| AspenTimes.com

Two men injured after helicopter crashes near Rifle while inspecting power lines

Investigators remain on the scene of a Saturday morning helicopter crash south of Rifle that sent the two occupants to the hospital and touched off a small brush fire.

According to Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein, the crash was reported at 7:36 a.m. Saturday by a couple passing by on nearby Interstate 70 who witnessed the crash.

The two-person helicopter crashed just inside Rifle city limits beneath the Xcel Energy power lines south of Airport Road, near the Colorado Mountain College Rifle Campus.

Xcel Energy spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo confirmed early Saturday afternoon that the helicopter was carrying a third-party subcontracting crew that was taking pictures for future work on the lines.

“What we know is the two crew members were taken to the hospital for observation,” she said in an emailed statement. “Our thoughts are with the crew members and their families. We will be working with officials in their investigation.”

The pilot and a passenger, both males, were reportedly able to get out of the wrecked chopper before it erupted in flames, Klein said. They were transported to Grand River Hospital for treatment. He could not comment on the extent or nature of their injuries.

Klein said it was a smaller helicopter, but couldn’t say what type.

“We have notified the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), and will be on scene until the federal officials arrive,” Klein said.

Also on scene was Rifle Garfield County Airport Director Brian Condie to help with the initial response, Klein said.

Colorado River Fire Rescue also responded with a brush fire crew and was able to contain the resulting fire following the crash, according to a Garfield County Sheriff’s Office press release.

The last helicopter crash to occur in Garfield County was six and a half years ago and also involved crews working for a power company.

Helicopters are commonly used to conduct power line inspections, often using infrared photography to check for trouble spots.

In January 2014, a helicopter crash involving crews inspecting power lines for Holy Cross Energy in the Divide Creek area south of Silt killed all three people on board, including longtime local search-and-rescue pilot Doug Sheffer.

Power outage in Carbondale

About the same time Saturday morning, Xcel Energy reported a power outage affecting parts of Carbondale. The incident was not related to the helicopter crash, but was due to animal contact at a transformer, Aguayo said.

The outage was reported at 7:31 a.m. and caused 70 customers to lose power. Service has since been restored, she said.

Alternative plan to Wild and Scenic River designation for upper Colorado River OK’d

Participants in a 12-year process to establish protections for a stretch of the upper Colorado River are calling the finished product — which amounts to a workaround of a Wild and Scenic River designation — a success. 

Last month, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service formally approved the “Amended and Restated Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group Management Plan.” The plan lays out a blueprint for protecting the “outstandingly remarkable values,” or ORVs, of the Colorado River from Kremmling to Glenwood Springs, with an emphasis on recreational floatboating and fishing. 

The ORVs must either be a unique, rare or exemplary feature located on the river or shoreline; contribute to the functioning of the river ecosystem; or owe their existence to the presence of the river. The plan seeks to balance these ORVs with water development and use by Front Range water providers and Western Slope water users. 

To ensure protection of the ORVs, the plan includes voluntary cooperative measures that the participants could take, such as the strategic timing of reservoir releases, enhancing spring peak flows and agreements with water users to acquire water rights, which would be used to preserve the natural environment.

The plan includes a provision that addresses two big uncertainties that would lead to more transmountain diversions from the Colorado River: Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project. A “poison pill” provision would allow any stakeholder to withdraw support for the plan if those projects — which are still in the permitting phase and mired in litigation, and which would provide a combined 48,000 acre-feet of water for the Front Range — negatively impact streamflows, especially for boating. 

Six interest groups — conservation/environment/fishing; local government; recreational floatboating; state interests; Front Range water users; and Western Slope water users — have been working on crafting the plan since 2008. The Eagle River Watershed Council has been involved as a stakeholder since 2013, said executive director Holly Loff.

“It’s really exciting, and what a huge collaborative effort this has been, and I can’t really think of other situations that have been larger in scope and larger in the number of collaborators and all with very diverse interests — and we found a way to make it work,” Loff said. “It’s an amazing feat, really.”

The alternative management planning process came about after the BLM in 2007 found that 54 miles of the upper Colorado River from Gore Canyon to just east of No Name Creek in Glenwood Canyon possessed enough ORVs that they were eligible for a federal Wild & Scenic River designation. Created by an act of Congress in 1968, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System seeks to preserve rivers with outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic and cultural values in a free-flowing condition. 

There are two ways that a river can be designated as Wild & Scenic: The secretary of the Interior can designate a river if a state governor requests it or Congress can designate a river, usually after a land-use agency conducts a study to see whether it’s eligible. 

Designation as Wild & Scenic brings protection from development. For example, new dams cannot be constructed on the designated stretch and federal water-development projects that might negatively affect the river are not allowed. 

But the possibility of federal government involvement and potential restrictions on water development on the upper Colorado doesn’t sit well with some groups. Municipal water providers such as Denver Water and Northern Water divert water from the Colorado’s headwaters to Front Range cities.

“A lot of members of the water community find the idea of a Wild & Scenic designation kind of frightening and prohibitive,” said Colorado Water Conservation Board Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief Linda Bassi. “It would prevent potentially new reservoirs along a Wild & Scenic river (and) certain types of structures, and that is why the water community has typically been a little leery of Wild & Scenic designation.”

In 2009, the Colorado General Assembly established the Wild and Scenic Rivers Fund. Despite what its name suggests, the fund is not dedicated to establishing Wild & Scenic designations of rivers, but to avoiding the federal designation through “work with stakeholders within the state of Colorado to develop protection of river-dependent resources as an alternative to wild and scenic river designation.”

The Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group has been the recipient of money from the state fund, which is allocated up to $400,000 a year and administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. According to a CWCB memo from May, when staff reviews requests for these funds, they evaluate whether projects will promote collaboration among traditional consumptive water interests, including irrigation, and non-consumptive interests, including recreation and the environment, and whether the project will still enable Colorado to fully use water it is allocated.

“If we tried to go through designation, we don’t know if it would have ever made it past the state of Colorado,” said Kay Hopkins, outdoor recreation planner for the White River National Forest. “The state would have had to be supportive of our determination.”

Despite its renowned river rafting, fishing and scenic beauty, which contribute to the recreation-based economy of many Western Slope communities, Colorado has just 76 miles of one river — the Cache La Poudre — designated as Wild & Scenic. That’s less than one-tenth of 1% of the state’s 107,403 river miles.

Instead of a federal designation, the CWCB considers its instream-flow program to be a primary tool in the effort to protect ORVs. Instream flows are in-channel water rights aimed at preserving the natural environment to a reasonable degree. As a part of the alternative management plan process, the CWCB secured three instream-flow rights that date to 2011 on the upper Colorado River — from the confluence of the Blue River to Piney River; from Piney River to Cabin Creek; and from Cabin Creek to the confluence with the Eagle River. 

Bassi, who runs the state’s instream-flow program, has participated in the state interests group since planning began in 2008. 

“Those flow rates are designed primarily to meet the needs of fish,” Bassi said. “But they will help to maintain flows that provide for some levels of boating experiences.” 

PRAGMATIC DISCUSSIONS

The Forest Service and BLM approval of the alternative management plan means that the stretch of the upper Colorado River has been deferred from Wild & Scenic eligibility. But if the plan fails or any of the stakeholders enact the “poison pill” provision, the river could revert to being considered for eligibility, meaning it would once again be up for federal scrutiny, something some stakeholders want to avoid.

“That is the hammer behind the long-term commitments,” said Rob Buirgy, coordinator for the stakeholder group.

Eagle County Commissioner and Colorado River Water Conservation District Board member Kathy Chandler-Henry believes the strength of the alternative management plan is the input of its many participants.

“My first thought was the alternative management plan must be a lesser system of protection, but in my mind, it has not turned out to be that way because there are so many players at the table,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like a lesser process. It seems like a more publicly engaged process.” 

Loff was more pragmatic.

“I don’t think (the alternative management plan) is better, but I don’t know that this group ever would have agreed to a standard Wild & Scenic designation. I don’t think that would have happened at all,” she said. “I think it’s better that we have this.” 

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization that collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

Survey says city of Aspen needs public’s help in communication

The city of Aspen is restructuring its communications department now that its director has stepped down and the municipal government has acclimated to disseminating information in a COVID world.

The reassessment begins with what is described as an “expansive communications survey” that is anticipated this fall, asking residents how they want their government to communicate with them.

Community members also will be asked what they see as priorities for the city’s communications department, how they want messages delivered, and what they see as strengths, weaknesses and barriers.

“You can’t sit behind these walls and try to figure out what people want,” said Mitzi Rapkin, the city’s communications manager. “We want you to tell us where you want the information and how to get it to you.”

Alissa Farrell, the city’s administrative services director, said on Friday officials are looking at a possible online focus group to get feedback on how to strengthen the government’s community engagement.

That group will likely be made up of specific community members who stated in the 2019 overall community survey that they would be interested in participating in communications and community engagement work, according to Farrell.

“In the development of a strategic communications plan, an important component is gathering feedback from the Aspen community,” Farrell said. “The survey results are intended to help determine city’s communication priorities, strengths, concerns and generate innovative ideas, so that in turn we can co-create solutions that continue to enrich Aspen.”

A comprehensive community engagement strategy had been planned but Tracy Trulove, who filled the newly created position of communications director last year, stepped down in June.

She had been moved to Pitkin County’s incident management team when the COVID-19 crisis took hold of the Aspen area in mid-March.

Trulove is now employed on a contractual basis for the county as a COVID-19 crisis communicator.

In Trulove’s absence during the first few months of the pandemic, Rapkin said she developed a crisis communications strategic plan for how the city was giving COVID-19 information to the public.

“It was our template on how to communicate since we were getting this information to people as soon as we knew it,” Rapkin said, noting the rapidly changing conditions during the outset of the outbreak.

The city reassigned three staffers from other departments to help with communications, and the increased presence on the government’s social media accounts got in front of tens of thousands of people.

In the first COVID-19 communication update to Aspen City Council last month, Rapkin reported that there was a 90% increase in visitors to the city’s website; a 278% increase in tweets; a 1,000% increase in posts on Facebook and a 3,100% spike in posts on Instagram.

Rapkin chalks those numbers up to having a team to help on social media platforms, as well as public demand to get as much information on COVID-19 as possible.

The city’s outreach portal, Aspencommunityvoice.com, hit record participation when it came to asking people’s opinions on whether construction should be expedited to fuel the economy during COVID-19 conditions, as well as how outdoor dining and retail should encroach into the public right of way.

“We had thousands of people interacting,” Rapkin said.

The most popular posts have been the Aspen Police Department’s video of some of its officers playing in a band singing their rendition of the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”, as well as the city’s letter to the community explaining its support for the Black Lives Matter movement and anything related to wearing a face mask.

Moving forward, Rapkin has developed a yard sign campaign that promotes social distancing, and features wildlife and recreating analogies.

The goal with the messaging is to drive home the point that COVID-19 presents a danger and people will change their behaviors, and that it’s clever enough that it’s worthy of sharing on social media.

Rapkin also is creating a digital dashboard that will track for the public and council how the city’s $6 million COVID-19 relief fund is getting spent down.

Top city officials are assessing how to move forward with the communications department structure, but they do plan to fill the position, although it may be retitled to strategic communications director.

“We are also looking into a communications audit to be completed in the near future,” Farrell said. “In light of COVID-19, the audit would address the changing trends in how our audience consumes city news and provide recommendations on how to increase engagement.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

We’re Open: Aspen Pie Shop

Business name: Aspen Pie Shop

Address: 307 S. Mill St., Aspen, CO 81611

Phone: 970-925-3230

Web: aspenpieshop.com

Email: aspenpieshop@gmail.com

Social media: @aspenpieshop

Aspen Times: How have you gotten creative during this time? What have you done to keep your customers engaged?

Aspen Pie Shop owner Ryan Chadwick: People thought I was crazy opening a restaurant during COVID-19, but as all my other spots were forced to close, I began thinking and came up with pizza as a quick solution. I spend a significant amount of my time on the Lower East Side in New York City, so I hit up my friend and neighbor Scarr of Scarr’s Pizza (my favorite slice in NYC) and he agreed to help with the recipe. So, I quickly hunted down a space and 12 days later Aspen Pie Shop was born. Stars aligned as I was able to grab Fino and Annette from the old Annette’s Bake Shop to run the kitchen and already had a team from Mr. Grey that I could plug right in. I’ve been thrilled with the feedback and am looking forward to many more square slices being sold in Aspen.

AT: What’s the most important thing the community can do to support you?

APS: Tell your friends and tag us on Instagram: @AspenPieShop.

AT: Where can we find your most current offerings and updates?

APS: Follow us on instagram at @AspenPieShop. We have some cool stuff coming!

AT: What has been the best customer experience or comment you’ve had since the crisis started?

APS: A few of my friends told me they can smell the pizza while walking across Wagner Park — and then can’t resist coming in for a slice.

AT: Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding your business during the pandemic?

APS: We deliver (and it’s free)! We hired a fleet of local high school kids and you can order online at aspenpieshop.com. P.S. … Use the code “ASPENTIMES” for $5 off your first order online (over $25).

On the Fly: Tailgate Moments

There are special moments that transcend what many people think fly fishing is about, especially when you fish for a living. When you are a guide, your day tends to revolve around getting tomorrow’s client to call you back, figuring out lunches and shuttles, coaching your sports enough to catch a fish, wondering what the hatch is going to be like, and so on. The best guides help people catch a fish despite themselves, we like to say.

Most days on the water with clients are a joy, a few are drudgery. The majority are very grateful for the scenery, the fish caught, and the time away from the rat race. Other clients bring the rat race on your boat and barely get off the phone all day. A guide must be flexible, it’s the “client’s day” when it’s all said and done, and no two clients have the same expectations or attitudes.

Oftentimes after a tough day out there (or a terrific one), the stolen moments sitting on the tailgate with your fellow guides after the guest drives off are what it’s all about. The beverages are extra cold, noses and cheeks are burned, hands raw from rowing, and you’re ending the day with your friends and the stories of today’s victories and defeats. Listening to guides on tailgates can be a bit confusing, considering all of the codenames they use for flies, hatches and spots. If you know how to run a flutter rig with boogers and blings from the Turkey Hole down through Britt’s Run, you are fluent in guidespeak.

Tailgate moments don’t have to strictly happen on tailgates, and you don’t have to be a guide to enjoy them, either. Just sitting by the river and watching the insects and fish instead of flailing about can be a tailgate moment. Giggling and hiking out of a river spot in the dark after an epic green drake hatch can be one of these moments. The joys of this sport aren’t just about catching fish. I hope you have a tailgate moment soon, with people you love, and that it stays with you a long time.

In Bloom: Savoring Sky Pilot’s ‘stink’ is in nose of the beholder

“Why would a flower smell bad?” a hiking partner recently asked when a gust of wind on a high, rocky ridge blew the distinct smell of skunk our way. I identified the culprit as Sky Pilot, Polemonium viscosum, one of our most dazzling, and common, alpine wildflowers. It can be seen in abundance right now on a hike to Crested Butte, Electric Pass, or any of our 12,000-foot-plus mountains.

Sky Pilot has adapted to live on tempestuous high peaks, where we humans can linger only briefly, by cloistering between rocks, sheathed in copious, fuzzy, ladder-like leaves. This strategy allows its widely-flaring, light-purple flowers to grow larger than most of our alpine flora, making for a striking and beautiful sight. Which renders its distinctly unbeautiful smell all the more incongruous.

Why, indeed, would a flower smell bad? When so many of our wildflowers — think Wild Rose — seem designed to entice us?

Of course, wildflowers are not really interested in enticing us. To ensure their reproduction, it’s the pollinators they wish to attract. (Or is it? More on that momentarily.) While most pollinators like bees and butterflies are attracted to a sweet fragrance, which signals sugar-rich nectar and pollen, there are certain pollinators, flies especially, who downright love the smell of skunk, or carrion, or other (human) unpleasantries.

Flies are probably the most important pollinator in the alpine, making Sky Pilot’s choice of odor logical. Moreover, Sky Pilot doesn’t seem to lose the bumblebees, probably because its flowers are highly visible and smell at least a little bit sweet. It’s actually Sky Pilot’s sticky, resin-covered leaves, which discourage ants and other herbivores from eating them, that throw off the most stink.

Next time you see Sky Pilot, try an experiment. Put your nose up to its blooms and decide for yourself: sweet or skunky? To this hiker’s nose, skunky always wins.

Which brings us to a final point regarding attraction and reproductive success. In his enchanting book, “The Botany of Desire,” Michael Pollan stands the notion of who benefits in the human-plant relationship on its head. Using the 17th century tulip craze as an example, he notes that, in typical human-centric fashion, we think of cross-breeding and cultivating flowers as a one-sided strategy to bring beauty into our lives, that doesn’t benefit the flower.

When in fact, as a result of humans’ obsession, tulips can now be found on every continent on Earth save Antarctica, in numbers unimaginable without human intervention. In other words, by enticing humans with their beauty, tulips ensured their wildly successful reproduction. So who, exactly, is benefitting whom? Maybe we’re all partners in this beautiful game of life?

Bear attacks Aspen-area homeowner early Friday morning; officials find, euthanize bruin

An Aspen-area man was recovering Friday at a Grand Junction hospital after being attacked earlier in the morning by a bear that broke into his house through the front door, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.

The man underwent surgery on “significant” injuries to his head and neck after being swiped by the bear. Wildlife officials were able to locate and kill the bear they believe to be involved. They said it is a bruin that they likely tried to capture and relocate last fall in the Castle Creek Valley.

A team with tracking dogs located the bear and treed it on the backside of Aspen Mountain around 8 a.m., but the bear then escaped from the tree, according to CPW officials on scene.

Officers were able to shoot the bear, which went into the mineshaft. They sent evidence from the animal to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife lab in Fort Collins for testing then it will be sent to a lab in Wyoming to confirm it was the bear that injured the man, CPW area manager Matt Yamashita said Friday.

“Based on the description we got from the victim before he was transported to a hospital in Grand Junction, the bear the dogs were able to find and locate from the scent trail that went from the house to that area. Our belief is that it was the correct bear,” Yamashita said at the scene. “We never like to have to put an animal down, but the protection of the public is paramount once a bear begins entering homes and responding aggressively toward people.”

The dogs were able to track the scent of the bear down Castle Creek Road toward town, he said. The dogs then tracked the scent up Aspen Mountain, according to another wildlife official. The bear was found about 100 feet inside a mine shaft on the north-facing side of Aspen Mountain.

“Based on route the bear took from the house to the mineshaft, this area was very familiar to the bear. He didn’t hesitate on where he was going or why,” Yamashita said. “We are pretty confident this a bear that’s been in the area for a while. Our officers have received historical calls from last fall and tried to set traps to capture a bear similar in appearance.”

The bear attacked the homeowner at about 1:30 a.m. with a paw swipe, which resulted in severe cuts to the victim’s head and neck. Yamashita said officers responded about 3 a.m. and are investigating how the bear got in and the encounter. He said there were not able to find “any relatable attractants that were obvious as to why the bear was there or why it entered the house.”

CPW spokesman Randy Hampton said the victim was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and then transferred by ambulance to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction to have surgery. The man was stable and the injuries are not life-threatening, he said. No other updates on his condition were available by Friday afternoon.

“The injuries are pretty significant lacerations to his face, neck and head,” Hampton told The Aspen Times. “We’re worried about his eye and his ear.”

Hampton said the incident happened at a house about 2 miles up the Castle Creek Valley.

The bear matched the description of a bear that has been frequenting the Castle Creek neighborhood for several days, according to officials, and it may be the same bear that has been reported for getting into trash in the area for the past couple of years.

Hampton said it was one of four bear calls CPW received from Thursday night into Friday morning in Pitkin County. The others were in Snowmass Village, where a trap has been set; another bear in Woody Creek; and one at Difficult Campground. He said the bear at the campground about 2 miles from Aspen has been frequenting the area in the past few weeks and was hazed about a week ago with rubber buckshot.

So far this year, CPW has received 198 bear-related calls in Pitkin County, which is down from the 244 they received by this time last year, Hampton said.

This is the first bear attack in Aspen this year. In 2019, wildlife officers responded to three bear-human attacks in the Aspen area.

“There aren’t those lulls any more,” Hampton said of the human-bear interactions each summer. “This is what we’re dealing with. So many people recreating and living in Colorado and we have so many things we trying to account for. Nature has a fragile cycle that can come about any time and disrupt the bear’s natural food sources. All these conditions can drive bears to town.”

dkrause@aspentimes.com

Aspen School District taking steps to make reopening plan for next month

A plan is in place to reopen the Aspen School District to students late next month. Well, a plan to make a plan, at least.

“The rough plan is that we are going to reopen as close to normal on Aug. 26. The planning is around the details of that opening,” new ASD superintendent David Baugh said Thursday. “The guidance around COVID keeps changing. If you want to know what to do with COVID, go back two weeks and you can find out what you should have done.”

Baugh, who is still unpacking after his recent move from Pennsylvania, attended his first Board of Education meeting Wednesday. The BOE normally doesn’t meet this time of year, but with so much uncertainty regarding reopening schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, normal isn’t a word used too often anymore.

Only days into the job, Baugh is in charge of a 55-person task force that will help determine how and when Aspen kids get back into the classroom, if they do at all.

“Nothing feels quite normal this year,” BOE president Susan Marolt said. “It’s just a process and no one really knows what it’s going to look like in another month. I think Pitkin County actually has done a very good job containing the virus, in spite of a lot of visitors. That’s a good thing, but it’s hard to say how that’s going to look in another few weeks.”

The task force, of which Marolt is not on, includes everything from teachers and administrators to students and medical experts. They will meet Wednesday morning to firm up details of their reopening plans. Baugh said he hopes to have a more concrete plan in place to tell parents and students around the first week of August.

Essentially, the task force is coming up with three plans. One plan has students back in the classroom full-time, while another includes a combination of in-person learning and online learning, and a third that is online only. The ASD went fully online this past spring when the initial stay-at-home orders were put in place as the virus broke out.

While there were some bumps along the way, the online learning was relatively smooth and they believe they can make that work if it comes to it this school year.

“It’ll be OK. It is not optimal. I don’t think anyone thinks that’s the best way to teach kids, particularly younger kids,” Marolt said of online learning. “It’s really difficult for the younger grades. But we were able to do it and we’ll be able to do it again and probably have learned some things along the way, which will help us be better at it. That’s all part of the process.”

If in-person learning does return this fall, it’s bound to look a lot different. Baugh said changes could include lots of masks, for students and teachers alike, limited visitors and no assemblies. Then there is the question of sports returning, something that will ultimately be determined by the Colorado High School Activities Association. As of now, CHSAA remains optimistic of a fall season happening; most sports are slated to start official practices Aug. 10.

Also during Wednesday’s BOE meeting, a proposal was approved to bring in a company to assess the schools’ HVAC systems to see if they could use bipolar ionization technology that will help kill airborne viruses, such as the ones that lead to COVID-19.

“If we get those sorts of plans in place, then we can adjust based on if the governor gives us some kind of criteria on if we can be open or not,” Marolt said. “If things change then we can be ready to change. That’s part of the plan. I think we just want to be really sensitive to our staff members, our students, our parents, and just make sure we are being conscious of what they have going on.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

We’re Open: O2 Aspen

Business name: O2 Aspen

Address: 408 S. Mill St., Aspen, CO 81611

Phone: 970-925-4002

Web: www.o2life.com

Email: hello@o2life.com

Social media: @o2aspen and @o2life

Aspen Times: How have you gotten creative during this time? What have you done to keep your customers engaged?

O2 Aspen: As challenging as the past few months have been, we have also uncovered a few amazing opportunities. To help our talented team of instructors, we moved to donation-based virtual classes which were wildly successful! They also added a bright light to a strange moment.

Additionally, we started a new retail service: “O2 Approval Boxes.” Our stylists hand-select active and loungewear based on a client’s size, style and budget. The client receives the box, chooses the items they wish to keep, and returns the rest. It only costs $20 initially for shipping and processing and then the price of whichever items they keep. During a time when many are choosing to stay home, this adds a special element that’s a bit different from traditional online shopping.

AT: What’s the most important thing the community can do to support you?

O2: The best way to support O2 is to shop local and shop small. We are so grateful whenever locals choose to shop with us as each sale truly counts. Additionally, we are taking every precaution to keep our studio and spa safe during this time, so attending classes and visiting the spa supports not only our business but our talented, local teachers and therapists, as well. We are offering a dynamic schedule of smaller group classes including yoga, Pilates and fitness, private instruction, as well as our full-service spa treatments including facials and massages.

AT: Where can we find your most current offerings and updates?

O2: To view our current offerings please visit our website o2life.com, call our front desk 970-925-4002, visit us on social media @o2aspen and @o2life, or download our O2 Aspen app.

AT: What has been the best customer experience or comment you’ve had since the crisis started?

O2: We’ve seen the most positive experiences come from our customers who are finding a way to unwind and refresh through our classes and spa. We realize this is such a stressful time, but to provide an outlet, whether through fitness or relaxation, has been extremely rewarding.

AT: Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding your business during the pandemic?

O2: We are just so grateful to be part of this special community and are wishing everyone in the Roaring Fork Valley a safe and healthy summer.

Hemp creates political stink in Emma; Pitkin County sniffs out issues

The boom in the industrial hemp business has Raphael Fasi smelling opportunity.

After planting fields in Silt for the past four years, Fasi expanded his scope of operation and planted hemp on his wife’s family’s farm in Emma this summer. About 7,000 hemp seedlings were hand-planted on four acres of ground that had been fallow. He is confident the hemp is well suited to the high elevation, cool nights and warm days in the mid-Roaring Fork Valley.

“I already know it’s going to do well,” Fasi said while on a recent tour of the field. “It’s a question of how well.”

While Fasi smells opportunity, next-door neighbor Cathy Markle fears she will smell a “stench” once the hemp crop flowers. A corner of the field is within 20 feet of her bedroom window. Her work on Google Maps indicated there are 65 residences within one-half mile of the field, as the crow flies. The property is in the heart of Emma, not far from the old schoolhouse and the Rio Grande Trail.

“It is an inappropriate area to grow this stinky stuff,” Markle said.

She contends cultivation of hemp will drive down property values and interfere with the use and enjoyment of her property. She took her complaints to Pitkin County commissioners in May and asked them to pass a moratorium prohibiting planting of industrial hemp until local regulations were considered.

Commission chairman Steve Child said it was premature for the county to take action. The board discussed it briefly and determined they want to monitor conditions this growing season and see if there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

“Cathy’s on the losing end of the experiment, unfortunately,” Child said.

Fasi is taking the big stink in stride.

He complied with Colorado Department of Agriculture regulations and got a license to plant industrial hemp. He said hemp is a viable crop that will enable farmers to make a living from the land and avoid selling out for development. He is eager to teach people about the crop.

“It’s giving an option where a farmer can make a good living for 20, 30, 40 years,” he said.

Hemp and marijuana are both a strain of the cannabis sativa L. plant. While marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, industrial hemp was removed as a Schedule I controlled substance in the 2018 Farm Bill. Colorado allowed growing hemp earlier than the federal government, Fasi said.

The value of the Farm Bill from the perspective of a Colorado grower is it allowed transport of hemp and its products across state lines. That’s led to booming business.

Federal law allows hemp to have only 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient that produces a “high.” That’s significantly lower than THC levels in marijuana strains. With that low of level of THC, hemp’s value is for the cannabinoid or CBD, which is being used in everything from dog treats to salves, edibles and smoking material for humans. Many people believe it has beneficial health effects and it is used for relaxation.

Fasi and business partner Connor Corgiat cut their chops in the cannabis business in California and founded Sirh Farms. They moved their operation to Silt, where they have planted and harvested hemp on 60 acres annually since 2016. The extract is sold to companies that make CBD products.

“We do everything from A to Z except end products,” he said.

In Emma, Fasi is growing hemp that can be smoked. He put down weed barrier, installed a drip irrigation system and then planted by having two workers riding machinery place the 7,000 seedlings in holes in the ground.

On a recent warm afternoon, Fasi explained how he was watering only occasionally to make the plants’ roots burrow deep into the earth and establish strong plants. While the hemp plants are only a few inches tall now, they will shoot to about 6 feet tall after maturing during the sun-drenched days of July and August.

Hemp and marijuana look similar, so Fasi plans to post signs at his Emma field making it clear that the product is hemp.

The plants will flower in mid- to late-September into early October. The plants will be monitored by Sirh Farms to make sure the TCH level remains below the 0.3% threshold. State regulators also check for compliance.

The hemp flowers will produce a similar odor to marijuana, but it won’t be as potent, Fasi said. He noted that the field is downwind of Markle’s house, given the prevailing westerly winds in the valley.

Members of the Emma Caucus are reluctant to welcome hemp into their neighborhood. The caucus provides a collective voice to the county government on land-use and other issues. Markle took her concerns about the hemp operation to the caucus May 11.

“There is no way that anyone in this valley wants to smell marijuana,” Markle wrote to caucus members. “We cannot have worked so hard to protect this valley from marijuana stench and everything else that goes with it, and let this happen.”

The caucus leadership surveyed members later in May and found 46 against hemp cultivation and 17 in support.

Given the stance of the caucus and the fact that the Emma Master Plan recommends prohibiting the growing of cannabis, Markle is frustrated that Pitkin County didn’t stop Fasi from planting.

Child said it’s not that easy. Agriculture is a use by right in most parts of rural Pitkin County.

“It is a legally allowed agricultural product,” he said of hemp.

The Colorado Department of Agricultural has issued three licenses for growing of hemp in Pitkin County — Fasi’s field, farther down the road in Emma at Happy Day Ranch and in the Crystal River Valley at Sustainable Settings, according to Child.

He said he urged Markle to keep a journal noting any problems she has, odor or otherwise, with the hemp field next to her property. He said it would likely be appropriate for the county environmental health department to assess any complaints about odor.

Child said the county did an extensive investigation of complaints to work with the owners of a grow operation in Holland Hills outside of Basalt to eliminate odors. The difference is that was an indoor operation where eliminating odor came down to engineering and money. The hemp fields are outdoors.

Child said in the future, it might behoove the county to have anyone who wants to grow hemp to get a permit from the county, just as it gets one from the state. The county must also gauge if there is an issue with hemp fields being located around residences and, if so, restrict where they are allowed through zoning.

Pitkin County Commissioner and Emma area resident George Newman agreed county officials need to wait to see if hemp produces an issue.

“We’ll be curious to see if there is a problem,” he said. “If it becomes an issue, I think the county can look at zoning changes.”

Fasi said he willing to do what it required on the regulatory side. For now, he is looking forward to the experiment to see how hemp grows in the midvalley environment. He stressed the crop’s versatility and sustainability.

The flowers will be separated from stalks this fall and sold for smoking. Stalks will be sold for everything from fiber for use in textiles to bedding material for livestock.

“Every part of the plant will be used,” Fasi said.

scondon@aspentimes.com