Opinion: Tourists aren’t the problem; just don’t let them stay!

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Montana has always been a “poor” state ... so why has it also always been known as the “Treasure State”? Maybe because there is something more valuable than money? Maybe it was the land itself — that its “treasure” was the land and not in what we could extract from it?

Montana was a place one came to not to get rich, but to enjoy its riches — riches which are systematically and rapidly being destroyed — the open lands, night skies, wildlife that had space to roam and food to eat. We’re being paved over, lit up, held up in traffic, destroying habitat, and overwhelming our own national treasure, Glacier Park. (What would be wrong with limiting the number of people who come into the park on a given day, to protect its resources and to guarantee a more positive experience for everyone? Instead we see one headline after another of “record-setting numbers of visitors to the park,” “most revenue ever for the park” ... and all at the expense of the park.)

I’m not trying to keep people out or keep people from coming and enjoying all that Montana has to offer. I’m trying to protect what makes Montana, Montana. Tourists are great. They come, they spend money, they enjoy and then they go back to their homes to make more money. Let’s promote the tourist industry and protect our resources to be enjoyed by future generations. It’s the people who come here and want to re-create that which they just left behind and who are intent on exploiting the land for their own personal gain, that we don’t need here. (The owners of the Montana Artesian Water Co. must have an awful lot at stake to push so hard for something the entire populace is against.) This land is a gift, and we are called to be stewards of this gift, not to rape, pillage and plunder it for one’s own gain. Everything on our planet is endangered, including and especially our water. Water is LIFE. There is no life without it ... look at Mars. (But I’m sure the world needs more plastic bottles and the pollution created during their production, as well as in the landscape and oceans once they’re empty.)

And with more and more and more and more people settling here and developing more land, habitat is being destroyed for all kinds of creatures — those we see and those we can’t see with the naked eye, but all are necessary for the balance of nature. And, wherever/whenever man and our wildlife and natural resources come head to head, nature loses and the animals pay the ultimate price. But only until they’re all gone, and then it’s man’s turn to lose.

Shouldn’t our legacy be to protect this land that has been such a gift to so many or do we really want to use it up for our own short-term gain? We can’t take the money with us, and we do future generations no favor by leaving them money but no beauty and no rest for their souls. (And, as author Judah Smith says, “We are only as healthy as the health of our souls.”) Why do you think Montana has been called “The Last Best Place”? Because, man hadn’t wrecked it, yet! Every other place has already done what we’re doing here.

What is the learning curve? We’re about to run out of places to ruin. So we continue to build and grow, all to increase our tax base. And, for what? How much is enough? So we can waste more money than we already do? More stores with stuff we don’t need, more fast food joints with food that satisfies our wants but not our needs, people wasting the “government’s money” even though it’s our money we’re wasting, the Department of “Clutter” and more signs as a blight on the landscape ... (lf you can’t negotiate the curves between Woods Bay and Bigfork, you shouldn’t be driving. What’s next? Is the DOT going to hold our hand as we cross the street?)

There is no question that money has become our god, and we’re too stupid and greedy to see that we are destroying ourselves in the process of destroying the land. Again, if every decision is an economic decision, it’s probably the wrong decision. Let’s resist the temptation to domesticate this treasure. You want street lights, condos and gated communities? There are thousands of options for you ... just not here.

Kathryn Berg is a resident of Bigfork.

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