Mountain Town News: Booming summers too much of a good thing? (Column) |

Mountain Town News: Booming summers too much of a good thing? (Column)

Allen Best
Mountain Town News
The mountains and aspens reflect off Lower Cataract Lake on Sept. 22.
Stephen Johnson / Special to the Daily |

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Five years now since the recession was in the rear-view mirror, summers at mountain resorts in Colorado just keep getting busier and busier. Is it too busy?

The Denver Post reports ratcheted-up discussions in a number of mountain towns about what constitutes success.

“We have to work our butts off to make it work financially to live here, but if we have to sacrifice our quality of life now, it’s no longer worth it,” said Hillary Cooper, a longtime resident of Telluride and soon to be a San Miguel County commissioner.

“We don’t want to kick a gift horse in the mouth, but this summer just felt like too much. Maybe it’s time for a different discussion about what makes a successful mountain town.”

The Post offers plenty of statistical evidence of busyness. Occupancy rates during July in Aspen and Snowmass topped 88 percent for the first time for a summer month. Winter Park had tax collections in July surge 57 percent compared to the same month last year. And Rocky Mountain National Park has leapfrogged both Yosemite and Yellowstone to become the nation’s third-most-visited park — with more visitors at the gateway communities of Estes Park and Grand Lake.

In Aspen, the busyness is part of a discussion about whether the town needs more lodging units. The Aspen Skiing Co., has been pushing hard for more lodging for a number of years. Some locals say there’s enough already.

In Telluride, town manager Greg Clifton says the debate is about mitigating impacts of success, not cutting back commerce. “To be clear, we are not looking at how to scale back or reduce. The conversation is how do we best handle this growth and mitigate its impact.”

The Post did not mention this, but in the 1990s Telluride had a similar debate about being too busy in summer. Even then, the summer calendar was filling up with festivals. At length, the town council agreed to a designated weekend when nobody would try to hold a festival.

Alcohol deaths, but no rehab in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – Since the start of last year, Teton County has had 11 alcohol-related deaths. “We’re way above the national average,” Dr. Brent Blue, the local coroner, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Even paradise has its pitfalls.

One man was found alone in his trailer surrounded by empty bottles of hard liquor. Another person also drank herself to death.

The problem, says Blue, is that Jackson Hole has no rehabilitation center.

“They just need a safe place to sober up,” he said. “The choices are the jail, which is the worst place, or the hospital, where there’s way too much care and it’s very expensive. We have two extremes. There’s nothing in between.”

Jail has worked for at least one person, though. The News&Guide tells the story of a local resident, who was caught dealing drugs in Teton County three years ago and spent three months in jail. The woman used that experience to free herself from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Her family members had no such luck.

“My sister passed away last year. She overdosed on heroin. My father passed away two weeks later. He overdosed on pills,” said Danielle Christensen. “I feel extremely lucky and sometimes I wonder, ‘Why me?’ My life is 100 times better than what it was.”

She testified to the need for a rehab center. She now works full time as a manager at a restaurant and helps addicts in her spare time.

Imagining porno shops on Jackson town square

JACKSON, Wyo. – Can you imagine a porno shop between the art galleries of Jackson? How about next to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar?

Unlikely, but it was possible until last April, when the Jackson Town Council imposed a six-month moratorium on applications for sexually oriented businesses.

But town officials can’t hide from the issue forever, says the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Adult entertainment businesses are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If a sexually oriented business were banned from opening in Jackson, it could sue the town for a breach of its constitutional rights.

What the town council can do is restrict locations of adult entertainment businesses. The town had in mind one commercial area less frequented by tourists, but nearby residents objected. Instead, the town council in November will roll out a map and ask the public to comment where they think would be the best place, if somebody insisted on opening such a store. It will have to be in somebody’s backyard.

Bricks-and-mortar stores want curbs on trunk sales

ASPEN, Colo. – They’re called trunk shows. Peddlers of high-end art, jewelry and clothing arrive in Aspen during Christmas, pay the $150 business license fee, then rent a room to show their wares.

But a coalition of 19 business owners in downtown Aspen would also like to call them illegal or at least make it expensive for competing peddlers. They argue that they pay every month to have business locations, and allowing itinerants is unfair.

The Aspen Daily News explains that the high-end peddlers skirt town laws that prohibit commerce in hotel rooms by showing the goods there but then conducting the actual sale later and legally. Retailers also objected to something called an “antique, jewelry and fine art fair” that leases the city’s Ice Garden for a week in July to bring in 60 vendors.

Mayor Steve Skadron told the brick-and-mortar merchants that he wishes he could “wave a magic wand,” by increasing the cost of a temporary business license or strengthening zoning rules to discourage pop-up retail. But he also cautioned that any action must be carefully considered, since “every action has a reaction.”

Facebook pages allows tattle-tailing of Airbnb

WHISTLER, B.C. – A Facebook page has been created to allow tattle-tailing by neighbors about illegal nightly vacation rentals in Whistler.

The broader issue in Whistler is a tightening market for long-term rentals. Pique reports that there are a number of causes, and even the person who created the Facebook page, called “Whistler Illegal AirBNB Reporting,” concedes her effort will have limited repercussions.

“While I don’t think cracking down on illegal Airbnbs is the only solution to this problem, even an increase of 10 to 15 units in the rental pool in the current climate would make a difference,” “Livvie” (a fictitious name) told Pique Newsmagazine.

“The properties were zoned the way they were for a reason,” she continued. She also said that Whistler municipal authorities had not taken the necessary steps to curb such illegal rentals.

Electric bikes in a place with big carbon footprint

VAIL, Colo. – Kim Langmaid was born in Vail and is now on the Vail Town Council. She has a Ph.D. in environmental studies and now uses and electric bike in lieu of a car when driving to work.

“By riding my bike to work most days,” she writes in the Vail Daily, “I have reduced my carbon footprint by a half-ton, about the size of half of a hot-air balloon, and I get to be outside enjoying our beautiful summer and having fun while I’m at it.”

Langmaid disclosed her change while making the case for the new climate action plan being stitched together in Eagle County. “No political speeches or guilt tripping is allowed. Innovation and fun are preferred over doom and gloom,” she writes.

But she does report some gloom on the horizon if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed. Since the 1970s, she says, Eagle County has gained 23 frost-free days, with another 30 projected by 2060.

“That has big implications for our ski and snowboarding conditions, our river runoff, the health of our forest and wildlife, and there are increasing threats from extreme wildfires, droughts and floods.”

But there’s also this: on a per capita basis, people in Vail and Eagle County use 30 percent more energy than the U.S. average.

Too little fire can lead to a massive forest fire

TAOS, N.M – Something’s out of whack in the Taos area: the frequency of fire.

The Taos News tells about an investigation underway that seeks to document the prior fire history in surrounding forests. Fire historians have documented at least seven fires that probably date to the 1600s. But the most recent fire was probably around the 1880s.

Those earlier fires, occurring on average every 30 years, were strong enough to burn the tree and most likely take out some competing trees, but not strong enough to kill the native trees.

The goal of a public-private coalition known as the Rio Grande Water Fund is to attempt to reintroduce the role of moderate fire into the landscape.

What’s so bad about suppressing fires? Ellis Margolis points to the Jemez Mountains near Santa Fe, where fires burning with an intensity outside the norm have left a barren landscape and landslides that dumped rivers of ash into the Rio Grande.

“A third of that forest has turned into shrub land, and it’s changing the landscape,” says Margolis. “And it’s probably going to stay like that. The forest is not going to come back.”

Colorado wildfire puzzles firefighters

WALDEN, Colo. – The Beaver Creek Fire erupted in mid-June in the Park Range just south of the Wyoming border, and by mid-August it had spread across 36,000 acres.

A few decades ago that would have been a fire of historic dimensions. Now? There have been much, much bigger fires.

Still, even if the fire did not threaten homes or set records, it got much attention. Words like “extreme” were used. It’s in an area of trees untouched since the lodgepole pine epidemic hit in the 1990s. The fire did not behave as firefighting models had predicted.

The broader issue is that forests have, after a century of suppression, become more vulnerable to fires.

The U.S. Forest Service costs for fire management represented 16 percent of the agency’s total budget in 1995. By last year, it was 50 percent. And the agency projects this will rise to about 66 percent by mid-way through the next decade, reports The Steamboat Pilot.

Assessing the impact of cannabis in Colorado

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Since marijuana became legal among adults in Colorado, communities are trying to come up with strategies to deal with unintended consequences.

For example, what happens if tourists leave marijuana in their hotel rooms before heading home? In Gunnison, site of an airport, and Crested Butte, 27 miles away, there are now amnesty boxes, where unused marijuana can be left. The box at the airport was emptied twice weekly during the busy season.

Local police tell the Crested Butte News that stores selling marijuana pay close attention to state and local regulations. “They have a great thing going, and they don’t want to lose their licenses, explains Tom Martin, the town’s chief marshal.

Sales and other taxes imposed on sales rose in 2015, the second year of legal sales for recreational use. In Crested Butte, collections grew from $94,000 to $140,000. That indicates altogether $3.5 million in sales last year in Crested Butte.

One fear of legalization was that cannabis use would grow among youngsters. The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey reports that between 2009 and 2015 kids did indeed get increased access—but there was a slight decrease in use, except for grade 12, the News says.

But the jury is still very much out about the effect of legalization on traffic safety. California is weighing the evidence as voters prepare to vote in the November election about legalizing sales as Colorado, Washington and other states have done.

The Sacramento Bee sorted through the evidence from Colorado, Washington state and other jurisdictions and drew no clear conclusion.

“We really do not have accurate data,” said Glenn Davis, Colorado’s highway safety manager. “I recognize that marijuana impairment is going to be a challenge for us. I would say the increased availability of marijuana to the driving public has some impact on crashes, but we don’t know.”

Jasper addressing its growing pile of biosolids

JASPER, Alberta – Jasper has now retained an international engineering firm to deal with a very ordinary problem. The town of 5,000 has a pile of biosolids – the organic material removed from the municipal wastewater treatment plant – that, after being mixed with wood chips, has been growing into at least a disconcerting large pile.

But while it is drying out, what to do with the biosolids. That seems to be the core of the question reported by the Jasper Fitzhugh. The town governing body has now approved a contract with CH2M Hill Canada. The company will help find what needs to be done to make the compost usable.

There’s another pile of compost, from kitchen wastes, but it is processed separately.

Symbiosis of Great Plains and mountain meadows

GRANBY, Colo. – Those wonderful wildflowers that sprinkle mountain meadows in August? In fact, they’re made possible by something happening on the Great Plains. James Hagadorn, a scientist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, writes that the low-land prairies are the breeding ground for miller moths.

“Plentiful supply of these nocturnal pals is pretty important – once hatched, they migrate from the prairie up to mountain meadows, where they pollinate vast meadows of wildflowers, providing a foundation for local food webs.”

The prairie-born moths get eaten by all sorts of mountain dwellers, from tiny bats to hulking bears.

Imagine this, a newspaper starts up and even thrives

KALISPELL, Mont. – You think newspapers are dying? Well consider the Flathead Beacon, a weekly newspaper launched in 2007 and apparently now thriving. It’s located in Kalispell, on the northern shores of Flathead Lake, just south of Whitefish.

The Columbia Journalism Review explains that the patron is Maury Povich, who does a drama-fueled syndicated television talk show. Along with his wife, TV journalist Connie Chung, he owns a home nearby.

“A lot of people said to me, ‘you’re going to do what? Start a newspaper now, when newspapers are losing?’ People thought I was kind of nuts,” Povich told the Journalism Review.

There was already an established daily in the valley, but the new newspaper is doing something right. The free tabloid averages 64 pages per edition with a press run of 25,000. The newsroom has grown to five and a half full-time positions.

The newspaper’s editorial formula, says the Journalism Review, is a mix of in-depth pieces using bold photos and sophisticated graphics, plus a print wrap-up of the weekly local news in charts, numbers, and short stories.

The Beacon pays a great deal of attention to outdoor recreation, natural resources, and the area’s relationship with nearby Alberta.

The newspaper’s editor, Kellyn Brown, says he tells his staff to “act bigger than you are. Just because we’re this small paper doesn’t mean we can’t break big news or cover big stories.”

The newspaper has recently acquired a local marketing agency that offers advertising, branding, and web design. A full-time videographer is part of the mix.

Povich says this diversification has boosted the bottom line. He said he doesn’t expect to earn back his investment, but the paper is “on the precipice of being very much a paper that can stand on its own.”

What better place to learn about implants than T’ride

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Mountain Village, the town located adjacent to the ski slopes above Telluride, might seem like an odd place to set up a dental implant business. Sure, Telluride gets visitors, but Mountain Village has a permanent population of about 1,000 and Telluride just a few more.

But Michael Spicer thinks that Mountain Village can work for his dental implant business. It’s not the locals he has in mind. He will sell implants to dentists, but also facilitate training for dentists on how to sell them to patients. He told the Telluride Daily Planet that essentially he is teaching the dentists he hopes to have as customers the business aspect.

With well over 100,000 dentists doing implants in the United States, “there is a marketplace for this,” he said.

Transportation, though is crucial. Most visitors on ski vacations arrive by larger airplanes into Montrose, an airport about an hour away. But Telluride has a smaller airport located on a mesa above Telluride, the town. Great Lakes Airlines is resuming year-round service in December.

“We’ve definitely seen a significant influx of new families into Telluride over the past decade, many of them coming from big cities where they were involved with successful start-up companies,” Bob Delves, former mayor of Mountain Village, tells Mountain Town News.

“They move for the lifestyle benefits, but with adequate airline access and internet capacity, they often continue to be involved in their existing business and/or start new ones.”

That trend, he observed, has long been underway in larger resort towns, from Durango to Bozeman.

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