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Group supporting 1A question to host public event

The Helping From the Heart Campaign Committee is hosting a campaign kickoff today at the Mountain Chalet.

The committee is working to support the passage of ballot question 1A to renew the Healthy Community Fund in Pitkin County.

Campaign leadership (Warren Klug, Sue Smedstad, Cooper Means and Seth Sachson), some Pitkin County commissioners, representatives from non-agencies receiving funds from the Healthy Community Fund and supportive citizens will be on hand at noon today to answer questions about the fund, its value in the community and the ballot question itself.

The event is open to the public, and light snacks will be provided.

Carbondale Chamber to host new TEDTalk-style business event

The Carbondale Chamber hosts a new event this month, the Carbondale Business Confluence, which will replace the chamber’s former annual business conference.

The all-new format will combine networking, interactive experiences and 20-minute informative and educational “conversation streams” (TEDTalk-style) presentations.

The confluence takes place from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19 at the Third Street Center in Carbondale. Registration begins at 3 p.m.

Presentations include: State of the Community from Garfield County and the town of Carbondale; Housing & Population Demographics from the state Demography Office; the Roaring Fork’s State of Health: The Intersection of Wellness and Economics from Mountain Family Health Centers; and Changing Tides in the Workplace, including Change Point Consulting with Patrick Kelly and Local Perspectives with Carbondale Chamber Executive Director Andrea Stewart.

During the expanded Business After Hours and Expo there will be numerous free interactive experiences including cooking and recreational demos; a live painting by Majid Kahhak, owner of Kahhak Fine Arts & School; beverage and food samplings; and music provided by the Roaring Fork High School Jazz Band.

Tickets are $30 in advance or at the door for Carbondale Chamber members and $40 for nonmembers. Bring additional cash or credit cards to participate in games for a chance to win prizes, as well as for the live painting, which will be auctioned off that evening.

All net proceeds from the Carbondale Business Confluence go to the chamber’s continued service to the community and its 475-plus member businesses. For tickets, updated information and membership options, visit Carbondale.com or call the Carbondale Chamber office at 970-963-1890.

Aspen City Council corrects address on ballot

The Aspen City Council held a brief meeting Thursday to correct ballot language for November so it accurately reflects the address of property voters may or may not approve for future city offices.

The council adopted language earlier this week identifying a portion of the 27,000 square feet of turnkey office space it might buy from developer Mark Hunt as 517 Hopkins St., said Jim True, Aspen city attorney. Hopkins is an "avenue" not a "street" and True said that while confusion was unlikely and the typo was probably irrelevant, he wanted the error fixed because there was time to do so.

The other part of that office space is located in the building next door at 204 S. Galena St.

Voters will decide in November if the city will build offices at that location across from the current City Hall or another location between Rio Grande Park and Galena Plaza.

Aspen Valley Hospital annual healthy picnic set for Saturday

Aspen Valley Hospital is hosting its annual Fresh & Healthy Community Picnic on Saturday at the hospital.

The event, which is noon to 3 p.m., will feature fresh, wholesome dishes prepared by AVH's award-winning nutrition team, plus games for the kids and live entertainment by local bluegrass band Timbermill.

The menu will include vegetarian black bean burgers; 100 percent grass-fed beef burgers; free-range, grilled chicken sandwiches; super-food salads; fruits and veggies, plus dark chocolate-covered strawberries.

Suggested donation for the picnic lunch is $10 for adults and $5 for kids and seniors. For more information, go to aspenvalleyhospital.org.

Doggie Day event with a twist at Aspen Recreation Center

The annual Doggie Day at the Aspen Recreation Center is Saturday, but there is an adjustment to years past as the pool will not be available for dogs to swim in.

Because of stage 2 water restrictions, there will be no "splash" portion of the event, but there will water events in the yard outside.

The event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and benefits the Lucky Day Animal Rescue, which is a volunteer group that places dogs with families and provides other animal services. Without the indoor pool, there will be water options outside for the dogs to splash in.

Entry is free this year and donations are accepted. There also is more than $15,000 donated in silent auction items, an "ask the vet," dog trainer, food and other events.

Dogs must be current on rabies and spayed/neutered. For more information, email luckdayrescue.org or 

The rec center is closed starting Saturday through Sept. 23 for its annual maintenance.

Wilderness Workshop hires Latino outreach coordinator

Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop has named Beatriz Soto of Glenwood Springs to fill a new position as Latino outreach coordinator to assist with the implementation of the Defiende Nuestra Tierra (Defiende) program that was launched earlier this year.

Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Soto grew up in a bicultural setting between Mexico and the United States. She graduated from Basalt High School in 1999 and studied architecture in Chihuahua City.

“She has engaged on diverse types of architectural and community projects in both the U.S. and Mexico City, always with an environmental focus,” according to a news release from the group.

While living in San Francisco, Nayarit (known as San Pancho), Mexico, she helped lead a local organizing effort to stop beachfront development.

“She is very passionate about sustainable and conscientious design,” according to the release. “Beatriz has moved in and out of the Roaring Fork Valley and has been back since 2013 with her young son.”

Added Soto, “I hope to assist the Latino community in understanding what public lands are and what people’s role on public lands issues can be. This program represents a great opportunity to begin this process and empower the voice of our local Latinos to participate in land stewardship and conservation.

“We breathe the same air, drink the same water, enjoy the same views, and participate in the same recreational opportunities, and now is a perfect time to begin weighing in on the public process surrounding important environmental issues we all have a stake in,” she said.

As the lead community liaison for Defiende, Soto is tasked with broadening the Wilderness Workshop’s relationship with the Latino community “to become advocates for and stewards of public lands.”

She also will be instrumental in helping the organization shape and implement Defiende as the program grows.

Another key component of the program is providing opportunities for members of the Latino community to access and enjoy public lands through hikes and restoration projects.

More information at: wilderness workshop.org.

Conservancy raises $121,550 for Lake Christine Fire first responders — to prepare for or prevent next disaster

Local firefighters and police officers didn't look for pats on the back for their quick and effective response to the Lake Christine Fire in July, but the special recognition they received Thursday will aid their missions.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy presented checks totaling $121,550 to the fire departments of Basalt-Snowmass Village, Aspen and Carbondale as well as the Basalt Police Department to share with other agencies. Rick Balentine, fire chief for the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, said it is recognition that will be put to good use.

"Most firefighters I know, we're not big on parades," he said after the ceremony. "We don't do this for parades or accolades. It's our job. It's what we do but it certainly feels good to get recognition, especially in your hometown."

The Basalt-based conservancy holds an annual fundraising effort called the River Rendezvous. It includes a focused fundraising segment called a Paddle Raise, where funds are collected for its water quality and quantity programs. But co-organizers Sarah Woods and Judy Baum decided this year it would be appropriate to raise funds for local first responders. The Lake Christine Fire was still fresh on everyone's minds at the time of the event July 11.

"You guys were so fabulous. You saved us," said Woods, who has helped organize the River Rendezvous for 10 years.

Images of the frenetic first day and a half of firefighting are seared in the minds of many midvalley residents, said Roaring Fork Conservancy Executive Director Rick Lofaro. He recalled watching from his office window on the evening of July 3 when local firefighters scrambled to contain the fire after it broke out at the Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range. He was among thousands of people awestruck as a DC-10 dropped slurry to protect downtown.

"We can't thank you enough. All of these people will never forget," Lofaro told the first responders.

The conservancy raised about $100,000 at the River Rendezvous and another $21,000 afterward. Alpine Bank stoked the contributions by offering the first $10,000, according to Woods.

"It was a feeding frenzy," she said. "We couldn't keep up with all the people donating for our first responders."

At Thursday's check presentation, Basalt-Snowmass Fire Department received $55,000. The fire departments of Aspen and Carbondale received $18,250 each. The Basalt Police Department received $30,050.

Police Chief Greg Knott said the contribution will be placed in a special fund overseen by a board. Law enforcement agencies that responded to the fire, and their employees, will be eligible to seek grants from the fund. That could range from equipment for an agency to aid to a responder who is facing some type of hardship, Knott said.

Aspen Volunteer Fire Department likely will use the funds to acquire equipment for wildland firefighting, Balentine said. That could include a utility terrain vehicle or enhancements for a drone, which the agency has used to help assess wildfires. A team will look at options and decide, he said.

The department sent about 20 firefighters to help with the fire. The training of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department and the various other departments shined and their ability to work together proved invaluable.

"You train for the worst and hope for the best," Balentine said. "In this particular case, I'm very proud of our firefighters for sure and definitely everybody we worked with."

Carbondale Fire Chief Rob Goodwin said the funds for his department will be used for wildfire fighting preparation for the paid staff and volunteers.

"First of all, we're just humbled," he said.

The department sent between 20 and 22 firefighters to the Lake Christine Fire and logged more than 1,400 hours in the effort.

"We needed every one of them," he said.

He was proud of the role his firefighters played when joining their neighboring agency.

"It reinforced to me how dedicated, able and willing they are to step in," Goodwin said. "I couldn't be more pleased with the response."

Thompson said the $55,000 contributed to the combined Basalt-Snowmass Village fire departments will be used on projects that benefit the community. The fire district will offer matching grants to individuals and towns for community-minded projects, such as reducing fuels and providing water tanks for subdivisions.

Federal and state funds for fuel-removal projects have become scarce, he said. A program was funded in the mid-2000s to clear brush on the east side of the El Jebel Mobile Home Park. That mitigation helped firefighters save the neighborhood as wind-whipped flames roared downvalley the night of July 4, he said.

The Basalt-Snowmass Village department had 55 firefighters working Lake Christine for two straight days without a break.

"Everything fell into place, everybody did what I expected them to do," Thompson said.

The department has established a history of sending firefighters to other areas in the West to help with wildland firefighting when it can. That experience paid off in the Lake Christine Fire, according to Thompson.

"This is what they do. This is why we send people out to help in other regions and other forests — to gain the experience, so that when something like this happens, they know exactly what they have to do — from lighting fires, to using water to put out fires or keeping people safe," he said. "Not a single firefighter from a local community other than our dozer driver was injured. That's a testament to me that our people know how to stay out of trouble, when to back off, when to say 'no.' I preach to them that they do not risk their lives for a piece of property."

Thompson estimated that fire departments outside the Roaring Fork Valley sent 100 firefighters to Basalt and El Jebel to aid the effort. The includes agencies west of Glenwood Springs in the Colorado River Valley and east in the Eagle River Valley and Summit County.

The role of the local fire departments was critical in the first two days before a federal incident command team came in and the number of federal firefighters swelled to greater than 550.

Thompson said there have been so many fundraising efforts for local first responders, it's hard to remember them all.

At Thursday's ceremony, the fire and police chiefs received a big round of applause from onlookers at the check presentation. Balentine looked into the crowd, which included some Basalt-Snowmass Village firefighters, and motioned at them.

"These are the people who deserve applause, not us," he said.


Vote now for ‘Best of Aspen’

We have had an incredible response for The Aspen Times and Snowmass Sun "Best Of…" nominations, and online voting begins today for your favorite people, places and things around our towns.

Who is the Best Volunteer? The Best Whiner? Where is the Best Margarita in Snowmass? The Best Workout Class in Aspen?

You tell us! Last season we had more than 10,000 votes cast. If you think you're the best, your business is the best, your friend is the best — make sure to vote for them.

To ensure we have a fair competition, this year's "Best Of …" competition is split into two phases, nomination and voting.

Only the top 10 most nominated people and businesses made it on the official voting ballot for "Best of Aspen and Snowmass" — think of it as the primaries.

Visit AspenTimes.com/BestofAspen to select your favorites in Aspen and Snowmass. Voting runs through Sept. 10.

Keep a look out for a "Best of Aspen and Snowmass" party and special publication coming in October.

Vote early, vote often.

Backcountry safety classes start Saturday

The Elk Range Mountain Safety Coalition, which was formed after last summer's record number of deaths in the backcountry, will host the first of five field planning and skills clinics in the Roaring Fork Valley on Saturday.

The all-day clinics are led by expert mountaineering guides and cost $50. In addition to Saturday's clinic, others are set locally for Sept. 2, 8, 16 and 22. The courses are from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and are limited to 12 people per session.

There is a free, 90-minute mountain safety training class Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Mountain Rescue Aspen headquarters.

The alliance of Roaring Fork Valley mountaineering experts includes Mountain Rescue Aspen, the White River National Forest, the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, Aspen Expeditions Worldwide and Aspen Alpine Guides.

For more information and to register for the courses, visit the group's Facebook page @ElkRangeMtnSafety.

Climate change, wildland development usher in higher fire risks for Aspen, Roaring Fork Valley

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams has become road-weary in recent weeks making a roughly 250-mile circuit among three fires eating through tinder-dry landscape near Basalt, Rifle and Meeker.

Earlier this year, flames swept through forestlands and came perilously close to homes near Silverthorne in the Buffalo Mountain Fire. It has added up to an extremely busy fire season on the White River National Forest.

All told, 23 fires have burned about 12,000 acres and counting this summer in just the White River National Forest. It is the second-highest acreage charred in the past 20 years, topped only by 43,000 acres burned during the devastating drought summer of 2002. (Some of the fires, such as Lake Christine, also have burned state and private lands to produce larger overall totals.)

Even though this year's White River stats are on the high side of the 20-year history, Fitzwilliams and others in the Colorado forestry and firefighting communities wonder if a "new normal" is being established for fire conditions.

"Colorado used to have a fire season about every 15 years that was significant," Fitzwilliams said late last week while touring the Cabin Lake Fire near Meeker. "Now we're thinking that's more like four to five years."

Three factors are converging.

Climate change is creating warmer, drier conditions that are drying out tree, brush and grasses to record low moisture levels. Suburbanization of formerly rural areas is placing more homes and other structures in harm's way, in areas known as the wildland-urban interface. Plus, fire suppression has been going on for so many decades in the White River and other national forests in Colorado that fuels have built up and made them susceptible to conflagration — a large wildfire that causes major damage.

"We can control the forestry part," Fitzwilliams said. "We don't have any control over where houses are built or the weather."

Environmental groups have been critical of President Donald Trump's administration for not acknowledging the role climate change is playing in Western forest fires. In a teleconference Thursday, the Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center presented expert testimony to show the link in Colorado this year.

Heidi Steltzer, a professor of biology at Fort Lewis College in Durango who has studied early snowmelt, discussed how warmer, drier winters help make conditions ripe for wildfires — and how the problem is expected to get worse.

"Since the 1950s, snowpack across Colorado has decreased by at least 20 percent," Steltzer said. "Over the next 50 years, we're expected to see a staggering 60 percent further decline in snowpack. With shorter and more chaotic winters, we're seeing our snow melt earlier and faster, leaving dry earth primed for wildfire."

Deborah Kennard, a professor of environmental science at Colorado Mesa University who teaches courses on fire management and fire ecology, also spoke on Thursday's teleconference. She is concerned about fire spreading to high-elevation forests and ecosystems.

Fitzwilliams avoids politics but will share his observations. The potential for fires hit the high altitude of Summit County, location of the Buffalo Mountain Fire, two to three weeks earlier than normal this summer, he said.

The Lake Christine Fire was abnormal in the sense that wildland fires haven't reached higher elevation sub-alpine fir and conifer forests of the middle or upper Roaring Fork Valley for decades. The Panorama Fire in 2002 and Catherine Store Road Fire in 2008 were at lower elevations and within different ecosystems.

This year provided a one-two punch of low snowpack and lack of summer monsoons. If that's a trend rather than an anomaly, the fire season in Colorado will get more intense — with not only more fires, but regular health concerns because of poor air quality from smoke.

Fitzwilliams said the explosive growth of Colorado's Western Slope is making it more complicated — and expensive — to fight fires.

"I'm estimating we'll spend $30 million on the White River this year putting out fires," he said.

There have been five Type 2 incident management teams called to the White River National Forest so far this year to manage firefighting efforts. Those are large administrative teams with a broad diversity of skills to manage large numbers of firefighters. It's believed there were never more than three Type 2 teams on the forest in any prior year.

The firefighting effort on the Lake Christine Fire was so intense because there was power grid infrastructure and Basalt's municipal water springs to protect in addition to hundreds of homes in Basalt, El Jebel, Missouri Heights and the Fryingpan Valley.

The Cabin Lake Fire is in a more rural area so fewer structures are threatened but if the fire grows and forces an extended forest closure into hunting season, the Meeker area economy could be devastated. The fire has forced the closure of forestlands that are prime elk habitat.

The Cache Creek Fire southwest of Rifle threatens homes and disruption of oil and gas production.

The only other fire so far this year that threatened homes to the extent of Lake Christine was the Buffalo Mountain Fire. The Forest Service and partners had undertaken vegetation management on 350 acres of national forest on Buffalo Mountain adjacent to subdivisions between 2010 and 2014. That slowed the fire and helped protect the structures.

"The Buffalo Fire could have been catastrophic," Fitzwilliams said.

Basalt-Snowmass Village Fire Chief Scott Thompson feels the same way about the Lake Christine Fire.

"We're more than fortunate," he said. "We should have lost 100 homes."

A vegetation management project in the mid-2000s on federal lands east of the El Jebel Mobile Home Park slowed the fire and assisted firefighters battling to save it the night of July 4, according to Thompson.

Elsewhere, there have been sporadic attempts to beef up defensible space. Snowmass Village homeowners associations have made a stellar effort at thinning fuels around houses, he said. The town of Basalt has vowed to take steps after its close call this summer. Eagle County makes new development mitigate for wildfire.

The Lake Christine Fire has motivated private property owners. The Fire Department is receiving regular requests from property owners who want an assessment of what they can do to make their land and homes more defensible.

"There's nothing like flames or smoke in your neighborhood to make people pay attention to their own property," Thompson said.

The department is making those assessments but much of the recommended work must wait until the fire threat abates so chainsaws and other equipment can be used.

Thompson agreed with Fitzwilliams that development in the wildland-urban interface complicates firefighting. There were hundreds of homes in that zone in the Basalt Regional Fire Protection District in the 1980s. Now there are thousands of homes built on private lands abutting public lands.

Thompson estimated that only a very small percentage of homeowners have undertaken the steps to make their homes and property defensible.

Firefighters will have to write off some of those homes for safety reasons under the wrong circumstances — like a fast-moving fire in pinion and juniper forest with only dead-end streets for ingress and egress, Thompson said.

So, if the Forest Service undertakes more forest thinning, private landowners create defensible space, and towns and counties toughen their land-use codes, will it make any difference if the climate keeps changing?

Thompson said if the drought persists in the Roaring Fork Valley — with 2019 matching 2018 — he is worried about a California-style "mega-fire."

Fitzwilliams voiced similar concerns about the longer duration of fire seasons — and the wear-and-tear it creates for firefighters and regular Forest Service staff. In a year like this, resources are spread thin and assigned to where the risk is greatest.

"The problem is not going away anytime soon," Fitzwilliams said.


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