During their Tuesday session, the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved renewal of a year-long contract between the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau and Absolute Computer Design for 22 webcams spread all across Chaffee County. The webcam contract and its purpose raise some questions not just regarding their purpose and how much tourism this county can handle, but perhaps unintended consequences related to personal privacy and the impact of cameras in rural and wilderness areas.
The $20,000 contract is an agreed upon amount of $1,000/per webcam covering 20 of the webcams, with two, no-charge webcams and unlimited deployment of more webcams.
The cameras stream real-time images every five minutes — around the world.
“The cameras are funded by the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau and this is our most popular web page,” explains Chaffee County Visitors Bureau Marketing Director Scott Peterson. “The cameras take a still every five minutes and post to the website. The user may then click on the image for a live full motion view.”
If your family is strolling the walkway along the Arkansas river by the boat ramp in Salida, hiking the Whipple Trail, walking along F St., lounging by the hot springs at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs resort, you might want to smile, because your image may be beamed across the world. Say you’re up on top of “S” Mountain? You could be on camera there too.
The Chaffee County Visitor’s Bureau site is streaming images as far away as Iceland and Australia, Siam or Siberia, Tanzania or Timbuktu. At the moment, according to the Chaffee County Visitor’s Bureau website, there are at least 25 web cameras spread across this valley. In the past few weeks, webcam locations have been spotted at:
- The base lodge, base area and Little Joe on Monarch Mountain
- Main Street in Buena Vista
- The Surf Hotel
- The whitewater park in Buena Vista
- Whipple trail and Arkansas River
- U.S. 24 south and north near Brown Dog in Buena Vista
- “S” mountain south and west in Salida
- Three different angles of the whitewater park in Salida, all around the SteamPlant
- West and east of U.S. 50, the camera is located at Jeep ATV tour rentals
- View from Mount Princeton conference center; two of the 400′ water slide and a view of the infinity pool
- View of the Chaffee County Visitors Center in Poncha Springs
These three cameras appear to be road condition cameras:
- On top of Monarch Pass
- At the stoplight on U.S. 285 outside of Buena Vista
- On Poncha Pass
Chaffee County first implemented web cameras two years ago, hosted by ColoradoWebCam.net. According to Peterson, the county adds cameras, “where we can find a remarkable view and a good hosting location. All locations need good internet and power.”
He explained that three cameras are point-tilt-zoom cameras that he may control remotely and create a tour. The county is working on a public relations campaign to get news stations to use them.
The Question of Privacy
Whether or not one thinks one’s body in a swimsuit is camera-worthy, or whether you want your toddler’s image broadcast on these cameras when in their vicinity, appears not to be a personal choice. The cameras are not labeled, nor is there any public signage warning those strolling the walkways or streets in Chaffee County, or hiking our trails, that they are on camera. Those caught on camera are clearly a key component of the county’s tourism effort.
This would seem to raise privacy questions. Does one give away the rights to their visage simply by being present in these areas? Should people be informed they are on camera, or at least that cameras are present?
Defenders of the webcams say that in this day and age it should be expected that people are on camera, wherever they go. They have cited New York City, London and Paris street cameras as examples of general surveillance. There is an important difference between the majority of the thousands of cameras on London streets and these webcams: those images are being recorded for public safety within those metro areas, not tourism, and it does not appear to be beamed all over the world.
It should be noted that to create marketing materials, any legitimate marketing organization or advertising agency must have the rights to the images they use in printed materials, or videos, as well as the voice rights for broadcast use.Those rights have to be assigned, or purchased. The use of images in journalism follows the rule that we credit the source who took the photo if the image is free, gain approval from the entity that took the photo (or pay fees) for it to be used.
By ownership, the webcam images appear to belong to the county, which holds the contract. But if images of visitors and residents of Chaffee County are being used to market this county without their knowledge or approval, what do we think of that? Is that reasonable?
Chaffee Tourism; how much Promotion is Enough — or Too much?
The contract is held on behalf of county tourism. According to the contract: “The 2021 Plan is to continue to develop new sites and upgrade existing sites. Partner Rights include Streaming on their websites, Use of Simulcasting; ColoradoWebCams owns all hardware and pays for all streams as well as maintains the working order of the systems.”
The contract goes on to say “We are putting no limitation on the number of webcams deployed and streamed. Contract price is set at about $1,000 per webcam per year. We discount the price to 20 Cams for this year. SITES (22): Salida Anderson (2) Poncha Springs (2) Salida Pinion (2) Salida Steam Plant (3) Salida Tenderfoot (3) River Runners (1) BV Surf Area (3) BV Entrance (2) BV PTZ Tour (1) BV Museum (3).
Asked about their awareness of these webcams, Envision Chaffee County Project & Outreach Coordinator Kim Marquis said, ” I don’t know what these webcams are being used for. We have not discussed them and do not have a position. Are they on public lands, being used for recreation monitoring, or what? Who is putting them up?”
Marquis said that she had heard of wildfire monitoring with webcams and “the Central Colorado Conservancy had a program where they were tracking animal migrations and species presence in certain areas but I believe on conservation easements, or private lands.”
Clearly, as Ark Valley Voice has reported, tourism is the bread and butter of our economy and businesses are profiting from the promotion of this valley. An unanswered tourism question has to do with a recent survey that included a major finding that Chaffee residents believe that the county is “being loved to death.” There is increasing concern about the overuse of natural resources, from the river, to mountain trails to popular tourist sites like St. Elmo.
Marquis added that “Envision is working on this issue in the space of creating the Chaffee Recreation Plan, which has a three-pronged goal of maintaining outdoor experiences and natural resources while sustaining the economic benefits of recreation tourism.”
Featured image: the webcams on the Salida SteamPlant. Photo by Brooke Gilmore.
Editor’s note: AVV reporters Tara Flanagan and Brooke Gilmore also contributed to this story.