Mountain Town News: Anguish and anger on the Animas River |

Mountain Town News: Anguish and anger on the Animas River

Tim and Dee, hailing from Longmont, head up the Harrigan Creek Trail for Dee's first pack trip ever.
Bill Linfield / Special to the Daily |

SILVERTON, Colo. – The Animas River looked like pumpkin soup late last week in Durango. That or a rusty old bucket. It didn’t look right. It wasn’t.

The river had been sullied by water from a long-abandoned gold mine located about 60 miles upstream, above Silverton. Several now-abandoned mines, including the Gold King, the source of last week’s flood of polluted water, were located just below timberline in an area called Gladstone. A contractor working on cleanup of the long-abandoned mine had mistakenly breached the dike holding back the water.

The polluted water flooded down Cement Creek and past the base of several notable skiing sites. Nearby is Velocity Peak, site of the world speed-skiing championships for two years in the early 1980s. A little farther down the valley is the base for Silverton Mountain Ski Area. Shaun White, the tomato head shredder, had a training pipe there.

By last Thursday morning, a day after the breach, the water had reached Durango. Normally, there would be people splashing in the river. Instead, people stood on the banks and on bridges, appalled and angry.

The immediate wrath of many was toward the Environmental Protection Agency. A contractor working for the federal agency had unleashed the torrent that the agency estimated totaled 3 million gallons. But the story was far more complex for simple finger-pointing. In fact, newspapers in Silverton and Durango for years have been writing about the mess left by the many mines around Silverton.

The mountains there are heavily mineralized. Driving over Red Mountain Pass, you see mountains as red as Shaun White’s hair. But water, once exposed to fractured rock, as occurs inside mines, picks up various heavy metals.

“The mining activity that largely defined the Silverton economy and culture from the 1800s to the late 20th century has left a legacy rich in history and steeped in pollution,” said The Durango Herald.

Unlike others, the newspaper didn’t single out the EPA. Rather, it described the federal agency as the one “left holding the hot potato.”

Indeed, Silverton and San Juan County had resisted a Superfund designation, afraid of the bad publicity for the community. Instead, there had been what the Herald described as a “piecemeal cleanup effort. …It was a compromise and gamble,” the newspaper went on to say. “It failed, but there is a valuable lesson that must not be missed amid the finger-pointing and grieving over a river run foul.”

As businesses in Durango dependent upon the river counted their losses, the toxic sludge of heavy metals moved downstream. No widespread fish or insect die-offs five days after the initial release fueled hope that the damage was not as broad as was originally feared.

From downstream in the desert came vows of a lawsuit against the EPA. All across the Navajo Nation, residents have had to pen up their cattle and sheep to keep them out of the polluted flow, Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, said.

Eventually, the water makes its way into the Colorado River, now submerged under Lake Powell, and in theory down to the Pacific Ocean. But that’s not something that has happened with any regularity since the late 1960s.

It’s enough to make your skin crawl!

ASPEN, Colo. – Ever had lice crawling in your scalp or on other hairy parts of your body? They’ll cause you to scratch your head for years, long after the lice have disappeared, wondering where you got them.

They’re not due to poor hygiene. You can be rid of them, but not by mere shampoo and soap. Instead, you need products such as a product called Rid. Aspen’s pharmacy has had a run on the product in recent weeks.

“We’ve been selling through it like crazy,” a technician at Carl’s Pharmacy tells the Aspen Times. “It started with children, and now the adults are getting it.”

The Times focused on the lice in several child-care facilities. “We’d always been told they wouldn’t survive here because of the altitude. But clearly that’s not the case,” said the owner of one child-care center.

“It is important to note that head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene and are not responsible for the spread of any disease,” noted the Times, citing a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

No snow? No problem. All China needs is cold

WHISTLER, B.C. – Well, this is a different concept. Build a ski area in a place that gets cold but not much snow.

But that’s exactly what the International Olympic Committee has done in choosing China’s location for the 2022 Winter Olympics. But then why do you need power snow for the Olympics.

That was essentially the response of Ecosign, the Whistler-based resort consulting company that has been retained by China to create the venue, located about three hours from Beijing, near the city of Zhangjiakou.

“Generally, in China ski areas have 100 percent snowmaking,” said Don Murray, senior vice president of Ecosign. “The snowmaking snow is good and dense and forms a good base for race courses.”

He added that temperature is not a huge issue.

Ecosign began working with hosts in 1988 at the winter games held in Calgary and Canmore, then in 2002 for the games at Salt Lake and Park City, and — of course — at the Vancouver-Whistler games in 2010.

Murray said China’s greatest challenge will be to get everything built on time. It has an advantage, though, in that some venues in Beijing built for the 2008 Summer Olympics can be used for winter activities, too.

Lake Louise expansion outrages park scientists

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta – A decision that could produce what the Rocky Mountain Outlook describes as a massive expansion of the Lake Louise ski area has drawn fire from retired managers of Parks Canada. The federal agency manages Banff National Park, where the ski area is located.

“Parks Canada will tell you they haven’t approved anything, that these are guidelines,” said Stephen Woodley, one of 11 former senior park managers who have registered opposition to the guidelines. “But this gives the ski hill at Lake Louise essentially carte blanche to proceed with a massive development in a world heritage site. It’s simply outrageous.”

He and other former park managers are asking the United Nations committee that designates world heritage sites to investigate threats to Banff National Park.

Wildlife advocates worry about impacts to habitat for grizzly bear, but also goats, probably wolverines, and other species.

The guidelines approved by Parks Canada allow an expansion of ski terrain, a new on-mountain cafeteria, and relocation of summer sightseeing operations. Potential capacity could grow to 11,500 skiers a day, nearly double the existing 6,000.

Dan Markham, the director of brand and communications for the ski area, told the Outlook that all the projects would take a couple of decades. “It’s going to be about market demand,” he said.

At Marmot, a ski area about two hours north of Lake Louise but within Jasper National Park, the federal government is also leaving the door open for expansion. Scientists worry that ski area expansion may work against preservation of the endangered caribou herds. Mark Hebblewhite, a caribou expert, said it’s unethical to think about reintroducing caribou from elsewhere into both Banff and Jasper national parks while thinking about expanded commercial development.

Expansion in works for Jackson Hole ski areas

JACKSON, Wyo. – Jackson Hole’s two ski areas are both moving along toward major upgrades.

The smaller of the two ski areas, Snow King Mountain Resort, is located within the town of Jackson. Officials in July announced they will begin seeking approval for a gondola, something the ski area now lacks, as well as a top-to-bottom zip line. An expanded boundary would allow Snow King to become two-thirds larger.

Max Chapman, president of Snow King, told the News&Guide that the goal is to create a ski hill that will draw the locals while holding its own against other resorts in the region.

In addition to Snow King, there’s the larger Jackson Hole Mountain Resort about 10 miles away, and Grand Targhee, about an hour west. Both of the two ski areas are on the flanks of the Tetons.

Snow King says its zipline would be steepest in the United States, capable of reaching speeds up to 70 mph.

After floundering for a number of years, losing money on skiing, new investors have poured $8 million into Snow King in an effort to create enough revenue streams to cover expenses. A new lift has been completed, a mountain coaster will be soon, and work had begun on a ropes course.

The U.S. Forest Service must approve the gondola, which would also have a bottom terminal on property owned by the town of Jackson. Ski area representatives say they foresee the gondola as the greatest challenge. A restaurant or observatory would be located at the summit.

Meanwhile, plans to upgrade the infrastructure at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort continue. A new gondola is the most ambitious among 16 projects that resort owners want to do on Forest Service land. The suite of projects also includes a zip line and expansion of the mid-mountain Casper restaurant and installation of a “magic carpet” conveyor lift in the beginner area.

White-tailed deer see white along highways

JACKSON, Wyo. – Can something so simple as a white sock draped over a post discourage whitetail deer from hanging out along highways?

That is the conclusion drawn from a study conducted between 2008 and 2013 in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin by two researchers. Speaking in Jackson Hole recently, Corinna Riginos and Morgan Graham explained that they assessed deer-vehicle collisions along three stretches of highway.

They compared collisions in areas where the highways were lined with post-mounted reflectors against segments where the reflectors were covered with black bags.In a third group, the posts were covered with scraps of white canvas.

Turns out there were 65 percent fewer collisions in the highway segment with the white canvas than in those where the posts were covered with black bags.

More effective than black bags, but less than the white canvas, were red-glass “deer delineators.”

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that the researchers suspect the effectiveness of the white canvas may have something to do with the white tails of deer.

I-70 toll lane charges could be $20 to $30

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. – Those eager to bypass the weekend crawl of ski traffic on Colorado’s I-70 can expect to pay $20 to $30 next winter for expedited travel.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the highway congeals into a slow-moving parking lot as a one-hour journey drags out into three and sometimes four hours. To improve traffic flow, CDOT has widened the Twin Tunnels, located 30 miles west of Denver, to accommodate three lanes. But much of the highway from the Continental Divide to Idaho Springs also has just two lanes.

In one segment, from Empire to Idaho Springs, the highway agency is adding new configurations that will allow buses and drivers willing to pay a toll to be ensured of more rapid travel.

Peter Kozinski, an official with CDOT, told the Clear Creek County commissioners that the cost might seem high to some.

“One of the biggest shocks to the population might be the toll range,” he said, according to the Clear Creek County Courant, which covered the meeting. “It’s possible that the upper end … is in the $20 to $30 range.”

State officials expect the toll lane to cost $78 million to build and operate. The state’s High-Performance Transportation Enterprise took out a loan of nearly $25 million last year to ensure funding for the project. To pay back the lane in seven years, the state agency needs to collect about $3.5 million per year in tolls, the Courant explains. State officials expect the toll lane to be open for business before Christmas.

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