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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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In the book Vacationland: Tourism and Environment in the Colorado High Country, author William Philpott highlights how the Colorado high country was impacted by post-war tourism and essentially how tourism shaped the Rocky Mountain natural environment and infrastructure. Tourism was adopted as an American norm after the second world war and created a desire to explore for many citizens of the United States. It had brought new infrastructure to the high country and provided positive aspects towards post world war restoration. Environmentally, tourism caused collateral damage because people thought that after the war, the sense of escape was the ideal norm and the environment was becoming the new popular resource. Philpott makes the claim that “placemaking yielded far more than tourist traffic and tourist dollars - it helped create a new kind of environmental consciousness.” Although people were becoming more interested in exploring the natural world, they were unaware of the negatives with this new kind of commodification. We can argue that the development of ski towns like Aspen and Vail, species being over hunted and overfished, the road systems and more were all negative impacts on the high country of Colorado during this time.

To begin, Tourism was an idea that was introduced to provide them a sense of getaway, and vacation. Like many people believed after the war, minerals, timber, and other resources were now worth less whereas the environment was the new commodity. While people were becoming more interested in outdoor activities, they assisted the neglected mining towns with an influx of visitors looking to explore the high country. However as people were increasingly being introduced to the landscapes of mountain towns, they altered the state of the environments they explored. Humans were evolving in industrialization, and the entire American population was set on creating a place for Americans to vacation. Clear-cutting forests to create ski lifts, resorts and roads was a major downfall of the post-war tourism era because by removing trees, it is disturbing the native environment in which plants and animals live, as well as causing increased risks for environmental damage such as a higher chance for avalanches and runoff. Philpott makes the claim that because of increased popularity for outdoor leisure and desire, that more and more mountains in the high country “began to bear unmistakable clear-cut scars down their sides.”

Not only was deforestation a problem that the environment faced, but the example of overfishing the Trout species also became an environmental drawback that came from the influx of tourists. Philpott states that fishing is an outdoor activity for people who want to feel tranquil when they are outside. In response to a growing popular activity, Game and Fish officials began introducing hatchery fish in the St. Louis Creek, having the animals “existing solely to swallow lures and please tourists” near popular centers and resorts. State fish managers, in this case, were not focused on preserving the ecosystems of the fish or protecting the case of rare species being fished but were more so directed at advertising the production of fish to catch people's attention and cause an increase in market welfare for mountain business owners. Not only that, but it also caused an increase of tourists to the area, giving way to more environmental issues.

With an increased number of visitors yearly and people having a stronger desire to connect with the natural world, the introduction of a road system was a vital part for bringing more tourists to the forgotten mountain towns in replacement of traditional railways. Cars were becoming more and more popular as an alternative method of transportation, and “Americans began to celebrate the freedom of automobility.” People wanted to see the beauty of the natural world and in response, mountain towns that were once home to the mining industry were being revived. However, roads “were built with tourism prominently in mind” and essentially redefined the regional geography of the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. Roads were being constructed and grew more towards being a key element for influencing and rediscovering the scattered mountain towns in the Colorado high country. Road construction had changed the environment however because by constructing them, it is changing the landscape, and destroying native species habitats in replacement for miles of asphalt. Not only that, but cars also changed the environment because they are contributors to many pollution sources, including light, sound, and chemical.

Overall, tourism had brought a variety of negative connotations with the natural environment and manipulated how people view the natural world. During this time, the regional geography of the Rocky Mountains was being overrun by people looking to get away from reality, and populated by people who desired good marketing and business for the growing popularity of outdoor leisure. Tourism has several underlying elements to make it negative in regards to the environment, and the Colorado high country was becoming more and more urbanized due to the spike in tourist attraction. Even in the decades after the world war ended, people were afraid that “bringing too many people and too much development to the high country landscapes” was not something that a fragile environment like the high country can withstand.

For example, the mountain town of Vail experienced a man-made resort fire causing debris to cover most of the back bowls, and locations where chairlifts and other buildings were standing. This occurred due to a reaction towards Vail Associate's plans to expand ski terrain to national forest grounds where the native Canada lynx inhabited. By wanting to destruct national forest grounds and disturb the environment, environmentalists reacted and disturbed the environment further by responding to the problem in an illegal way. Slowly, the high country was being manipulated by people with specific recreational ideas that would disrupt the natural environment and people who fit the environmentalist stereotype in which they portray themselves to be advocates but instead respond to an issue in a way that is also damaging, as seen with the Two Elk fire.

Likewise to the national forest issue in Vail, preservation was an important part towards environmental management and reduction of environmental damage. However, people had a mindset in which they wanted to urbanize and use the natural world as a commodity. For example, the Glen Canyon dam was an environmental idea to allow water flow into southwestern states. Once environmentalist groups had overheard about the project, they explored the region where the dam would be constructed and “discovered the magnificent scenery that soon would be lost under Lake Powell.” This made environmental advocates frustrated and lead the Glen Canyon dam to represent and symbolize “much that environmentalists oppose, and they see in it and in Lake Powell the major forces threatening the desert country.” Just as stated with the environmental degradation due to the development of ski towns, the road systems, and the disturbance of native species such as the Trout and the Canada Lynx, Glen Canyon faced some of the same problems with the development of the dam. By developing a dam in a canyon, it is disrupting more native species of plants and animals, degrading the environment with the introduction of non-degradable resources, and limiting room for environmental growth through a manmade project proves that with increased human populations, not only in the high country but the western United States, humans have a negative impact with recreation and urban development in natural places that were inaccessible before the war.

In conclusion, this manipulates how we view tourism in a negative manner. Although the idea of vacation after years of destruction called American citizens to take action and explore what the world has to offer, it destroyed our environment in the process and lead us to believe that tourism was a good thing. Tourism overall corrupted the simplicity of the natural world with the introduction to recreation and activity and served as a vital part in restructuring the economy within the forgotten mining towns in the mountains. This changes how we view tourism because like every global citizen, we have a strong desire to explore the unknown, just as post world war tourism obliged. Philpott's analysis of how the Colorado high country was manipulated by post-war tourism is something that needs to be discussed to preserve our future environment. Although tourism brings people in from all across the United States, the development of ski towns, road systems and more caused a physical transformation of the landscape and therefore, altered the relationship between the natural world, and humans.

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