In 2014, at a time when the American West is being transformed into one vast recreational venue, where every high-risk, adrenalin-induced sport pours more fire (and money) on the tourist/sport economy that benefits from it, where even BASE jumping is being touted as a possible Olympic sport of the future, it’s hard to grasp that there was a time when Westerners turned their backs on this kind of shameless and greedy exploitation. It wasn’t all that long ago, but it feels like it happened in a different world and era.
The XXII Winter Olympic games will begin in Sochi, Russia on February 6. Under heavy security and with unprecedented global coverage, the Games are expected to cost more than $51 BILLION. Cities around the world spend millions just for the opportunity to bid as a host city for games to be played a decade from now. Like almost everything else, the original intent of the Olympics has been lost in the scramble for more “economic opportunity.” The Olympics are Big Business now.
A half century ago, Denver, Colorado sought to bring the games to Colorado. For years some Coloradans had supported efforts and provided the funding required to win the nod of the International Olympic Committee; in May 1970, their perseverance was rewarded. Beating out other cities in Switzerland, Finland and Canada, the IOC announced that Denver and the neighboring Rocky Mountains would host the 1976 Winter Olympics. The politicians and the media were thrilled.
But many of Colorado’s grassroots citizens and at least one politician were not, including a young state legislator named Richard Lamm. Lamm had a seat on the Olympic budget oversight committee and wondered if Colorado’s$5 million share of the budget was more of a risk for the state than an investment. And he questioned whether the state’s commitment would stop there. Past Olympics had often blown out budgets and suffered staggering cost overruns.
Lamm and his supporters argued that the projected cost of the winter games had already doubled. And the geographical size of the Olympics kept expanding as well. Proponents had insisted that all game venues could be played within an hour of Denver, at facilities that had not even been built. As Reality set in, it was clear the Olympics would be played as far away as Vail and Steamboat Springs, creating an enormous logistical and transportation nightmare. How would the city transport tens of thousands of people to these venues, in the middle of the winter?
But there was a bigger issue here than balanced budgets and traffic logistics. Lamm and others considered what a massive global event like this would do to the state’s environment and way of life. In 1970, Colorado’s population was just 2,200,000. The state’s ski industry was in its infancy; Vail resort had not existed a decade before. Aspen was still an affordable place to live. The state’s residents felt protective of its resources (others would argue they were selfish) and the Olympic organizers failed to sense that mood. Lamm created a small grassroots groups called “Citizens for Colorado’s Future.” The organization had a lot of heart and passion and almost no money. But they managed to put the issue to a vote. Colorado’s residents would have the final say—would the state finance the Olympic games or not?
Olympic proponents barely gave the insurrection notice. How could its citizens pass up such an economic opportunity? Surely not. But to be safe, they responded with an expensive media campaign to discredit the anti-Olympics movement.
For once, heart and passion won. On November 7, 1972, by an overwhelming 60-40% vote, Coloradans rejected the Games. A week later Denver officially withdrew as host of the 1976 Olympics. The IOC, scrambling for an alternative, eventually chose Innsbruck, Austria to host the ‘76 games.
Colorado’s citizens, basking in victory, believed that they may have indeed chosen “the road less traveled” for their state, a road that avoided the pitfalls of a booming economy. The movement’s leader, Dick Lamm, was propelled into the governor’s office just two years later. He ran on a platform of limited growth and promised to “drive a silver stake” into a plan to build a massive circle freeway around Denver. Colorado dreamed of a different future.
But he was fighting a losing battle against Big Money and a culture that always wants more. All that Lamm and others hoped to derail by opposing the Winter Olympics happened anyway. And then some. By 2013, Colorado’s population had jumped from 2.2 million to almost 5.5 million and is the third fastest growing state in America. Colorado’s population will exceed 6 million in six years and reach 8 million residents by 2040. Its landscape and its soul have been transformed….transmogrified.
Even 15 years ago, Lamm knew it was over. In an interview with the now defunct ‘Rocky Mountain News,’ he said, “My disappointment is that the Colorado I was afraid was going to happen with the Olympics happened without the Olympics…I’m not apologizing for what we did. But nevertheless, I’m looking back on lost opportunity. I don’t like what Denver has become. I mourn Colorado. I am truly so sorry that Colorado has become what it has become when I had a different vision.”
Different visions. And the sad truth is, greed-free visions almost always lose.
ON THE EVE of our 25th ANNIVERSARY…
Incredibly, this is the last issue of Year 25 for The Canyon Country Zephyr. Our first issue, Volume 1 Number 1, went to press on March 14, 1989, the same day that Edward Abbey died. It was a bittersweet day.
This is just a short note to tell you our April/May Anniversary Issue will, hopefully, be very special. For a quarter century, we have tried to be an honest and candid publication; we have also learned that honesty must often be its own reward, because it’s not always welcomed when the information we provide contradicts the conventional wisdom of a particular mindset.
Consequently, we have been regarded as a very controversial publication. I am at work right now, writing the ‘behind the scenes’ story of how The Zephyr came into existence, how we endured several major bumps in the road, and why we choose to keep going.
I’d like to set the record straight, at least from my perspective, on some of the more contentious moments of the past 25 years, why we made the decisions we did, and ultimately, why we chose “the road less traveled.” To do that, I intend to be as open as possible and include some of the correspondence, incoming and outgoing, that influenced our direction (I’m so glad I never delete my emails.). In any case, I think some of you may be surprised by the dialogue, or the lack of one.
As we end our 25th year, the state of The Zephyr is good. When we made the leap from print to cyberspace, many doubted we’d survive. I gave us a 50-50 chance. But after a shaky start, we are being read now by far more readers than we ever could claim in our print days. In 2013, more than 200,000 unique visitors paid more than half a million visits and perused almost 2.5 million pages. And support from our readers lately has been gratifying. More on that in April.
Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.
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