Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
June / July 1999


Christo Arkansas River Project

Is this a river or an art gallery??

by Jean Smith and Mike Becker

Artists Christo and Jeane-Claude propose to cover 4 to 6 miles of the Arkansas River in various locations between Canon City and Salida with fabric using anchors and cables attached to the river banks. The fabric will be fairly close to the river (10 to 23 feet), and it is estimated that the project will generate from 600,000 to 1,000,000 additional visitors to the area. BLM currently has the project on hold, while the artist negotiates a right of way with the Union Pacific Railroad. If this is obtained, BLM will be back in the picture - perhaps as early as June or July - with an Environmental Assessment, which may or may not result in a permit to construct the project.

The Christo web site, complete with photo simulations, says, “Fabric panels suspended horizontally clear of and above the water level will follow the  configuration and width of the changing course of the river. Steel wire cables, anchored on the upper part of the river  banks, will cross the river and serve as attachment for the fabric panels. The woven fabric panels, sewn in advance, with rows of grommets at the edges perpendicular to the river, will create shimmering waves of fabric, 3 to 7 meters (10 to 23 feet) above the river bed. The 6.5 to 9.5 kilometer (4 to 6 mile) long stream of successive panels, will be interrupted by bridges, rocks, trees, bushes, and for aesthetic reasons, creating abundant flows of light. Wide clearance between the banks and the edges of the fabric panels will create a play of contrast allowing sunlight to illuminate the river on both sides. When seen from underneath, standing on the rocks at the edge of the river, at water level or by rafting, the luminous and translucent fabric will highlight the contours of the clouds, the mountains, and the vegetation.”

Local residents are fighting this project. Mike Becker, who lives in Coaldale, says, “I personally witnessed the last Christo project in Colorado (the Orange curtain in Rifle Gap), it was blown to bits within 24 hours by unforeseen high winds. Will this project be any different?  What happens when the “Over the River” project becomes the “In the River” dam? Hundreds of feet of fabric clogging up the river does not appeal to me, the fish, or the birds.”

This is a major construction project which may adversely affect the Bighorn sheep living in the canyon, who are already thought to be stressed by disturbance, according to the Division of Wildlife. Anchors will be drilled into the banks for the supporting cables. The constant stream of traffic and tourists getting out of their cars, climbing up the canyon walls to get a better picture and otherwise creating havoc on the fragile ecosystem will affect all the wildlife in the area and may do serious damage to the McIntyre Hills wilderness which borders the south side of the highway. Covering the river with fabric will reduce sunlight, disturb the fish, and possibly reduce the water temperature. Construction is  also scheduled to coincide with trout spawning. The eagles, kingfishers, sand pipers, ducks, geese and great blue herons who depend on the river for food will surely be disturbed by construction, the installation itself, and the many visitors. The possibility of a natural event dumping the whole thing into the river should not be underestimated. Is this an appropriate addition to the already heavy rafting, fishing, wildlife viewing, camping, picnicking and scenic driving activities on the river corridor? What is lost in the quality of the recreational experience, not to mention the affect on the natural features?

 What you can do:

  1. BLM is accepting comments. Write to: Levi Deike, BLM Area manager, 3170 East Main St., Canon City, CO 81212.  Include your concerns and request a public comment period on the Environmental Assessment.

  2. Contact Mike Becker and see what else you can do to help.

  3. Get your local group to take a stand on this issue.

  4. See for yourself - the background, descriptions and photo simulations are on          


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