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Mountain Town News: How to decide if you have too much grass

Adult Male Kayaking in Sitka Harbor Alaska
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DURANGO, Colo. – Just as some people start watering their lawns this spring, Steve Harris will rip his out.

Harris is a water engineer in Durango and active in formulation of a statewide water plan for Colorado. The core issue is how the state will accommodate a population that is expected to grow from today’s 5.3 million to 9 or 10 million at mid-century.

Nearly all of Colorado’s water is owned by somebody, mostly farmers and ranchers. More than 80 percent of water goes to agriculture. Cities are responsible for just 8 percent of the water.

Can cities grow without drying up farms? Many farmers are happy to sell, but that leaves agriculture-based communities eviscerated. Further exploiting rivers comes at the expensive of fish and kayakers.

Then there’s the issue of where these rivers are located. Some 80 percent of Colorado’s water comes from west of the Continental Divide, primarily in the form of snow. About 90 percent of the state’s residents live east of the Continental Divide, primarily in metropolitan Denver and other cities along the urbanized Front Range corridor.

Similar to California and other water-strapped states of the West, Colorado has been talking about how to step up conservation. Whether in Denver or Durango, a typical home in Colorado will use 50 percent of its water indoors over the course of a year and 50 percent outside during the months of summer.

Can the use of water for outdoor landscaping be reduced? A water roundtable in southwestern Colorado in which Harris participates thinks so. It calls for taking steps to pivot indoor-outdoor water use to 60 percent indoor use and 40 percent outdoor. The thinking is that indoor water use will not go up. In fact, with wider adoption of WaterSense toilets and other fixtures, water use will decline. But even more drastic reductions should be accomplished in lawns and other outdoor landscapes.

Harris figures if he’s going to talk this sort of talk, he needs to do the walk. At a statewide water meeting in metropolitan Denver last week, he announced that on May 15 he will have the 300 square feet of lawn at his house in Durango removed. He said he plans to replace it with flagstone.

One useful rule of thumb, he said, is “if the only time you walk on the grass is when you mow it, you probably have too much.”

The last word on weed on Breck’s Main Street

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – Oh, those crafty cannapreneurs in Breckenridge. The Summit Daily News reports that Breckenridge Cannabis Club has moved from its Main Street location, as mandated by town voters in an election held last fall.

It is still in Breckenridge, at a new suburban location and with a new name (Backcountry Cannabis Club). It has also hung onto its Main Street location in what the Daily News describes as a giant billboard for the goods available elsewhere.

The store opened in 2010 to sell medical marijuana. At the time, it was among three marijuana retailers along Main Street in Breckenridge. Over time, others drifted to a service-oriented district called Airport Road (now dubbed “Airpot” road), two miles from the Victorian-themed Main Street that is central to Breckenridge’s tourism brand.

As a medical dispensary, the company had revenues of $515,000 a year, reports the Daily News. In its first year of selling “recreational” marijuana in 2014, the business had $3 million in revenues.

Colorado is the first state to legalize use by those 21 and over without medical need. A film production company spent over a year following Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire, the founders of the Breckenridge Cannabis Club. The forced exile from Main Street added drama to the story that has been broadcast by CNN, the cable news network, under the heading of “High Profits.”

The first installment of “High Profits” was broadcast on April 19, and it comes across as something like a reality-TV show, says the Daily News.

Since being ousted from Main Street, the renamed business has joined the other weed retailers on the outskirts of town in what locals dubbed the “green-light” district. As such, THC products are accessible to tourists who make a point of getting them but not quite so much to those casually strolling Main Street in search of T-shirts, shots of schnapps, or whatever else.

But the company — which now has a dispensary in Crested Butte and a grow operation planned at Steamboat Springs — still has a presence on Main Street.

The former location has now been reinvented into a cannabis “education center.” It amounts to a high-profile billboard for the business. At this education center, visitors can get directions to the new shop and a discount simply for dropping by the former dispensary.

“The first three words of any business class are ‘location, location, location,’” Rogers tells the Daily News. “We’ve been there for five years, and now, the sign still remains.”

Post-legal pot: Not much has changed in Colorado

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – With well more than a year of recreational marijuana sales, Colorado continues to be in the national spotlight regarding what Gov. John Hickenlooper called this great social experiment.

Karn Stiegelmeier, a Summit County commissioner, tells the Summit Daily News that relatively little has changed for most people.

“People want to know what’s happening (and) what’s going on. Once you talk to them for awhile or they actually come visit, they say, ‘It’s really not that different. It’s not that big of a deal. People were doing this 30 years ago and it’s not overwhelming.’”

That’s also the impression of Shannon Haynes, the police chief in Breckenridge. “I think there’s a big misconception on the part of guests,” she said. “They have this perception that everybody in Colorado is smoking weed, and if you come to Breck, you’ll stand out on Blue River Plaza and every person will have a joint in their hand.”

That’s not how it is, she went on to say. “We’ve allowed the folks who want to come here and partake to partake in a legal way that doesn’t interfere with the folks who don’t.”

She did note, however, a spike in emergency room visits by people who ingested too much THC in the form of edibles.

But the local officials also told the Summit Daily that they thought Colorado should proceed cautiously.

“In one year’s time, I don’t think we have still found all the trip wires,” said Wendy Wolfe, a councilwoman in Breckenridge.” I think the business model itself will undergo changes … I think that gives us all the reason to continue going slowly, keep thinking about this.”

One of the thorniest issues, several of the officials said, was defining what is public. Cannabis cannot be consumed in public. “What if it’s right next to somebody else’s deck who doesn’t want that smoke,” said Stiegelmeier.

But, added another official, that’s true for a lot of things.

Mountain towns take position on coal taxes

LEADVILLE, Colo. – Ten mountain towns in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico have launched a campaign that seeks to force coal mining companies to pay more for coal extracted from federally-owned deposits.

The coal companies can pay royalties based on percentages of initial sales to subsidiaries at reduced rates.

“By eliminating subsidies and requiring coal companies to pay royalties on the true market price of coal, rather than on the hidden practice at which it is sold to a middleman or a subsidiary, the government will collect a fair return for U.S. taxpayers and Western states (an estimated $1 billion per year), and increase government transparent and efficacy,” says a letter sent to U.S. officials, lawmakers, and the White House.

The Denver Post reports that the towns included Aspen, Buena Vista, Dillon, Leadville, Ophir, Ridgway and Telluride, all in Colorado, plus Park City, Utah, and Taos, New Mexico. They have banded together under the name Mountain Pact. More towns are being solicited.

Stuart Sanderson, who heads the Colorado Mining Association, an organization heavily laden with coal-mining companies, rejected the allegation of a revenue loophole.

Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said the protest was provoked by concerns about global warming impacts.

“If they’re going to continue to burn coal, it has to be cleaner,” Fraser told the Denver Post. “This needs to happen sooner rather than later. It’s very important that we have less pollution going into the environment.”

Leadville Mayor Jaime Stuever said fossil fuels more generally need to be cut. “If there’s no consistent snow, due to global warming, then we need to look at other forms of tourism.”

40 years later, the U.S. still uneasy about ’Nam

KETCHUM, Idaho – The Vietnam War ended 40 years ago last Thursday with the U.S. evacuation of the final soldiers, diplomats and other personnel from Ho Chi Minh City, then called Saigon.

The United States had been deeply conflicted about the war, and it remains so today. Those conflicting views were evident in interviews of a trio of Vietnam War vets conducted by the Idaho Mountain Express.

All three men live in the Sun Valley to Hailey area, and all are in their early to mid-70s. Gary Busch, a real estate agent, told the newspapers that he was getting a master’s degree in agriculture economics in 1967 when he was called in to his draft board in Bishop, California, on the eastern flanks of the Sierra Nevada.

“I was being groomed to become a farm and ranch manager,” he said. Instead, he became an artillery officer, serving as a forward observer on search-and-destroy missions.

Winston Churchill said there is nothing quite so exhilarating as being shot at without effect. Busch has a different take. He said he still wakes up several times each year in a cold sweat, reliving the nightmares he experienced in battle.

One of his experiences was having one of his soldiers dying in his arms. “It was a sad experience,” Busch said.

In turn, his job was to kill people on the other side. The U.S. Army succeeded greatly at that. “We stacked up bodies like cordwood,” he said.

After Vietnam, Busch moved to Ketchum/Sun Valley in 1969 and has been there ever since.

“In retrospect, I have no feelings about the war one way or another. I went. I did my job, and in doing our job, the No. 1 thing was to keep those around us alive. We did our best by being efficient, and oftentimes it wasn’t pretty.”

Others from Ketchum are more skeptical about the value of their time in Vietnam. John McDonald, 73, the postmaster of Ketchum, was a crew chief on a helicopter that shuttled a commander to meetings. “I am not sure we had a good reason to be in Vietnam,” he said.

Mickey Garcia, 73, was in Vietnam for two tours spaced apart by several years. The second was in 1969, during the Tet offense, a major assault by the North Vietnamese forces. “By that time, everyone was smoking marijuana. You didn’t see that earlier. By that time, there were free-fire zones where you could shoot at anything that moved, including farmers and buffaloes in the fields, basically what you would call atrocities.”

The United States, says Garcia, was in Vietnam for the wrong reason. North Vietnam was considered to be a pawn of China, itself controlled by Russia. If South Vietnam fell to communists, the dominoes would keep falling to … well, to the U.S. shores ultimately.

Some two to three million Vietnamese died in the conflict and 58,000 Americans. Even at the time, many protestors argued that nationalism, not communism, had inspired Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong to begin fighting against French colonial rule after War War II. The United States essentially entered after the French left.

“If we had known anything at all about Vietnamese history,” said Garcia, “we would have known that the Vietnamese had been fighting with China for thousands of years. Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist, not a communist.”

Concluded Garcia: “Once you realize that a deeply held political belief is akin to a religious belief, then you can see that most wars are religious wars.”

Does sharing homes make a place sticky?

WHISTLER, B.C. – Ski towns still aren’t entirely sure what to make of the so-called sharing economy. The idea is that in everything from where you stay to your transportation, you will “share” with a local — and, of course, pay money.

“Everything under the sun, or at least everything under our roofs, is now available for procurement or rent,” said Douglas Quinby, vice president of research for Phocuswright, at the recent Mountain Travel Symposium.

“The millennial crowd in general loves to share,” said Quinby. “They really want to meet new people and share their experiences.”

Millenials and customers of the sharing economy in general, added Quinby, are “really craving something very different, very authentic.”

Another panelist compared it to the upending of the music industry. “They used to make money selling records,” said Erik Blachford, executive chairman of Couchsurfing International. “Now they make money going on tour with their show. It’s a completely different world all of a sudden.”

And the same is true for ski towns, he said. “There’s no reason to think that the ski industry is going to make money exactly the same way that they have for the last 40 years for the next 50 years.”

Jamie Wong, founder and chief executive of Vayable, said the ski industry capitalizes on the authenticity and culture of the communities.

“That authenticity and culture,” said Wong, is “created by the individuals that are there and have been there either for a long time and give the place its character,” she said. “That’s what makes a destination stick and brands it, ultimately.”

Empowering the locals and the independent service providers will go a long way to maintaining authenticity and attracting visitors, Wong said. At the end of your trip, it’s usually the people you meet who leave the longest-lasting impressions.

“These are the things that are sticky, and they make destinations sticky,” she said.

But are there risks with renting out your house to strangers. The Canadian Press tells of a Calgary family whose home was trashed amid a “drug-induced orgy” with damages assessed at $75,000.

The vast majority of property insurance policies don’t bank on people handing over the keys to their homes to complete strangers, says Steve Kee, of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. He advises checking with insurance representatives in advance to understand coverage and risks.

Deer Valley now has the Solitude ski area

PARK CITY, Utah – Two ski areas on the flanks of the Wasatch Range now have common ownership. Deer Valley, located on the east side of the range, has now formally purchased Solitude Mountain Resort, located on the west side.

Deer Valley general manager Bob Wheaton tells the Park Record that his company plans to invest $6 to $7 million into upgrades at Solitude, most of that in a high-speed detachable quad that will replace a fixed-grip two-seater.

Solitude already had a shared ski pass with Brighton, and that arrangement will continue. Now, however, the pass will be expanded to include Deer Valley.

Mt. Bachelor has first fatality in seven years

BEND, Ore. – A Bend man died after hitting a tree on Mt. Bachelor, the first fatality at Bachelor in seven years. The victim was wearing a helmet, as had most of the victims who died at Bachelor since the turn of the century, noted the Bend Bulletin.

The newspaper cited a report last October of the National Ski Areas Association that an average of 39 people have died while skiing or snowboarding at ski areas in the United States from 2004 to 2014.

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