Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Where Research and Tourism Collide" -- in Rural Colorado and elsewhere

See the NYT story under that headline, which is about Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado here. The sub-head is "Tourism Creates a Speed Bump for Remote Laboratories' Field Sites."

Gothic isn't even a Census Designated Place on the Census Bureau website, and nearby Crested Butte is a rural resort with a population of just 1,529. Author Michelle Nijhuis describes the latter has having evolved from a place where you couldn't buy a T-shirt or a coffee mug in the 1960s, "reborn as a skiing and mountain-biking mecca today [with] rows of boutique shops and easy mountain access."

Here's a quote from the story that summarizes the rub not only between science and tourism, but also between wildlife and entertainment, between old and new and -- in a sense-- between rural and urban.

Founded in 1928 on the site of an abandoned silver-mining town, the independent lab attracts students and scientists from around the world. Working beside a 12,625-foot peak reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral, researchers have gathered decades of data on stream insects, salamanders, marmots and the flowering schedules of alpine plants.

“The whole lab works in one way or another on essentially long-term experiments,” said Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, who has studied butterfly populations in and around the laboratory since 1960. Global warming has sharpened scientific interest in these unusually long data sets, which reveal climate-induced changes that cannot be seen in shorter studies.

But the tourism in Crested Butte, which can bring as many as 750 vehicles a day through the laboratory, creates problems for the researchers and that which they are studying. Birds are more likely to abandon their nests; unleashed dogs trounce field experiments, and road dust is so thick it impedes wildlife observation. Long-studied creatures are sometimes killed by speeding vehicles.

The story also gives other examples of where such interests collide: Mt. Palmer in Antarctica and the Desert Laboratory near Tuscon. In the latter, it is another urban interest, suburban and exurban growth, that is decimating the natural laboratory.

I've written some about whether rural resorts, more common in the West than elsewhere, are truly rural or not. I've also lamented some consequences of this urban use of the rural, but this story presents a new twist. In spite of my suggestion above about research interests being synonymous with the rural, I realize that it's not quite as simple as that. In this instance, though, rural interests seem more closely aligned with those of the laboratory than with wealthy urban folks seeking a faux-rural playground.

1 comment:

mohammed said...

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