The recent branding of the community didn't produce a flaming, indelible imprint. There were no strident voices, nor the smell and smoke from singed flesh and burning hair. Other events produced these outcomes, but the branding was bland.
Why didn't the branding capture the imagination of the populace? I'm not sure. Maybe they'd been through too many similar exercises, or perhaps they had more important things to do, like wash their hair, or sharpen swords. Perhaps the populace suffers from early-onset apathy.
Nearly four decades ago when I first saw the raw, spectacular beauty of Crowsnest Mountain and, beneath it, the serpentine splendor of the Crowsnest River in its intimate and mesmerizing flow through tortured topography, I was hooked. It was June, the sun was shining and spring was in the air. "Brand" surrounded me.
I knew then that the drop-dead-gorgeous Crowsnest Pass would be my home. I had no idea how I'd get here, but that was a small detail that didn't matter. I'd find a way.
As I look back now, I can report that my time in the greater Crowsnest Pass has delivered—more or less—what I expected, with one glaring exception: I never imagined I'd witness wholesale destruction throughout the headwaters landscape, … never envisioned I'd see degradation—from valley floor to alpine meadow—that ripped at the heart of the region's intrinsic beauty.
This indignity has been watched—"fostered" might be a better word—by the provincial government. The result: Decades of overlapping abuses now translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in wanton landscape destruction. It starts at the core of the community and radiates outward to the summits of all but the highest mountains.
The breakdown in integrity, like a black cloud, has spread throughout the headwaters of the Castle, Crowsnest and Oldman rivers, and it's transformed the region's most profound and marketable asset—a priceless and pristine world-class landscape—into a rutted, muddy mess, a weedy product that's being used in a way—constant deterioration—that will ultimately destroy it.
Long ago I began my retreat. I did this because I couldn't bear to subject myself to the senseless, unrelenting assaults that degraded the paradise I call home. Many of you have done the same, turning your backs on the land you love to, instead, traverse landscapes that are managed for long-term integrity.
Too often society, driven by short-term gain at the expense of long-range vision and virtue, destroys what it holds most dear, … until one day, somewhere down the road, it rallies around what is left.
What is left? Is it too late for this community to turn a corner? I believe we're poised at the 11th hour, but I also believe we can still preserve this province's largest up-against-the-continental-divide headwaters community and an iconic Alberta landscape … and use this rare, and increasingly valuable Crown of the Continent commodity as the natural capital that paves the way for a better tomorrow.
I believe we (as a community) can:
- manage our stunning wealth of natural capital, and safeguard and protect this vital resource;
- launch a compelling and enduring legacy, a world-class emblem-community set in the heart and soul of the Canadian Rockies;
- foster the creation of a community that is dynamic in its ability to grow without threatening the quality of life that drives its growth;
- inject aesthetic value and ecological integrity into the region in a profound, enticing and illuminating way;
- influence governments (provincially, nationally and internationally) by demonstrating economic success and viability;
- spread a sense-of-place landscape ethic into—and far beyond—the river valleys, forests and peaks of Canada's Rocky Mountain front;
- save a viewscape that's drop-dead gorgeous;
- unleash the power of sacred places;
- unveil an untapped storehouse of natural capital virtue and wealth;
- inject rigor and substance into the concept of a sustainable community; and
- prove what many people already know—that the landscapes of southwestern Alberta are worth billions … if they can be saved.
I ask those of you who support this vision to fight for it. Take it to every meeting. Deliver it to Edmonton, Ottawa and Washington, DC. Send it around the world. Do it today—the clock's ticking.