cables that will support the fabric, OTR must drill 9100 anchor holes within and adjacent to the riparian zone.  These holes must be drilled by large industrial machines that require hazardous and toxic fluids to operate and maintain.  Most of the anchors will be left behind according to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The holes will be grouted in with the rock dust generated from the drilling and mortar to match the surrounding rocks. This is being proposed for an area of Bighorn Sheep Canyon that the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission has designated a no-drill zone because of a fragile Bighorn Sheep population. And according to the FEIS, "Restoration of native habitats, specifically riparian and wetland habitats, may extend beyond five years" (FEIS 4.28).

During the construction, exhibition, and dismantling phases of the project, an estimated three-year period, no pedestrian access will be allowed half a mile upstream and downstream of the sites. This includes wade-fishing access. According to the FEIS, "Recreational angling will be significantly affected in an adverse way".

Arkanglers has attempted to resolve fishery health and public fishing access issues with Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and Colorado Division of Wildlife (recently combined as the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife). Both agencies have acknowledged the negative impacts but have failed to address them.

Arkanglers has made repeated attempts to discuss these important issues with the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM has never returned any of our calls and did not adequately address our written comments. We believe strongly that the fishery and the angling public are going to be hurt if this project is approved.  We also believe that the BLM has marginalized the angling public and has overlooked the needs of the fishery.  This is unacceptable! We need your help.

As a result of the response received from state and federal government, ArkAnglers became a party to a lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Natural Resources regarding the manner in which their representatives negotiated a deal with the Over The River Corporation. Simply put, OTR committed to pay $550,000 toward the costs Parks will incur managing their project and Colorado State Parks agreed to allow them free reign in Bighorn Sheep Canyon.

We believe the State Parks Board erred when they signed this Memorandum of Agreement with OTR, applying a more lenient standard to OTR than they do to rafting or fishing outfitters when analyzing the environmental impacts of the proposal. We are asking the judge for a level playing field, to require OTR to adhere to the same standards and practices to which we are held, and to ensure all impacts are mitigated and that existing holders of Special Use Agreements with Colorado State Parks are not adversely affected by the permitting of this new activity in Bighorn Sheep Canyon.

In response to a recent email from us, and to a story about our lawsuit that went out on the AP wire, many of our guests and customers have contacted us asking how they can help protect the fishery and the fishing experience in the canyon. We think there is still a window of opportunity to influence the outcome of this situation.

Prior to the merger of Colorado State Parks and Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Wildlife Commission sent a letter to the BLM admonishing them for considering this project despite the significant impacts projected for bighorn sheep, raptors, fishery health, angling access, and to the "fishing industry". Shortly thereafter, the State Parks Board entered into the previously described Memorandum of Agreement with OTR. There seemed to be a tacit understanding between the two bodies that each had spoken on the issue and that was the end of it, as if a peaceful beginning for the entity that resulted from their merger was more important than the substantive issues that each body had previously faced.

With our lawsuit in place, however, the Parks and Wildlife Commission will be forced to revisit the issue and therein lies the opportunity for influence. We encourage interested individuals to contact members of the Commission, to thank the former Wildlife Commission members for the stand they took and encourage them to hold their ground, and to question the former Parks Board members on their support of the MOA with Over The River Corporation.

This is a time-sensitive matter because the combined commission is scheduled to meet and discuss this lawsuit September 15-16 in Colorado Springs.

Christo Javacheff, President of the Over the River Corporation, had this to say about the recent BLM issuance of a Final Environmental Impact Statement, "€¦this 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. It is ironic, though, that given the millions of acres of public land that may be available to artists for projects like this, Mr. Javacheff chose the Arkansas River corridor. Not only does it suit his palette, it is also the most popular whitewater river in the world (over 200,000 commercially outfitted guests in 2010). And a recent Division of Wildlife Colorado Angler Survey found the Arkansas River to be the most popular moving water fishery in the state. As you know, the sales reports from Umpqua Feather Merchants support the findings of this survey.

We are ready to assist in any sort of national coverage for this controversy, and can provide links to documents or to government officials involved in the decision-making process. We appreciate your support of our efforts and hope that with your help this natural resource management travesty can be avoided.

Greg Felt and Rod Patch

ArkAnglers/Arkansas River Fly Shop

719-539-4223 Salida Fly Shop

Colorado State Parks and Wildlife Commission

Tim Glenn (Chairman)

Mark Smith

David Brougham

Dorothea Farris

Allan Jones

Gaspar Perricone

John Singleterry

Robert Streeter

Dean Wingfield

Colorado Parks Board

Gary Butterworth

James Pribyl

Lenna Watson

Chris Castilian

Bill Kane     

Non-Voting Members

Mike King,     Executive Director of Department of Natural Resources

John Salazar     Commissioner of Agriculture

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