SALIDA, Colo. — The landscape artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude made quite a pair. Appearing on the stage of the high school in Telluride a few years ago to talk about their latest project in Colorado, they bantered back and forth a bit like Sonny and Cher.
Although Christo has the broader name recognition, together they had made quite a splash for about 35 years: consider the fabric fence that ran for 24 miles across the hills north of San Francisco, the wrapping of 11 islands near Miami in pink plastic; and, in 1972, a giant orange curtain that was temporarily draped across the mouth of a canyon near Rifle, Colo.
In 1997, they began planning a return to Colorado for a project called "Over the River." The plans, now approved by state and federal officials, call for suspension of reflective, translucent fabric panels high above the Arkansas River. This is to be done in segments covering almost 9.6 kilometres in a 67 kilometre segment of the river between Salida and Cañon City. The exhibit, if you will, is planned for two weeks during the summer of 2014.
The river canyon is rugged, with a backdrop of 4,200 metre peaks and a bookend of the magnificent Royal Gorge Canyon. Downstream further yet, beyond where the river flushes out onto the Great Plains, lies one of the federal government's most vigilantly guarded prisons, called SuperMax, where serial bomber Theodore Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, and other terrorists of various persuasions are incarcerated.
Few people are on the fence about the project. Anglers seem to hate the idea. "You can put clothes on a dog, but what's the point," said Denver Post hook-and-bullet columnist Scott Willoughby. The newspaper tells of a recent hearing in Cañon City. "God's natural beauty cannot be enhanced," said one resident.
And the sheriff in Fremont County, where SuperMax is located, warns of risk from having so many people congregated in the canyon. He warns of a "very real threat" of terrorists, many with "brothers in arms incarcerated a few miles away," launching an attack in the canyon, according to a report in the Post.
Opposition is coalesced in a group called Rags over the Arkansas River, or ROAR. Ed Quillen, writing in High Country News, says that ROAR's stridency has made him a supporter of the project.
Lois Manno, writing in Salida's Mountain Mail, currently lives in Santa Fe, N.M., but intends to move to Salida — in part because of the project by the 77-year-old Christo. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 of a brain aneurysm.
"We are living proof that Christo's project will draw new energy to the region — people from outside of Colorado will view Salida and Cañon City favorably because there are enough open-minded citizens to support this world-class art event."