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No one injured in Glenwood house fire; cause is unclear

Glenwood Springs resident Ernie Mack was cleaning his grill in his driveway when a neighbor two doors down said he thought the house in between them was on fire.

“I left my yard, and peeked around and saw smoke,” Mack said.

The pair called 911, and fire crews responded immediately. “Once we got off the phone, we could hear sirens. Within a couple minutes, they were here,” Mack said.

Neighbors crowded out of their homes, and some said they were ready to kick down the doors if there was anyone inside.

“Thankfully, the tenants weren’t home,” Mack said.

The fire department first received calls about the house fire on West 12th Avenue, off Riverview Drive near Midland Avenue, at 1:08 p.m.

Around the same time, neighbors on the back side of the house heard the fire before they saw the smoke.

“I thought it sounded like breaking plates, or crackling and pops,” Hannah Juul said. Hannah and her mother, Carol Juul, also called 911, and came to the front of the house fire after watching their yard.

“We were keeping an eye on the vegetation to make sure it doesn’t spread through the backyards,” Carol Juul said.

“I was the first to arrive with one engine,” Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said. “On arrival, we had heavy involvement. Flames were extending through the roof on the east side.”

The house was a single-family structure occupied by a family of five. Both adults and their infant child had been out of the home for at least an hour before the fire, and the other two children were in school, Tillotson said.

“When I arrived, the west end had obvious flames, but out of the roof vent on the other side, there was heavy smoke. So I’m assuming the damage on that side was smoke and heat,” Tillotson said.

The rest of the house, the porch and yard sustained heavy flame damage. Fire crews had the blaze under control within 30 minutes.

Mack’s home to the east did not appear to be damaged, but the house on the other side, where the fire was hottest, was damaged.

“The adjacent structure (to the west) suffered some scorched siding,” Tillotson said, but he classified the damage as minimal. “It looks like it didn’t even break the windows, but it’s early,” he added.

More than a dozen firefighters, Glenwood Springs Police officers and emergency medical personnel responded to the blaze, including one engine from the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.

“There were no injuries to civilians or firefighters thus far,” Tillotson said.

“Because of the extensive mop-up, we will probably bring in some more crew from Colorado River Fire,” Tillotson said.

The cause of the fire is unclear and will be investigated, Tillotson said.

tphippen@postindependent.com

Life after death row

EAGLE — Kwame Ajamu was just 18 when he was locked in an Ohio prison, sentenced to die for a robbery and murder he did not commit.

Twenty-eight years later he walked out of that of prison because, as the parole board told him, “We’re going to let you go because we think you’re a good one.”

“The truth is that I was innocent,” Ajamu told an audience Monday night in Eagle. “The guilty suffer, but if you’re not guilty … you cannot imagine the depth that their brains and hearts go to.”

Along with everything else, Ajamu suffered humiliation — going to the bathroom with 34 others, showering with 200 and “my 18-year-old butt.” After 28 years in prison, it took him another 11 years to be exonerated.

Sabrina Butler-Smith was 19 when she was sentenced to die in prison, convicted of killing her infant son. He died of heart and kidney problems, not at his mother’s hand.

Gary Drinkard was sentenced to die in an Alabama prison for a robbery and murder he did not commit. He was barely in the same area code when it happened, but because he’d had regular scrapes with the law, the investigation focused on him and didn’t end until he was wrongly sentenced to death.

“They were going to kill me for something I didn’t do,” Drinkard said.

All three were part of a panel discussion brought to Eagle on Monday evening by Witness to Innocence, the only national organization composed of and led by exonerated death row survivors and their families.

‘Their stories are important’

They were here because Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum invited them. During a training session last year, she met three other exonerees from Witness to Innocence.

“I thought their stories were important to be told and that’s why I invited them to Colorado,” McCollum said.

Enlightenment was her goal.

“We were looking to help educate our community on this typically unseen part of the criminal justice system,” McCollum said.

Coloradans are better off than many, McCollum said. This state’s prosecutors’ No. 1 charge is to “do justice,” she said.

The state has a robust public defender system that provides criminal defendants with competent attorneys. In fact, entry-level public defenders are paid more than entry-level prosecutors, McCollum said. The state’s rules of evidence make it tough for police and prosecutors to withhold evidence from defense attorneys. If they do, they’re branded for life.

No judge in the 5th Judicial District — Eagle, Lake, Summit and Clear Creek counties — has ever handed down a death sentence in a capital murder case.

Generally, there is not a move to investigate a case after an exoneration.

“For me and others in this room, that doesn’t sit right,” McCollum said.

How it happened to them

Most prisoners are behind bars because they’re guilty, Ajamu said. Some are not. Some are the victims of misconduct by police, prosecutors and inexperienced or incompetent defense attorneys.

If anything changes, it will probably start with prosecutors, Elizabeth Zitrin with Witness to Innocence said.

There are no rich people on death row, they all agreed.

“If I’d had good lawyers to begin with this would not have happened,” Butler-Smith said.

She says her attorney in her first trial ate candy all the time to cover his constant drinking.

“I was black, poor and in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Butler-Smith said.

Drinkard said his attorneys were 25 years old and had never handled a case of this importance. The prosecutor was trying to get convictions and had political ambitions.

“He let the killers walk to get one conviction,” Drinkard said.

Drinkard admits he had not been an angel and had a criminal record. Decatur, Alabama, police decided he had murdered an automobile junk dealer. A bad back, pain killers and muscle relaxers had him on the couch during the killing. His conviction rested primarily on testimony by his half-sister and her common-law husband, both facing charges for unrelated crimes. In exchange for testifying, all the charges against Gary’s half-sister were dismissed.

In 2000, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct. With the help of the Southern Center for Human Rights, Drinkard won an acquittal in 2001.

Butler-Smith was a 17-year old mother of two. She had a 2-year-old daughter and a 9-month old son. Her daughter was with her grandparents. She put her 9-month-old son to sleep and went jogging. When she returned, he wasn’t breathing. She picked him up and ran outside banging on doors. Following someone’s instructions, she did adult CPR on her infant son.

First responders could not save him.

Police officers arrested her on capital murder charges and took her to the city jail. She said she did not know for weeks that she was charged with murdering her son.

She said the doctors, nurses and police officers went into a room and decided how their story was going to go. The District Attorney was 25 years old and trying to make a name for himself. He took the jury on a picnic during the trial, she said.

She was 19 when she was wrongly convicted and was sentenced to die.

As she was moving from prison intake to death row on her first day in prison, she says a guard told her, “You will die here!” She cried when they put her in a cell the size of a small bathroom.

“There was nothing else to do,” she said.

Rats, ants and depression found her. She did not have her family, she could not grieve for her son.

“I didn’t know where he was buried, even for two years after I was out,” she said.

Finally, she learned as much as she could about the law. She earned her GED and college credits.

She works with Witness to Innocence because she has a bigger purpose: “To get the bad guys off the street.”

In Ajamu’s case, police coerced a purported witness, a 12-year old boy whose mother was fighting ovarian cancer. They kept that boy locked up for eight months, forcing testimony that was the only evidence in a trial that sent Ajamu, then known as Ronnie Bridgeman, his brother Ricky Bridgeman and friend Ricky Jackson to death row.

The boy tried to recant his statement at the time of the police lineup in 1975 but said that police told him it was too late and forced him to testify, Ajamu said.

“The boy had parts of four different trials. He gave four different stories. That’s part of how they solidified that it was all lies,” Ajamu said.

When that boy grew into a man, his pastor convinced him to go public.

Even in innocence, trials don’t end

Even free and exonerated, prison leaves a long shadow over their lives.

Butler-Smith walked around from 1995 to 2005 without a job.

“You have two applicants. One has a prison record and one doesn’t, who are you going to hire?” she asked.

Her son was buried in the woods. She says she’s fighting with the state of Mississippi to have him moved and buried properly.

Drinkard received no compensation from Alabama. Alabama says he has to bring the real perpetrator to justice to get compensation.

Ajamu said Ohio paid him $51,000 a year for every year he was incarcerated.

“They didn’t have a problem taking their freedom away. They took from her and from him the very same things they took from me,” he said gesturing toward Drinkard and Butler-Smith.

Ajamu, now 61, said to the Monday night crowd in Eagle that he’s “ecstatic to be here.”

He worked through the system and was paroled. He did his own work to clear his name. Kyle Swenson, an investigative reporter with Cleveland Scene magazine, broke the story that helped get Ajamu a new trial. In November 2014, Judge Richard McMonagle granted new trials for Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman and vacated their convictions. The prosecution then dismissed the charges against both of them and they were released.

A month later, Ajamu’s conviction was vacated and the prosecution dismissed the charges against him. He was exonerated after 39 years.

He looked at the law enforcement officers gathered from around the region for Monday’s panel discussion, and smiled as he admitted he wanted to be a police officer when he was young.

“Hope did not find me in a prison cell. The only race on this earth is the human race. We are all human beings made from the same mold. It didn’t break. Someone just forgot about us,” Ajamu said.

The work goes on

Witness to Innocence says in the modern era of the U.S. death penalty, there has been one exoneration for every nine executions.

In July 1976, false forensic testimony and an eyewitness identification manipulated by police misconduct sent Charles Ray Finch to North Carolina’s death row. In June he became the 166th person released and officially exonerated after 43 years in prison.

He left prison in a wheelchair.

Aspen Skiing Co. plans to offset cutting trees for Pandora’s expansion with help in Lake Christine Fire burn scar

Aspen Skiing Co. will provide funds to plant thousands of seedlings on Basalt Mountain in the Lake Christine burn scar to offset its plan to remove trees from Aspen Mountain.

Skico has notified the U.S. Forest Service it will fund “the planting of several hundred seedling trees per acre on approximately 200 acres of land associated with the Lake Christine Fire,” according to new information submitted to Pitkin County.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams confirmed Tuesday that Skico officials made the offer to help with replanting.

About 8,500 acres of national forest burned last summer in the Lake Christine Fire, which charred more than 12,500 acres total. The Forest Service is monitoring the recovery to determine where trees should be replanted.

“Some areas you get great regeneration and some areas need a little help,” Fitzwilliams said.

Skico’s offer comes after the company took heat from conservationists for its plan to cut trees on 106 acres within the proposed Pandora’s expansion area on Aspen Mountain. Skico wants to add a chairlift and 180 acres of new terrain on the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. The area, known as Pandora’s, has been used by “sidecountry” skiers and snowboarders for decades.

The ski area expansion has been approved by the White River National Forest. Now, the Pitkin County commissioners are reviewing the Pandora’s expansion and an updated master plan for Aspen Mountain.

As part of an Amended and Restated Master Plan submitted to the county, Skico said a maximum of 40% of the trees will be removed from 104 acres identified for gladed or tree skiing in Pandora’s.

Another 76 acres will be cut for the creation of standard ski trails. That boosts the total to 106 acres where trees will be cut, according to Skico’s plan. About 4,240 tons of timber will be removed.

Skico defended the tree removal by contending that a dense forest doesn’t equal a healthy forest.

“A healthy forest contains a diverse mix of tree species, ages and densities,” the amended plan said. “Thinning the forest is a prescribed measure of improving forest health as prescribed in the 2012 Forest Health Project Environmental Assessment.”

Thinning glades and leaving tree islands provides multiple benefits, the plan continued. The remaining trees gain room and nutrients to grow. There is more wildlife habitat for foraging, grazing and browsing. It reduces the fuel load for wildfires. It spurs more diverse vegetative growth.

To sweeten the pot even more, Skico came up with the idea of planting trees on Basalt Mountain.

Fitzwilliams said the Forest Service intends to put a salvage sale out for bid this winter. An undetermined amount of terrain will be opened for a logging company to remove salvageable timber. Some of the 8,500 acres that burned on Basalt Mountain is too steep for logging. In addition, the Forest Service won’t allow logging that would compact soils in high severity burn areas. However, the salvage sale will be valuable on a portion of the burn scar. Once the logging is completed, those acres will be reseeded.

“Those are areas we would like to reforest,” Fitzwilliams said. That’s where Skico’s assistance will come in, several years down the road.

The timber cutting and tree thinning is one of several issues that were identified for further discussion by the county commissioners. The board will renew the review of Aspen Mountain Master Plan at a meeting that starts at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the county commissioners’ meeting room. The county planning department staff recommended the discussion be continued to Aug. 28 for a vote.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Meter replacements to help conserve water in Aspen

Despite being turned down for a Bureau of Reclamation grant, city of Aspen utilities officials say they will move forward on a project to replace the city’s aging water meters.

The city applied for a $271,000 grant from the Bureau of Reclamation to replace 379 — roughly 10% — of the city’s water meters, which were installed before 1987. The old meters are not only potentially inaccurate, they are incompatible with the city’s new advanced metering infrastructure technology.

By replacing the meters, the city estimates it would save about 50 acre-feet of water per year. The average annual water demand in Aspen is about 3,000 acre-feet.

Aspen applied for a WaterSMART water efficiency grant, which provides funding for projects that result in quantifiable water savings and contribute to water supply reliability in the western U.S. The Bureau of Reclamation would have funded half the cost of the meter replacement, but the project was not selected. The Bureau announced in July the 45 grant recipients out of 111 applicants.

WaterNow Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides support to water leaders and local water utilities, talked with city officials about the grant process, why the project wasn’t selected and what they could do differently next time. Although replacing old water meters is part of the city’s larger overall effort of Aspen Intelligent Metering, 50 acre-feet of water savings probably wasn’t enough to get the grant.

“What we have heard is that the projects that will save the most acre-feet are the ones that are going to be selected,” said Lindsay Rogers, Colorado Basin program manager for WaterNow Alliance. “This grant sort of favors larger utilities.”

A study done for the city by Headwaters Corp. found that the city would need 8,500 acre-feet of storage in a drier future. Aspen Utilities Finance and Administrative Manager Lee Ledesma said the projected 50 acre-feet of savings from the meter replacements would not reduce the city’s need for storage.

“In the big picture, 50 acre-feet compared to what council has recommended for storage is a very small drop,” Ledesma said. “So we don’t see any potential savings from this project as reducing our need for storage. We have a 1% growth in our water accounts every year so it may delay the growth of that.”

Utilities officials say they will apply for other grants to help fund the project. But even if outside money doesn’t come through, officials say they will recommend during the city’s budget process this fall to move forward with replacing the meters.

“We are recommending going forward with it, grant or no grant,” Ledesma said. “I don’t think we want less than 100% implementation on AIM.”

An advantage of the new technology is that it will allow customers to have remote access to data about how much water they use instead of waiting for their monthly bill. This will be especially useful for the roughly 65% of the city’s water customers who don’t live here year-round, Ledesma said.

“If you have more information about what’s actually happening on your property, we really think it’s going to change behavior,” Ledesma said. “It’s going to give the customer enough information to make wiser choices. It’s going to make them feel a little more comfortable when they are out of town.”

Aspen officials look to fast track childcare options

Aspen City Council gave direction Tuesday to address a dearth of affordable child care, which has become as big of a crisis as the shortage of housing in the upper valley.

“This work should’ve started years ago,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said during a three-hour work session on how to add child care options for young working families.

There are few options for parents to place their infants, toddlers and preschoolers in a quality day care facility during the work day.

And it is forcing people to leave the community. As a result, it erodes the workforce necessary to operate a healthy community and a world-class resort.

It boils down to a lack of staffing — in recruiting, retaining and pay — as well as the high cost of operations, and nuances in licensing and laws, to name a few challenges.

As it stands now, there are 30 licensed child care spaces available for infants, 88 for toddlers and 293 for preschoolers in Pitkin County, according to Shirley Ritter, director of the sales tax-funded Kids First program.

The situation is even more dire for infant care, she noted.

The birth rate to residents of Pitkin County in 2017 was 134 babies, and only 22% leaves 53 babies not in licensed care every year, according to Ritter.

Child care for one child in Aspen averages $68 a day, or $17,000 a year.

Waitlists exist for babies who haven’t even been conceived or born yet, child care specialists noted at Tuesday’s meeting.

Council agreed to fast track some longer term options that were presented Tuesday, including looking at child care facilities at the third phase of developing the Burlingame Ranch affordable housing neighborhood.

Also on the fast track list is looking at partnering with different organizations in the valley, specifically Colorado Mountain College, Cozy Point Ranch and the Aspen Valley Fire Protection District’s North Forty station for potential facility locations.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow said he would like to city staff to consider potential facilities at the Brush Creek Park and Ride, or the third floor of the new city office building at Rio Grande Place.

“We have a responsibility to solve this problem for every child that is born in this community,” he said. “Any and all options are open.”

How to pay for added child care capacity will be a major topic for future discussions among elected officials in the upper valley, as well as throughout the region.

Richards said she would support a ballot question in the 2020 election that would expand and add onto the existing sales tax that is funneled to Kids First.

Kids First is funded by half of a 0.45% sales tax, which brings in just over $2.2 million annually for the program.

That money covers teacher incentives, capital and quality improvement grants, financial aid to families and subsidies for child care programs within the county.

Interim City Manager Sara Ott said 55% of that sales tax revenue goes to child care while the remaining 45% is dedicated to affordable housing.

She said it is at council’s discretion to change the funneling of that money, if it chooses, noting that they are both “high needs in the community.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Power outage leaves parts of Basalt, midvalley in dark for more than 2 hours

A power outage left about 1,050 residences and businesses in the dark for a little more than two and a half hours Tuesday night.

Holy Cross Energy customers lost power at about 6:10 p.m. It was restored at 8:50 p.m.

About 1,050 separate meters were affected by the outage, according to Holy Cross Energy spokeswoman Jenna Weatherred. Crews were dispatched to investigate the problem and they were able to “bypass” the issue. The cause of the outage was unknown.

The Holy Cross outage map as of 8:45 p.m. was not available for updates.

Restaurants and other businesses took a hit on what typically would have been a busy summer night.

Motorists reported that the traffic signal at Highway 82 and Basalt Avenue, the main entrance into Basalt, was out of commission, causing congestion during late rush-hour traffic.

The outage forced a cancellation of a Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at Town Hall. The staff and volunteer board waited about half an hour before calling it quits. About 15 members of the public showed up for the meeting, which was supposed to include review of a proposed performing arts center at Willits Town Center. The items were re-scheduled for Sept. 3.

The outage didn’t extend downvalley as far as El Jebel. Homes in Sopris Village experienced a surge but no loss of power. The stoplight at Highway 82 and lower Two Rivers Road was operating properly.

Aspen police looking for man after report of attempted sexual assault early Tuesday

Aspen police are looking for a balding white man between the ages of 40 and 50 who allegedly attempted to sexually assault a woman walking alone early Tuesday morning, according to a news release.

The woman called police about 4:50 a.m. Tuesday and reported that she was walking in the area of the pedestrian bridge at the east end of Hopkins Avenue when the man approached her, the release states.

He attempted to sexually assault her, but she fought back and he fled, according to Aspen Police Assistant Chief Bill Linn and the news release. The woman was not seriously injured. Linn declined to release further details of the attack.

Reports of a stranger attempting to sexually attack a woman are rare in Aspen, and APD has assigned a team of officers to investigate the incident, according to Linn.

“This particular style of attack is very uncommon (in Aspen),” he said.

In addition to the other details, the man was described as about 5-feet-9-inches tall, a thin-to-medium build with brown hair cut just below the ear and balding on top, according to police. He was also wearing a blue-and-white shirt, black pants and “‘Timberland-style’ very white shoes with a rim around, maybe of gold,” the news release states.

Police want to review any surveillance video from business and homeowners, particularly from those in the area of Hopkins Avenue between South Original Street and the pedestrian bridge, the release states. Those willing to share any video can call 970-920-5400.

Wildlife officials: Even with abundant natural foods for bears around Aspen, people need to secure sources

Wildlife officials are hopeful that the ripening of favorite foods of bears will ease the high number of conflicts occurring on a nightly basis in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.

But even with an abundance of natural foods such as serviceberries, choke cherries and acorns, people still must eliminate easy food sources that tempt bruins, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita.

Yamashita said wildlife officials suspect Aspen and Snowmass Village may be seeing a late summer surge in conflicts with bears because natural foods are late to mature this year.

The heavy snow year combined with a wet, cool spring delayed development of many food sources that bears love, he said.

“We’re seeing pockets where there is good food but generally it’s a month-and-a-half late,” Yamashita said. “Bears aren’t going to take off a month and a half from feeding.”

So the bruins are seeking the easiest food sources. That means they are raiding trash dumpsters that aren’t property closed; getting into pet food, bird feeders and grills left outdoors; breaking into homes where windows and doors sometimes aren’t properly secured; and breaking into vehicles where people left food.

Late Sunday night, an Aspen man was bitten by a bear that was in a dumpster behind a downtown restaurant. It was the third time this year in Aspen someone has been harmed by a bear.

Bears are smart animals that don’t forget food sources, Yamashita said. So if serviceberries aren’t ripe yet, they will go dumpster diving and if acorns are late, they will break into homes.

The best-case scenario is a proliferation of natural foods comes available real soon and bears retreat to the woods, Yamashita said. Fruit trees are already bowing with prolific amounts of bounty.

Yamashita said abundant natural food sources don’t automatically mean bears will quit trying to raid human sources. Last year’s drought resulted in widespread crop failure so wildlife officers anticipated a surge in human-bear conflicts in the fall. Instead, it turned out to be a year with one of the least amounts of problems in a decade, Yamashita said.

Likewise, even with abundant natural foods this year, bears will still go the easy route. If people continue to make food available, bears will go for it.

“You can’t untrain a bear,” Yamashita said.

He and other wildlife officials were critical earlier this month of sloppy habits by residents of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County. There have been between three to five break-ins of residences in Pitkin County per night this summer. CPW officials are frustrated trying to get the message about securing food to transient tourist populations and ambivalent local residents.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Aspen Skiing Co. to adjust for Ikon crowds in ’19-20 season

With the popularity of the Ikon Pass that was launched last year, Aspen Skiing Co. will make adjustments to deal with the masses this upcoming season.

In an annual update to Aspen City Council on Monday, Mike Kaplan, Skico’s president and CEO, spoke about specifics of last season’s surge of Ikon Pass holders at Aspen-Snowmass resorts.

Most of those visitors came on the weekends, choking parking and traffic at Aspen Highlands, as well as lift lines.

Kaplan said Skico heard loud and clear from locals about the surge of out-of-towners, noting the stickers that were plastered around town that said, “Stop Ikonizing Aspen.”

“There was no secret there was some nasty labeling going on,” he said. “The irony of this criticism, … I was taken aback by it” because Skico gets criticized for catering to the rich and famous, and the Ikon pass was a way to get the average Joe skiing.

“After I got over that reaction we tried to get to the bottom of it and first and foremost, it’s change, right? I get it,” Kaplan said of the local thinking he or she can park at Aspen Highlands on a Saturday without the lot getting full before 9:30 a.m.

“But I urge all of us, and I ask for your help, to maintain perspective and remember that it is critical to diversify our customer base. But we are not going to sit back and assume this is OK. We are committed to making sure it is a quality experience for everyone.”

He said Skico plans to hang more chairs on chairlifts that have capacity at Highlands and Snowmass to help move the lines quicker.

“There is a ton we can do,” Kaplan said of dealing with the crowds.

More buses will run from the Brush Creek Park and Ride lot, and Skico will look into message signs on Maroon Creek Road to alert motorists if the Aspen Highlands parking garage is full before traffic backs up.

Skico may also use social media platforms such as Twitter for real-time traffic information.

“That was a bad scene,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins said of the traffic lined up from Highlands to the roundabout.

Kaplan noted that skier visits were up 20% last season over the previous one, with the main driver being a banner snow year.

Local passholders were about 45% of that increase, and 40% of the skier visits over the weekends were Ikon Pass holders, with most of them hailing from the Front Range and California.

Kaplan also said 70% of the Ikon pass holders were new to Aspen-Snowmass, and the largest demographic was between 25 and 34 years old.

“They look and act like a local,” he said, adding they are younger and more accomplished skiers, which is why they flock to Highlands for steeper terrain.

The Ikon Pass is an effective tool to help Skico address the sport’s aging demographic and gain new a customer base, Kaplan said.

Joining Kaplan in the annual presentation was Auden Schendler, Skico’s vice president of sustainability.

He told council about the company’s housing project being developed in Willits in Basalt, which will further sustainability goals just with sheer manpower.

“Housing is an environmental issue,” he said, adding that any environmental endeavor requires human beings to make it happen.

Skico will build on its “Give a Flake” environmental campaign this year, which will focus on the upcoming elections and mobilizing the messaging of action around climate change.

“We want to focus primarily on issues,” Schendler said.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Aspen’s electeds choose parts of ‘uphill economy’ effort

Aspen City Council agreed Monday to move forward with specific elements of the “uphill economy plan” that was initiated by a previous administration.

After reviewing a 130-page packet of information surrounding the plan, which began in 2017 and was budgeted for $100,000 to develop, council members said it’s worth pursuing but not at the expense of an over-worked staff in the community development department.

Mayor Torre said he would like to see an outside organization like the Aspen Chamber Resort Association or a local nonprofit pick up the plan and run with it.

The plan was completed in July and designed to build culture and community, reinforce the values of human-powered recreation all four seasons and introduce more users to the sport, according to long range planner Phillip Supino.

Council members agreed to continue funding the Buttermilk Ascent event, which is a collaboration with Aspen Skiing Co. and local gear and guide companies to join novice and experienced uphill skiers to climb the mountain together and demo equipment.

Last year, the city paid $15,000 in event fees to Skico to cover the costs associated with hosting the event.

This past spring, the event drew 75 attendees from around the world, 40% of whom had no prior uphilling experience, according to Supino.

Council also agreed to fund the uphill socials, which occur each Friday and attract as many as 140 locals and visitors. They meet at the base of Tiehack and ascend to the Cliffhouse for breakfast.

This past season, the socials cost a total of $4,800, which provided breakfast to more than 800 attendees during the 12 weeks the event took place.

The uphill economy plan, which council agreed needs to be rebranded, was developed after nine months of work by city staff and consultants. They worked through hundreds of concepts and thousands of data points to arrive at recommendations and policies, according to Supino.

Council members emphasized that the plan should not increase usage in the backcountry but rather drive policy discussion on how to help preserve the public lands experience.

That’s how Pitkin County officials, particularly those from the open space and trails board, feel about the plan.

In a letter to the city, the county’s open space board said preservation and enhancement of biodiversity is more important than growing the economy through recreation.

“The plan’s emphasis on developing and promoting backcountry recreation assets may inadvertently have the effect of commercializing the backcountry, thereby degrading the outdoor experience, contributing to resource damage and compounding management challenges,” the letter reads. “The (board) is not supportive of efforts to promote/facilitate expanded backcountry recreation given the management challenges that already exist on public lands.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com