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Know the West

Tourism is a vast improvement over mining

  Dear HCN,
"In search of the Glory Days" (HCN, 12/23/02: In search of the Glory Days) follows what has become a tradition at HCN — nostalgia for the West that has passed or is passing. In this case, it is the glory days of mining that are mourned and the present days of outdoor recreation resorts that are disparaged.

I’ve been here before. A few years ago, I sat in a car in Northern California’s Sierra Nevada with former timber workers who were working to create a forest restoration economy. We had stopped in a former company timber town that had been transformed into a tourist village. Over lunch, my fellow travelers bemoaned the loss of community, high-wage mill jobs and honest woods work which had been replaced by retail shops servicing visitors from San Francisco.

Such nostalgia ignores historic reality. Western company towns — whether timber or mining-oriented — were run by absentee owners. Profits, and the natural capital from which they were generated, were transferred back East or even to Europe. Precious little trickled down. In contrast, the tourist/recreation service economy supports a large number of small businesses run by regular people pursuing the American Dream. Many of the wage workers in these new Western towns are from Mexico. The jobs are a vast improvement over working the pesticide-poisoned fields of the West’s corporate farms.

Nostalgia is patently human and thus attractive. HCN, however, owes it to its readers to temper the tendency with a healthy dose of reality.
Felice Pace
Etna, California