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License plate-reading cameras proposed at Aspen’s exit points to help solve crimes

Cars wait at the light on Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Aspen. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

One constant in the annals of Aspen crime is the pull luxury goods for sale here in Fat City have on professional thieves.

Some prefer a simple smash-and-grab — like the three men who pried open a display case in the lobby of The Little Nell hotel in December 2018 and walked out with $400,000 in jewelry. Others choose less brazen techniques, like the crew of five who made off with $100,000 in jewelry after distracting a saleswoman, or the fur thief in 2016 who merely wadded up a $95,000 coat, stuffed it under his bulky clothing and walked out.

But whatever method they choose, one thing nearly all of them want to do once they’ve secured their ill-gotten gains is to get the heck out of Dodge ASAP. And because Aspen has only one exit in the winter and two in the summer, that instinct to flee, in theory, ought to get at least some of them identified after investigators simply check the camera on the Castle Creek Bridge.

If there was a camera on the Castle Creek Bridge, that is.

None of Aspen’s chokepoint exits are covered by cameras, in fact, and the Aspen Police Department has been historically hesitant to bring up installing them for fear of arousing privacy concerns among city residents.

Now, however, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office is taking the lead in trying to close that gaping hole in the investigation of crimes in the upper Roaring Fork Valley. As part of its 2022 budget, the agency is asking Pitkin County commissioners to approve $4,000 to buy two mobile license plate-reading cameras that can be placed at those chokepoints or at other locations throughout the county, said Pitkin County Undersheriff Alex Burchetta.

“We want to make sure the data is being used appropriately because I think we are sensitive to privacy issues,” Burchetta said Thursday. “But the ability to have a leg up in solving crimes for our citizens makes this a no-brainer.”

Assistant Aspen Police Chief Bill Linn also said the license plate readers have the potential to solve some of the city’s major crimes like the ones that have gone unsolved in the past.

“I can think of a bunch of significant, high-profile crimes we’ve had over the years where a license plate reader would have been a game-changer,” he said.

The impetus for the license plate-reader proposal came up in discussions with technology vendors the sheriff’s office has been consulting in preparation to purchase and implement new equipment for deputies next year. That new technology will include body cameras for all deputies — which is newly required under state law — as well as in-vehicle cameras, mobile computers and an electronic ticketing system, Burchetta said.

License plate-reading cameras are not new. The Colorado Department of Transportation has installed them on highways and Interstate 70, and they are prominent in the Denver area as well, said Burchetta and Linn. Aspen’s parking enforcement vehicles have used license plate readers for years as well.

The cameras do not record images of drivers, Burchetta said. They only record a vehicle’s license plate, make, model and color, he said.

A biker crosses Maroon Creek Road as cars wait in traffic at the roundabout in Aspen in July. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office is looking to invest in license plate-camera readers that could be put at the exits from Aspen. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Because they are mobile, the sheriff’s office can position one on the west end of town at, say, Cemetery Lane or the Roundabout, and put the second one on the east end near Difficult Campground, for example. They can be placed on county roads as well, or they can be used as a traffic counter if local traffic data is needed, Burchetta said.

Mainly, though, they can provide a go-to resource for the investigation of crimes, he said.

“We view it as a huge, huge investigative tool,” Burchetta said. “They put us in a better position from an investigative standpoint.”

Linn said Aspen police have considered license plate readers numerous times over the years, but have not felt support for them from the community.

“It’s just been privacy concerns and people worrying about big brother,” he said.

Burchetta said the sheriff’s office is also concerned about privacy, which is why it is starting small with the mobile license plate readers. In addition, the agency is writing policies governing how the data will be used and shared.

“We’re not going to look at the movements of people throughout the county,” he said. “We want to be deliberate about the implementation of the technology.”

If the experiment works, the agency may move on to installing permanent license plate readers, which is much more expensive and likely would require participation from other area agencies, Burchetta said.

So far, Aspen police officials have had discussions with their counterparts at the sheriff’s office about the license plate readers and plan to reach out if the readers are placed in a spot to help them with a future investigation, Linn said.

“We expect to work with them on it, as it starts to grow out and see if it benefits us,” Linn said.

A woman also believed to have taken part in Louis Vuitton burglary in June appears next to a second vehicle thought to be a Chrysler Pacifica.
Aspen Police courtesy image

The latest major theft incident in Aspen occurred in June, when thieves cut a hole in the outside wall to the storeroom at Louis Vuitton in downtown Aspen, and stole $500,000 or so in merchandise. Surveillance video was able to record a man and a woman and two vehicles connected to the robbery, though no one has yet been arrested and the investigation remains on-going.

That theft, however, is the perfect example of a crime a license plate reader could easily and quickly have helped solve, said Aspen Police Det. Ritchie Zah.

Surveillance cameras are not designed to pick up a whole lot of detail, he said, especially at night when it can be difficult to pick out even the make and model, much less a license plate number. A license plate reader could have immediately identified the vehicles involved in the Louis Vuitton robbery and helped lead to the robbers, he said.

“It’s so helpful,” Zah said. “I’ve been a proponent for an LPR system for a long time.”

The system also could have helped identify the person or persons who sabotaged natural gas lines in the Aspen area between Christmas and New Year’s last year, causing thousands to go without heat for days, he said. The saboteurs almost certainly used vehicles to commit that crime — which cost Black Hills Energy $1.4 million — because of the distance between the three sabotaged areas and the fact that it was cold outside, Zah said.

“Aspen is such a transient community,” he said. “People rely on vehicles to get in and out of town. It’s one of the few ways to identify who it might be.”

Still, Zah said a license plate reader is not the end-all, be-all answer to solving crimes. He said he wants the community to feel comfortable with technology used by the police and encouraged a community conversation on the subject.

“I don’t want to scare people with big brother,” he said. “It’s just about trying to help out the community (and) give us a fighting chance to solve these cases.”

Campaign spending varies among school board candidates

There are six candidates for three open seats on the Aspen Board of Education. The candidates gathered on stage at the Aspen District Theatre in Aspen Elementary School during the candidate forum on Thursday, October 14, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

In the race for three seats on the Aspen School District Board of Education, some of the six candidates have taken a more spartan approach to campaign finance than others, contribution and expenditure reports show.

Anna Zane and incumbent Susan Zimet are neck-and-neck when it comes to campaign spending. Zane reported $2,178.57 and Zimet reported $2,271.35 in expenditures as of the most recent Oct. 18 filing deadline, which tracks spending up through Oct. 13.

Stacey Weiss and Christa Gieszl have likewise logged comparable expenditures: Weiss has spent $1,078.94 and Gieszl has spent $924.75 since the campaign began.

Lawrence Butler and John Galambos have been the most frugal in their spending habits: neither have reported a single dime spent on the campaign as of mid-October.

Most of the money spent in this campaign season has been for advertising — namely, yard signs, newspaper ads, and other printed materials according to itemized expenditure reports. A few occurrences of bank fees also crop up on the reports.

On the campaign contribution side, Zane takes the lead with $5,150 in donations as of mid-October, as well as a $1,000 loan reported for the campaign.

Weiss logged the second-highest contribution total, with $2,813.33 in donations and a $500 loan. Galambos has reported $433.34 in contributions, and Butler has not yet reported any contributions via TRACER.


All candidates are required to file expenditure reports leading up to the election using TRACER, Colorado’s campaign finance filing system and database.

Only candidates who accept or solicit outside contributions are required to register a committee and report those contributions, according to a campaign finance manual produced by the Secretary of State. Four candidates in the Aspen school board race fall into that category: Lawrence Butler, John Galambos, Stacey Weiss and Anna Zane.

Those who spend only their own money on campaigns don’t have to register a committee and don’t have to report contributions since they aren’t accepting any. The rule applies to Christa Gieszl and Susan Zimet, who are only required to submit expenditure reports because they aren’t accepting or soliciting contributions through a committee.

The most recent filing deadline of Oct. 18 includes reporting through Oct. 13. There’s one more filing deadline before the election, with reports due Nov. 1 for the period through Oct. 27; another report will be due Dec. 2 for the period through Nov. 27.

Zimet and Gieszl have not reported any contributions because they are not soliciting or accepting outside funding, according to the database.

Most donations have come from individuals with Pitkin County home addresses, with a few out-of-state exceptions.

But three candidates — Weiss, Galambos and Butler — also received support from the Public Education Committee, a political action committee composed of members of the Colorado Education Association teachers union, according to association president Amie Baca-Oehlert.

Decisions on which candidates to support are based on recommendations made by local committees, according to Baca-Oehlert. Weiss, Butler and Galambos also received the endorsement of the Aspen Education Association, which is a branch of the Colorado Education Association and the countrywide National Education Association.

The committee split $1,000 three ways: $333.33 for Weiss and Butler and $333.34 to Galambos, according to Oct. 5 and Oct. 18 expenditure reports for the group. The donations to Weiss and Galambos have been logged on their contribution reports; the donation to Butler did not appear on his TRACER profile as of Oct. 21.

Funds come from voluntary donations to the committee from association members across the state and donations to candidates vary based on the size of the local district and association, Baca-Oehlert said.


Paolo Pivi selected as Aspen’s 2021-22 lift ticket artist

Artist Paola Pivi’s polar bear-focused artwork will grace the Aspen Skiing Co.’s 2021-22 lift tickets, the company announced Thursday.

Pivi’s creations are comprised of two installations, “Untitled,” which entails four large-scale sculptures of polar bears, and her “We are the baby gang” installation, featuring six smaller-scale bears. Along with six lift ticket designs, Skico will also feature Pivi’s art installations in Aspen at the Sundeck and in its private mountaintop members club as well as in Snowmass at the Elk Camp restaurant.

The partnership marks the 17th year of contemporary artists lending or creating work for Aspen’s passes. The program, long part of the Aspen Art Museum’s “Art in Unexpected Places” initiative, has been rebranded “ArtUP” by the Skico for this season. The Skico-museum partnership ran from 2005 to 2017, after which artists have been chosen internally with direction from artist Paula Crown, whose family owns the company and whose work was featured on passes for the 2017-18 season.

To create both the lift ticket art and the on-mountain installations, Pivi worked with a taxidermist to design bears, which are covered in multi-colored feathers, in charming and uncannily human-like positions, according the the announcement.

Pivi’s inspiration for the lift ticket art and in-resort installations draws upon the call to action to breakdown division and separation between humanity and nature, according to the announcement.

“Introducing the whimsical and thought-provoking art of Paola Pivi to the slopes of Aspen Snowmass is timely,” Paula Crown said in the announcement. “Art’s superpower is its ability to connect and heal. Paola Pivi’s work brings joy, as well as a new framework through which viewers understand our four-legged friends and our shared environment.”

Pivi’s “Untitled” and “We are the baby gang” designs and concepts will also be featured on limited collection Aspen Snowmass merchandise including apparel and accessories, to be sold at select Four Mountain Sports retail shops in downtown Aspen and at the base of each mountain.

The lift ticket program has previously featured commissioned works by internationally recognized artists such as FriendsWithYou — who last season also made a light installation on gondola plaza — Susan Te Kahurangi King, Hank Willis Thomas, Yutaka Sone, Peter Doig, Karen Kilimnik, Jim Hodges, Carla Klein, Mamma Andersson, Mark Grotjahn, David Shrigley, Mark Bradford, Anne Collier, Takashi Murakami, Laura Owens and Paula Crown.


Aspen nonprofit aims to take its game to new level at global climate conference in Scotland

Jacquelyn Francis, executive director and founder of Global Warming Mitigation Project, speaks at a July ceremony naming the winners of the organization’s Keeling Curve Prize. GWMP awards $250,000 annually to innovators in the battle against climate change.
Contributed photo

An Aspen-based nonprofit that has awarded $1 million in four years to fight global warming will attend an international climate conference next month to boost its efforts and shine a light on innovators in the climate battle.

Jacquelyn Francis, executive director and founder of the Global Warming Mitigation Program, will attend the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as COP26, in Glasgow Nov. 1-12.

The conference will draw world leaders, activists and climate scientists focused on slowing the pace of global warming.

“What I would like to accomplish in Glasgow is to not only elevate the work that we’re doing but also use that platform to expedite others’ urgency in this area and highlight that solutions are popping up all over the world,” Francis said this week in phone interview from Scotland. “We just need speed and scale to make the energy transition that’s necessary for tackling climate change.”

Global Warming Mitigation Project has for the last four years awarded $250,000 annually to 10 individuals or entities that are making a difference in absorbing or preventing greenhouse gases. It awards the funds through its Keeling Curve Prize. The nomination process for the fifth round of awards opens in November.

Francis said GWMP has been approved to hold two news conferences at the climate conference, which will attract a large international crowd. It will use the forum to highlight the innovators who have received the Keeling Curve Prize and what they do to reduce climate change.

“People are desperate to know what they can do,” she said.

“We are not going to be able survive a world that is 2 degrees Celsius warmer than it is now.” — Jacquelyn Francis, Global Warming Mitigation Project

Emily Graves, the social media and content manager for GWMP, said the news conferences will show how funds can be put to good use in the climate change fight.

“Our organization is answering the question of ‘What can I do?’” Graves said. “We’re not just talking about things. You can really see the impact.”

Through exposure and networking, Francis is hoping to attract more financial support so that the Keeling Curve Prize can award a larger financial purse and provide regional prizes.

“We’re ready to grow as an organization and be more visible and more effective at what we do,” Francis said.

One of her goals is to provide social justice and equity in the climate change fight.

“A lot of people who are suffering the most (from climate change) are ones that didn’t really cause the problem and didn’t contribute to it in any way, shape or form,” she said.

Francis moved to Aspen with her family at a young age and attended the public school system. She recalls taking an interest in climate change while in middle school when her seventh grade science teacher raised the greenhouse gas effect that at the time wasn’t high on global awareness.

“I remember sitting in his science class daydreaming or passing notes to the boy across the room or something silly like that and all of a sudden stopping and listening to what he was saying and thinking that sounds like something really important,” she said.

Fast forward to her post-undergraduate days. She returned to college to get her master’s degree in energy policy and climate science. It inspired her to work to battle climate change and led to the formation of the Global Warming Mitigation Project. The Keeling Curve Prize, named for a graph of the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, became a tool to assist people working on innovative ways to slow global warming and draw attention to their work.

“Our whole goal is to activate, elevate solutions to removing greenhouse gases throughout the world,” Francis said. “We’re a young organization and we’re looking to scale up.”

She believes COP26 is important because it brings people around the world together — exactly what is needed to make a different on climate change. Climate scientists and activists can be the leaders that show elected officials what actions are necessary, she said. Global Warming Mitigation Project received passes for nine delegates, staff and supporters, at the two-week conference.

Francis said she is a climate scientist rather than an activist. That shapes her view on efforts to prevent catastrophic global warming.

“I consider myself a realist,” she said. “We don’t have a choice. This is something we have to face head on. There isn’t an alternative route.”

She believes more and more people understand the consequences of global warming every day. However, there is still an “education gap.” For example, slowing global warming won’t necessarily mean huge alterations of individuals’ lifestyles.

“As long as big players and the companies that have huge carbon footprints start making the changes that are necessary, then this isn’t going to necessarily affect people as much as they think it might,” Francis said. “They have to let go of this idea that this is going to be so terrible. The future of not tackling climate change is terrible. It’s not a choice. We have to take this step. We are not going to be able survive a world that is 2 degrees Celsius warmer than it is now. It’s not a choice. We have to stop letting people think it is.”


Vaccine will be needed to enter some of Aspen Skiing Co.’s indoor properties, but not for lift access

Proof of COVID vaccination will be required this ski season for guests in certain indoor Aspen Skiing Co. venues and to participate in some activities, Skico announced Wednesday, but not for lift access.

The policy is in response to a growing number of COVID infections in Pitkin County and across the state and the country, Skico officials said in their announcement.

“Guests vaccines are required for all ASC owned and operated hotels, full-service seated restaurants, Powder Tours and additional experiences where prolonged close contact while unmasked might occur,” Skico said in a news release. “Proof of vaccination is not required for lift access, Ski & Snowboard School lessons, market-style restaurants, rental shops or ticket offices.”

Those 12 and older will be required to show proof of vaccination either with an approved vaccine card, photograph of a vaccine card or an approved vaccine verification application along with proof of identity when entering or checking in to the restricted facilities or activities.

“We put a great deal of thought in to this decision and feel that for the health and safety of our guests and employees this is a necessary step,” Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said in the news release. “We want to provide the healthiest environment possible in order to give us the best shot at remaining open for the season and providing a safe work environment for our staff and the community at large.”

Last month, Vail Resorts announced proof of vaccination will be required for guests ages 12-older at all indoor, on-mountain quick-service (cafeteria-style) restaurants, but the proof of vaccination requirement does not apply to fine dining establishments.

Skico vice president of communications Jeff Hanle said Thursday there were two main reasons why the Aspen resorts’ cafeteria-style on-mountain restaurants were not included in the vaccine requirement but the fine-dining establishments were.

One is the logistics of checking the sheer amount of people going in and out of those buildings, including the Sundeck at Aspen Mountain or Elk Camp at Snowmass. The other is many of those visitors are there for a short time, whether it’s a quick bite to eat or just using the restrooms.

“In the fine-dining and sit-down establishments you have people who are in there for an extended amount of time — an hour or two hours — and in close proximity and unmasked once they sit down to eat,” he said. “The other places people typically are in and out a lot quicker.”

All of Skico’s employees will be required to be vaccinated unless they have a religious or medical exemption. Those with an exemption are required to be tested weekly.

Pitkin County is currently under an indoor mask mandate, which was enacted in September and likely will continue into the winter unless case counts drop.

Masks will not be required in lift lines, and Skico likely will keep the “ghost lanes” in place, according to Hanle.

“Per the county (mandate), gondolas will be considered indoor space and masks will be required,” he said.


Full-service fine dining where proof of vaccination required prior to being seated:

Cloud Nine (including the outdoor deck area)

Alpine Room Restaurant at High Alpine

Sam’s Restaurant (for sit-down dining access)

Lynn Britt Cabin (indoor dining area)

Stays at Aspen Skiing Co. hotel properties where proof of vaccination required at check-in:

Limelight Aspen

Limelight Snowmass

Limelight Ketchum

The Little Nell

Other instances where vaccination proof is required:

— All Skico hotel properties including Limelight and The Little Nell sit-down table service dining locations (required prior to being seated).

— Powder Tours (required at the start of the day).

— Aspen Mountain Club and Snowmass Mountain Club locker room and dining areas (required before entry).

— Equipment rental deliveries from Four Mountain Sports to homes or lodging locations (acknowledgment of vaccination at time of purchase and proof verified at delivery).

— Contained venues for large-scale events (required upon entry).

For a full list of locations and experiences visit www.aspensnowmass.com/covid19.


COVID-19 rate remains high in Pitkin County despite offseason

The number of COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County has not dropped in the last two weeks, despite the fact that offseason is in full effect and most tourists have gone home.

The plateau, which includes slight increases in the local incidence rate in the past week, is perhaps a reflection of Colorado as a whole, which currently has the 11th-highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the country, said Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County public health director.

“It’s demonstrating the transmissibility of (the) delta (variant),” she said Wednesday. “We’re still staying this high with (tourism) that much lower.”

Pitkin County’s seven-day COVID-19 incidence rate per 100,000 people was 197 as of Tuesday, according to the county’s online dashboard. It was 191 on Monday, 203 on Sunday, 175 on Saturday and 203 on Friday. That followed a period between Oct. 10 and Oct. 14, when the incidence rate hovered around 160 and appeared possibly to be on the decline.

The Centers for Disease Control says that an incidence rate above 100 per 100,000 people indicates a high level of COVID-19 transmission.

The state of Colorado reported a 14-day incidence rate of 490 as of Wednesday, which compares to a 14-day rate in Pitkin County of 355 and 566 in Garfield County, according to online databases.

As of Tuesday, Pitkin County had detected 31 new COVID-19 cases among residents and an additional six cases from out of county sources, according to the dashboard. Daily case counts have hovered in that area for most of the past two weeks.

The state, meanwhile, reported 1,328 new cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the state’s online dashboard.

The one possible piece of good news is the county’s positive rate, which looks at the number of people testing positive for the virus, Sabella said. Pitkin County’s positivity rate has been above 5% for more than two weeks, which usually means public health officials probably aren’t catching all the local cases, she said.

In the past few days, however, the positivity rate has been dropping a bit into the 5% range, and was at 5.3% on Tuesday. In a call Wednesday with local public health officials, the state’s epidemiologist said that when the positivity rate begins to drop below 5%, it can be an indicator that incidence rates are about to drop as well, Sabella said.

“That’s potentially good news,” she said.

Colorado’s growing incidence rate tracks with other wintry, northern states including Alaska, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, which are all showing growing COVID-19 rates. Sabella said one theory is that cold weather is driving people inside and contributing to the higher incidence rates.

Other states like New York, California, Florida, Connecticut and Louisiana have incidence rates under 100 and are seeing decreasing rates on transmission, Sabella said.

The incidence rate in Pitkin County at this time last year was 84, which means public health officials are on guard for the upcoming winter season. Sabella declined to predict what might happen this winter.

“Where we go from here, we’ll just have to hold and see,” she said. “The incidence rate is higher (this year than last), but there’s many more vaccinated people than last year.”

Aspen Skiing Co. is expected to announce Thursday their ski season protocols for skiers and snowboarders, Sabella and a Skico spokesperson said Wednesday.

The county’s high level of vaccinations means less transmission than there would be without the vaccines, and that people who get the virus as a breakthrough case most likely won’t become seriously ill, Sabella said. She urged everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.


Too much tourism or just right in the Roaring Fork Valley? Residents can weigh in

A family enjoys a scoop of local ice cream on Midland Ave. in Basalt on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Residents and business operators from Aspen to Glenwood Springs have an opportunity this month to comment on whether the surge of tourism the past two years has been a good or bad thing, or a mix.

The chambers of commerce in the five Roaring Fork Valley towns are conducting surveys that seek extensive feedback on tourism impacts.

The tourism organizations of Carbondale, Basalt, Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Snowmass Village were selected to participate in the Colorado Tourism Office’s Restart Destinations Program, designed to help plan for recovery from COVID-19 pandemic and long-term economic resiliency.

Kris Mattera, executive director of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, said the survey results will help the various tourist organizations plan strategies, individually and potentially collectively.

“I think it helps dictate where we go from here,” Mattera said. “That’s why I think the questions are so blunt. We really want to get a litmus test on how people are feeling about the level we’re at.”

The Basalt Chamber sent an email to people on its list Oct. 14 that provided links to the surveys. One survey is directed at Basalt-area residents and the other to business owners and operators.

The questions indeed are blunt. One section in the resident survey asks respondents to rate statements from strongly agree to strongly disagree. One statement says, “Overcrowding by tourists is spoiling our natural resources.”

Another statement says, “The quality of public services has improved due to the tourism industry in Basalt.”

Other statements include, “The growth of tourism is causing prices to rise, making things less affordable for residents.” Again, respondents are urged to indicate whether they strongly disagree, disagree, are neutral, agree or strongly agree.

The Basalt Chamber is urging people to fill out the survey by Oct. 31 so the results can be tabulated and directions charted. If people feel tourism is too overwhelming right now, the chamber will definitely take that into account, Mattera said.

“We are stewards of this community and we take that responsibility very highly and we’re not going to put us in a direction the community doesn’t want us to go,” she said.

Mattera said the chamber’s philosophy has always been about building a sustainable economy.

“I think what we’re looking at is continuing to head in the direction of being very smart about how we promote our area and surrounding trails, mountains and other outdoor rec amenities in a way that still benefits our businesses in the long run,” she said. “We really want to accommodate that homegrown approach of how do we continue to get our businesses to whatever the next level is for them that’s in sustainable fashion.”

After taking a hit early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Basalt’s economy has surged. Sales in July 2021 were up 24% compared to what was a very strong July 2020. Year-to-date through July, sales tax collections were up 18.7% from the same period in 2020.

The Basalt Chamber of Commerce doesn’t undertake extensive tourism marketing, especially when compared to other towns in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Basalt Chamber receives 1% of the town’s 4% lodging tax. In 2019, that produced $76,133 for the chamber. The funds were used for marketing.

The link for the Basalt-area residents survey is surveymonkey.com/r/8G5Q9LM.

Other tourism bureaus in the valley have embraced the tourism impact surveys with varying levels of gusto. Carbondale Tourism alerted people on its email list about the survey opportunity on Sept. 30.

Spokeswoman Sarah-Jane Johnson said the surveys are part of a groundbreaking Colorado Tourism Office program that the Roaring Fork Valley towns were selected to participate in. As part of the bigger program the CTO will provide the valley’s tourism organizations will each receive a recovery assessment, a full-day planning session, 75 hours of technical assistance and $10,000 of direct marketing support.

Residents of Carbondale can find the survey at surveymonkey.com/r/27FMYKD.

Glenwood Springs residents can go to SurveyMonkey.com/r/2B3KDKN.

Aspen Chamber Resort Association provided a link to the business owner stakeholder survey in its most recent newsletter. It previously sought opinions in a similar Resident Sentiment Survey. Snowmass Tourism said residents who want to fill out the survey can do at surveymonkey.com/r/WDZKJB5.

A separate stakeholder survey for business owners and operators throughout the valley can be found at surveymonkey.com/r/GN6J86G.


Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing receives grant, donations

Snow covers the grounds of the the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Old Snowmass on March 15, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

The Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has received a $5,000 grant from the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation that will help the Old Snowmass camp offer a winter retreat for adults who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The grant will support pre-retreat outreach efforts and program costs for the retreat, according to Laura Gabbay, who has been working with the camp on grant writing and strategic planning.

The program could serve as many as 16 participants and will focus on people from rural communities on the Western Slope, including residents in Pitkin, Summit, Mesa, Gunnison and Eagle counties, Gabbay said. Dates and details will be posted to aspencamp.org once they are finalized.

Gabbay, who is herself hard of hearing, hopes that retreats like the one planned for this winter will help offer resources to counter the isolation that so many people in the deaf and hard of hearing community are familiar with — especially so since the pandemic added another layer to that separation.

“This has never been more timely. … For people in rural areas during COVID, it’s been a particularly difficult time,” Gabbay said.

The camp also received a $3,200 donation from the Denver7 Gives program, which raises funds from viewers for charitable community initiatives; the check officially arrived in the mail on Oct. 19, board member Karen Immerso confirmed.

Board member Christy Smith, who was previously a participant and a staffer at the Old Snowmass camp, received the Denver7 “Everyday Hero” award this spring; Immerso nominated Smith for the award that honors local Coloradans making a difference in their communities.

A news crew from the channel visited the camp in May to bestow the award and produced two stories about the camp and its need for facilities updates, which helped spur donations.

The camp has spent most of this year working on necessary facilities updates and welcomed campers back for the first time since 2018 in July. Facilities maintenance and fundraising remain the primary focus moving forward, according to Immerso.

The camp also receives funding support from the proceeds of bar sales at the Thursday night free concert series on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village, though Immerso did not yet have a number on total funds raised this season.

For the camp, which has faced financial struggles in recent years and relies primarily on grants and donations to cover costs, the funds are the latest in what Gabbay and Immerso hope is a continuing trend toward stability for the camp.

The organization relies primarily on volunteer support at the moment and does not yet have the funds to hire a director or pay employees; a capacity-building grant from the Aspen Community Foundation earlier this year helps support Gabbay’s grant-writing and consulting work for the camp, according to Gabbay.

“We’re just in a positive, forward momentum for fundraising,” Immerso said.


Earl Biss doc to play Aspen’s Shining Mountains Film Fest

A new documentary about the life of beloved and influential Aspen-based Crow Nation artist Earl Biss will screen at the Wheeler Opera House’s Shining Mountains Film Festival on Nov. 20.

“Earl Biss: The Spirit Who Walks Among His People” is directed by Lisa Gerstner, who authored the 2019 book “Experiences with Earl Biss.” The screening will coincide with a Biss exhibition at Aspen Grove Fine Art opening Nov. 19.

The screening is part of a two-day, four-program return for Shining Mountains on Nov. 20 and 21 celebrating Native American culture and history. The 2020 festival was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The festival includes the feature-length documentaries “End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock” and “Warrior: The Life of Leonard Peltier” along with two short film programs. Filmmakers, actors and subjects will be on hand for in-person post-screening Q-and-A’s.

Shorts include the Sundance Film Festival award winning short “Fast Horse,” “Cree Code Talker” and “The Blanketing.” Additional events include a live dance performance with Larry Yazzie, Ute prayer and songs with a hoop dance and several special guests.

Shining Mountains Film Festival is a documentary film festival presented by the Aspen Indigenous Foundation, in partnership with the City of Aspen and Wheeler Opera House.

“This year, we highlight the diverse talents, uniqueness and strength of the Native American Indian People(s),” festival founder and Aspen Indigenous Foundation executive director Deanne Vitrac-Kessler said in the announcement. “Native communities have been devastated by COVID, even more so than the rest of America, and have shown great resilience just as they have in the past. It is an honor to host Native American Indian producers, actors, writers and performers, who will share their stories, their voices, their challenges and their ancestral ways with our local communities.”

Single program tickets are $25. A Saturday or Sunday Pass is $40, or Weekend Pass for $75. On sale now and can be purchased at the Wheeler box office and aspenshowtix.com.

Plans underway to make newly acquired Sweetwater Lake area newest Colorado state park; first state-federal partnership of its kind

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis addresses the audience and members of the press during a press conference overlooking Sweetwater Lake on Wednesday afternoon.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

The recently acquired land around Sweetwater Lake in remote northeastern Garfield County is set to become the newest Colorado state park, the first state-federal partnership of its kind.

Gov. Jared Polis made the official announcement Wednesday on site at Sweetwater Ranch, alongside the state Parks and Wildlife and Natural Resources directors, U.S. Forest Service officials and local elected officials and land conservation representatives.

The White River National Forest acquired the 488-acre Sweetwater Ranch on Aug. 31 through a federal Land and Water Conservation Fund purchase, which grew out of the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s “Save the Lake” campaign and other local fundraising efforts.

“This is a historic announcement,” Polis said in a phone interview Tuesday. “This will not only be Colorado’s first state park on federal land, it’s the first in the entire country under this arrangement.”

Sweetwater Lake is located in eastern Garfield County 10 miles west of the Colorado River Road near Dotsero.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Polis touted Sweetwater for its natural splendor and potential to expand the state’s outdoor offerings.

“Sweetwater Lake is simply gorgeous, and has great potential for even more recreational opportunities, conservation and education, and will have a strong economic benefit for the region,” Polis said.

This would be the second state park created during the Polis administration. Fishers Peak in Trinidad officially opened in fall 2020.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis addresses the audience and members of the press during Wednesday's press conference at Sweetwater Lake.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

The Conservation Fund purchased the land around Sweetwater that same year in an effort to prevent potential development of the privately held inholdings.

Once the land came into the U.S. Forest Service fold, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said the challenge was to find a way to properly manage it.

“We don’t have the funds or staffing to be able to do what really needs to happen there,” Fitzwilliams said. “Through conversations with (CPW Director) Dan Prenzlow’s staff, we realized there’s an opportunity to do something different here. By leveraging resources to manage it, we can do some great things to create a great experience for the public.”

Over the years, the privately owned Sweetwater Lake Resort had been proposed for golf course and residential development, and even for a spring water bottling plant.

The area was identified among the top 10 priority Land and Water Conservation Fund purchases nationwide, aimed at increasing public recreation opportunities and protecting the area’s wildlife habitat, cultural and scenic values.

The initial conservation fund purchase was made possible by a loan from Great Outdoors Colorado and local fundraising efforts including the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s “Save the Lake” campaign.

Public acquisition of the ranch property significantly increases public access to the lake. A Forest Service campground is situated near the lake but lacks direct access, Fitzwilliams noted.

“We’ve had a campground there for a long time, but it’s in a terrible location and does not have good access to the lake,” he said.

Aside from buildings associated with a private outfitter who continues to operate at the site, A.J. Brink, there’s little infrastructure in place to facilitate public recreation, Fitzwilliams said.

Some improvements, including a new boat launch area, are expected to be available to the public by June 2022.

“Additional buildout will follow the completion of a long-term plan, in consultation with the public, for expanding and managing the recreational opportunities at Sweetwater Lake while preserving the unique, relatively undeveloped nature of the property,” according to a joint news release.

Fitzwilliams said planning for the park will follow the federal National Environmental Policy Act procedures. That’s likely to involve a determination for categorical exclusion, or possibly a more extensive environmental assessment, under the federal law, Fitzwilliams said.

The proposed new state park also builds on the Polis administration’s shared stewardship initiative with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, focusing on outdoors and public lands and investing in the state’s $12.2 billion outdoor recreation and tourism economy.

This summer, Polis signed several pieces of legislation related to the outdoors, including the Keep Colorado Wild Annual Pass bill, which created a lower-cost state park and public lands pass, and the Outdoor Equity Grant Program, increasing access and opportunities for underserved youth and their families to enjoy Colorado’s outdoors, according to the release.

Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs said there are some co-managed state and federal sites on federal lands elsewhere in the country. This is the first effort to create a co-managed state park on federal land, he said.

“Sweetwater Lake is a hidden gem, both as a destination and gateway to the Flat Tops Wilderness,” Gibbs said. “The partnership formed to protect and manage this unique landscape is an extension of the state and federal commitment to shared stewardship.”

Added Fitzwilliams, “Working with the state to have (Sweetwater Lake) run as a state park is a way to get some things done to allow the public to enjoy it faster than if it was just the Forest Service.”

Also joining the governor for the announcement Wednesday were Deputy Regional Forester Jacque Buchanan, Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Jessica Foulis and Eagle County Commissioner Jeannie McQueeney.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.