Will Christo's Next Big Art Project Damage Colorado's Arkansas River Valley?

christo over the river colorado art jeann claude© Getty Images

Christo, the artist who brought 7,500 orange gates to New York City and set up 3,000 umbrellas along highways in California and Japan, has big plans for Colorado's Arkansas River. "Over the River," involves hanging 5.9 miles of shimmery fabric in eight segments over 42 miles of the river. The project has pitted business types against environmentalists and fueled debates about how wilderness should be preserved.

The upsides of the project are clear, and tantalizing to local businesses. The installation will open for two weeks in 2014, and is projected to attract 400,000 visitors, along with $121 million. But there are downsides as well. The two week viewing period will be preceded by two years of construction. Local environmentalists worry what effects the prolonged disturbance will have on local plants and the bighorn sheep that live in the area.

Royal Gorge, a canyon on the Arkansas River.

While those seem like minor concerns, they are specific examples of a bigger principle: the Arkansas River Valley is loved for its natural beauty- natural being the key word. Why, opponents ask, is it necessary to add anything man made to the area?

Christo and his team, while not agreeing with this larger idea, have addressed concerns about damage to the area with a 1,686 page environmental report. It seems to have placated authorities; the federal government approved "Over the River" this week.

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A big horned sheep, native to the area.

Will Christo's Next Big Art Project Damage Colorado's Arkansas River Valley?
Christo's plan to hang 5.9 miles of fabric over a pristine river has drawn criticism from environmentalists for the potential harm it will do to the area.

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