Amy Roberts: Tourist cities around the world are setting limits. Should Park City do the same?
The respite is always short lived. Though this year, the break between winter’s crush of visitors and the looming summer vacationers has seemed to stretch out a bit longer.
Perhaps that’s because winter lasted though Memorial Day and the skiers did not, or because we’re still covering our tomatoes at night in the middle of June, and the word ‘summer’ just doesn’t ring true quite yet. Despite this extension, our days of carefree left turns, short lines at the grocery store checkout counters, and crowd-free trails are very nearly over for the next few months. Tourist Season’s second half is about to kick off.
The selfie-takers, the recreation-lovers, those who stand with dropped jaws — either due to the scenery or the lack of oxygen — they’ll arrive en masse any day now. And just like most of us when on vacation in a new town, they’ll be oblivious to our hustle and bustle and need for them to continue forward motion as we’re on our way to work, or to pick up the kids, or to meet a friend for lunch.
A few years ago, I was caught in the middle of local self-importance and tourist lack of self-awareness when my sister was visiting. We saw a moose near a trail and stopped to admire it. Bikers behind us were upset by our two-person roadblock. “Haven’t you ever seen a moose before?!” one arrogantly hollered as he peddled by.
The answer for my sister was no, she hadn’t. Caught up in her excitement, she got out her phone to take photos. I was caught up in her enthusiasm and didn’t usher her to the side as any frequent user of our trail system knows to do. It was an interesting place to be for me — stuck between wanting to flip off the biker for being a jerk and also fully understanding his frustration for being inconvenienced by an unaware novelty seeker.
Every year, twice a year at least, right before both tourist seasons kick off in earnest, there are pleas in this paper, on social media and in social circles to be kinder, more patient and more aware.
For the most part, I think we try. But often, there’s an inevitable and proverbial straw that derails the camel, leaving us to lament about the good old days, when the tourists were few and the trails were ours. Ironically, those were also the days many of us got laid off from our jobs or only had a handful of months to make any money. They were the days housing was cheap, but tourist dollars and the amenities they afford us were rare.
There’s no perfect answer. For the most part, this town depends on those tourism dollars, as do many of our jobs, the nonprofits we love, and open space we enjoy. Yet the scales have tipped a bit out of our favor in recent years, and locals are left to wonder who caters to them.
Park City is not alone in this quandary. A number of tourist destinations around the world have taken meaningful measures to curb the negative impacts of tourism. Tanzania has issued a warning to travelers that plastic bags are now prohibited from being “imported, exported, manufactured, sold, stored, supplied and used in mainland Tanzania.”
To avoid overcrowding, the mountain kingdom of Bhutan focuses on a low-volume, high-value strategy with a fixed pricing policy for each tourist to safeguard its rich cultural and natural heritage.
In Belgium, Bruges has eliminated marketing campaigns for day trips. Amsterdam has followed suit, halting all advertising campaigns to focus on destination management rather than destination promotion.
And just last week, Venice, Italy, announced day trippers will soon need to pay an entry fee of roughly $11 per person. Those who spend the night, along with residents and commuters, are exempt. The money goes towards security and maintenance programs that have traditionally fallen on the residents to fund.
Like Park City, each of these locations relies on tourist dollars and has to balance its popularity with the environmental impacts, costs, and local frustration that comes with over tourism.
Short visits strain overstretched infrastructure. Marco Gasparinetti, an environmental lawyer and spokesperson for an activist group in Venice, said, “For Venice to be enjoyed by tourists, the city also needs to exist as a place for everyday life.”
The city’s resident population has declined from over 150,000 to roughly 53,000 in just five years, and those still moving in tend to be affluent. The middle class is all but gone. This all sounds a bit too familiar. Maybe it’s time to put turnstiles up at our entry points.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis.
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Jay Meehan writes in remembrance of his favorite camping partner.