Boulder’s trails open to new ideas

After being met with vacant stares and exclamations of “I don’t ever read the news or look at the media” from hairdressers at a 29th Street Mall hair salon, and confused looks from the patrons of Catacombs off Pearl Street, I decided to head up to Chautauqua Park just after dawn on Sunday morning to talk to early-bird hikers eagerly traversing the park’s newly re-opened trails.

My first interview was with Peter, a 46-year-old Yellow Cab driver born and raised in Boulder. With an MBA from UCLA, work experience at Goldman Sachs and fluency in Japanese, Peter didn’t exactly fit the cab driver profile. But after returning to America a year ago, he couldn’t get so much as an interview, and began driving taxis for $8 an hour

When asked what environmental issues he was concerned about, he at first evaded the question, saying he didn’t have any time to watch the news when working 12 hours a day. But then he stopped, and began lamenting the issues with pedestrian crosswalks in the city. In many areas of the city, pedestrian crosswalks are located in close proximity to traffic lights. Peter said because cars are starting and stopping so frequently, not only does it cause major traffic jams, but it can be bad for the environment due to CO2 emissions. “If people are out walking, presumably they’re doing because they like it, and then can walk an extra 20 or 30 feet to a traffic light.”

According to Peter, he had already complained to city council about the placement of crosswalks, but received no feedback.

At Chautauqua, I headed up Bluebell Road, which had been gutted and pitted by rocks during the flood. At Bluebell Shelter I ran into Oscar, a 24-year-old recent graduate and frequent backpacker.

“For avid backpackers using the same equipment — like, I’ve been using these boots for a while — there’s an issue with seeds sticking to the bottom of the treads,” he said, lifting up his muddy footwear. “It introduces different flora into different systems, which can create an invasive species in an ecosystem.”

Farther along the trail I ran into Vicki, a 64-year-old retiree with hiking poles in either hand. She commented on the issue of land ownership, with private and public organizations buying up land and the unequal distribution.

Lastly, I spoke to Burt, 51, by the 1st Flatiron Climbing Access trailhead that had been closed off. His concerns were more timely. “If they’d put half as much time into restoring the trails as they put into posting these signs, they’d be nearly done,” he begrudged, pulling out a green Bic lighter to ignite a cigarette —the first smoking hiker I’ve seen.

I also decided to use online media for this assignment, posting to Reddit’s Boulder subreddit last week to ask the community what they thought were some pressing science environmental issues that needed coverage.

“I would love to see someone examine the local anti-GMO sentiment and compare it to the national global warming denial movement,” wrote user bunabhucan. “Local supermarkets (e.g. Alfalfas) have anti-GMO signage, the county takes flak for letting local farmers lease county lands for growing GM crops etc. yet opposition to GMO on the grounds of safety is about as evidence-free as AGW denial.

I would (also) like to see vaccination rates of local schools examined. There must be black spots.”

In the end, I spent about two hours hiking at Chautauqua and talking to strangers. I’m not someone who typically likes to approach strangers with questions — streeters at CTV were the bane of my existence — so, in general, the entire assignment was challenging for me. Many hikers were there in groups, chatting loudly, or running with headphones in. I tended to approach people who were hiking solo, or resting, in order to get their thoughts. Many people mentioned generic topics, like climate change, but failed to delve into local themes. Of the ideas mentioned, I’m most interested in following up on seeds stuck in hikers’ boots and the effects it can have on ecosystems.

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