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Vail’s Back Bowls to get new quad as part of Vail Resorts’ $320M Epic Lift Upgrade

Clouds build over the Back Bowls and the Sawatch Range in Vail last winter. On Thursday, Vail Resorts announced it is embarking on a $320 million capital investment plan that includes lift upgrades on Vail Mountain.

Ever wanted to lap Sun Down Bowl with only one lift ride? Vail Resorts announced Thursday an unprecedented number of on-mountain projects planned for the 2022-23 North American season in what will be the company’s largest single-year investment in its resorts.

The sweeping set of 19 new chairlifts, including 12 high-speed lifts, a new eight-person, high-speed gondola and six new fixed-grip lifts, is part of Vail Resorts’ $315 million to $325 million capital investment plan for 2022. Each of the upgrades is designed to reduce wait times, increase uphill capacity and create more lift-served terrain. The projects outlined span 14 resorts including Vail Mountain, Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado.

At Vail Mountain, the installation of a new high-speed four-person chair from the base of Chair 5 (High Noon Express) to the Wildwood restaurant will reduce wait times on peak days at Chair 5 and create the opportunity for skiers and riders to conveniently access the trails in Sun Down Bowl.

Skiers and riders will also see improved reliability and capacity in Game Creek Bowl after the replacement of the current four-person chair for a new high-speed 6-person lift, boosting capacity by nearly 50%.

In a news release, Vail Resorts said additional projects will be announced in December 2021 and March 2022.

The company called the massive capital improvement project its Epic Lift Upgrade. With this latest spending project, Vail Resorts said its total investment into the guest experience over 15 years is expected to reach approximately $2.2 billion. Those investments include lift and terrain projects as well as snow-making infrastructure and technological innovations.

For the upcoming 2021-22 North American ski season, the company expects to spend approximately $120 million in new projects such as the McCoy Park expansion at Beaver Creek Resort and new lifts at Breckenridge, Keystone, Okemo and Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

“Our mission at Vail Resorts is to provide an experience of a lifetime to anyone who visits our resorts — and delivering on that mission requires constant re-imagination and investment into the guest experience,” said Rob Katz, the chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts, in a statement. “Our teams have been hard at work identifying significant opportunities to improve the guest experience and have produced an initial list of exciting lift upgrades, a restaurant expansion and projects that expand access to incredible terrain for next season, with more to be announced.

All of the proposed projects are subject to government approval, and the completion of each project and its availability for the 2022-23 season will be based on the timing of approvals.

Projects planned ahead of the 2022-23 season at Vail Resorts’ Western mountains include:

Colorado

Vail Mountain, Sun Down Lift in the Legendary Back Bowls: The installation of a new high-speed, four-person chair from the base of Chair 5 (High Noon Express) to the Wildwood restaurant.

Vail Mountain, Game Creek Bowl: Skiers and riders will see improved reliability and capacity in this popular bowl with the replacement of the current four-person chair with a new high-speed, six-person lift.

Breckenridge Ski Resort, Rip’s Ride Lift: The beginner/ski and ride school experience will be enhanced at the highly utilized Peak 8 base area by replacing the current fixed-grip double with a high-speed, four-person chair, increasing uphill capacity by nearly 70% and improving out-of-base circulation.

Keystone Resort, Bergman Bowl: Enhancements to Bergman Bowl will include a new high-speed, six-person chairlift, increasing lift-served terrain by 555 acres. Other enhancements include 16 new trails, a ski patrol facility and snowmaking infrastructure.

Keystone Resort, Outpost Restaurant: A 6,000-square-foot expansion of the existing Outpost restaurant will add 300 more indoor seats and 75 more outdoor seats for guests.

Utah

Park City Mountain, Eagle Lift: A high-speed, six-person chair with a new midstation will replace the existing Eagle lift, significantly, reducing crowding and wait times and improving the guest experience, especially for beginner skiers and ski and ride school guests.

Park City Mountain, Silverlode eight-Person Lift: Vail Resorts’ first high-speed, eight-person chair, will replace an existing six-person chair, increase uphill capacity by 20% and reduce wait times at a critical spot to circulate guests on the mountain.

Lake Tahoe, California & Nevada

Northstar California, Comstock Lift: A new high-speed, six-person chair will replace the existing midmountain four-person chair and is designed to reduce wait times at one of the mountain’s most popular lifts and increase uphill capacity by nearly 50%.

Heavenly Ski Resort, North Bowl Lift: The replacement of an existing fixed-grip triple with a high-speed, four-person chair will increase uphill capacity by more than 40% and reduce the combined ride time of the Boulder and North Bowl lifts, which is expected to reduce wait times at the Stagecoach and Olympic lifts.

Canada

Whistler Blackcomb, Creekside Gondola: A new high-speed, eight-person gondola, replacing the existing six-person gondola, will significantly improve wait times and increase out-of-base uphill capacity by 35% in the Creekside area, especially on high-volume days.

Whistler Blackcomb, Big Red Express: The replacement of the existing high-speed, four-person lift with a high-speed, six-person chair will increase uphill capacity by nearly 30% and enhance and modernize the guest experience midmountain out of the Creekside area.

Report finds “multiple operator errors,” insufficient guidance in Haunted Mine Drop accident

The Haunted Mine Drop officially opened Monday, July 31 at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park after months of anticipation. Unlike other drop rides, it sends riders plummeting 110 feet below ground. (Chelsea Self/ Glenwood Springs Post Independent via AP)

A nine-page report released Friday found that the Sept. 5 incident that led to the death of a 6-year-old girl at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park was the “result of multiple operator errors.”

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Division of Oil and Public Safety reported five key findings, notedly that Haunted Mine Drop Ride operators did not notice that Wongel Estifanos was sitting on top of her seat belts, rather than secured by them, before the ride began operation. Operators had insufficient guidance both in training and from the manufacturer’s manual that led to incorrect addressing of error messages on the ride’s monitor, the report states. It found violations of the Colorado Amusement Rides and Devices Regulations and said “enforcement will be pursued via the statutory process.”

“The fatal accident was the result of multiple operator errors, specifically failure to ensure proper utilization of the passenger restraint system (seatbelts), and a lack of understanding and resolution of the Human Machine Interface (HMI) screen error conditions on the control panel,” the report concludes.

The report found that a lack of procedures, inadequate training, more than one operator taking responsibility for a ride during a ride cycle and the restraint system involved all contributed to the operator error.

Wongel Estifanos
Courtesy photo/GoFundMe

In the ride immediately preceding the accident, the seat Estifanos occupied was left empty. Ride operators, who were not named in the report, fastened the two seat belts of the empty seat, one of which uses a rod that is pushed into a buckle called the restraint block, which is used for monitoring of seat belt status.

At the conclusion of each ride, the rod automatically unlocks as operators are intended to unfasten patrons from their belts, resetting the ride’s status. If the rod is not removed and reinserted, an error is thrown on the control panel, as it “cannot have been positioned properly on the next passenger,” according to the report.

Operators had adopted a process of unbuckling and clearing seat belts from seats, the report finds, but had done so inconsistently throughout the day and did not reset the unoccupied seat before Estifanos took it.

In both the manufacturer’s and the site-specific operations’ manuals, operators are instructed to fasten patrons into the seats. The operator was observed allowing guests to fasten their own seat belts throughout the day, the report found. The manuals also instruct operators to visually confirm each guest has seat belts over their lap.

Estifanos was observed having the tail end of the seat belt in her lap, but neither of the actual restraints.

A second operator arrived while the restraint block error was active. Operator 2 then reinserted each rod into their buckle, “without understanding and resolving the actual issue — that Ms. Estifanos did not have the seatbelts across her lap.” The report notes that the manufacturer’s operating manual does not instruct operators how to properly address errors.

The error was resolved and the ride was dispatched.

Regulation violations were found in failures to follow operating procedures and in training to emphasize the inherent risks of the ride or review the manufacturer’s operating manual.

In a statement to the Post Independent, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park founder Steve Beckley said, “We have been working closely with Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety and independent safety experts to review this incident. Earlier today, we received the state’s final report and will review it carefully for recommendations.”

The Haunted Mine Drop ride will remain closed until the Division of Oil and Public Safety re-permits the ride, which is conditional on the resolution of all the contributing factors to the accident and an inspection.

The park reopened on Sept. 11.

Following historic rainfall, Glenwood Canyon restoration work could soon see removal of debris from Colorado River

State agencies could start removing material soon from the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Elise Thatcher said.

During a water infrastructure townhall Monday hosted by the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance, Thatcher and members of several Colorado River and Glenwood Canyon stakeholder organizations provided an update on Glenwood Canyon rehabilitation and preventative maintenance measures following the mudslides in late July and early August.

Thatcher said maintenance work on Interstate 70 continues at a steady pace, and CDOT is slated to have all lanes east- and westbound open before Thanksgiving.

CDOT crews removed about 3,300 truckloads of debris from Glenwood Canyon as part of an effort to restore full functionality to I-70, which closed between exits 109 and 133 for several days after the mudslides.

A section of the interstate in Blue Gulch, near mile marker 123.5, experienced the most damage, Thatcher said. Prior to the mudslides, CDOT invested in some preventative measures to reduce the impacts of debris flows from the Grizzly Creek fire impacting interstate traffic, such as laying out shredded wood-straw mulch, installing fencing to catch rockfall and upgrading formerly installed rockfall fencing to accommodate increased debris snowfall.

Looking forward, Thatcher advised travelers to plan their trips using www.cotrip.org with the possibility of interstate closures in mind in the event of additional rain and debris-fall events.

“If you do come across material flows in your travels, stay in your vehicle,” Thatcher advised.

Drew Petersen, the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management west region field manager, told attendees several federal and state agencies have collected river data since the mudslides with the goal of determining impacts to the waterway and how best to rehabilitate the river.

A large tree sits in the Colorado River after flowing down from one of the drainages in Glenwood Canyon after recent flash flooding.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“There’s a definite risk to the highway, railroad and bike path if things are left to sit as they are,” Petersen said.

Colorado agencies made the decision to move forward with removing material from the river, though details about funding, when the work would occur and where are still being refined, Petersen said.

“CDOT will most likely be in charge of contractors removing material,” he said. “There’s no problem anticipated with the removal for downriver users, but we’re working on a notification system for downriver users if the need should arise.”

Petersen said crews could work on material removal during the winter with the goal of completing the removal project before spring.

Union Pacific Senior Director of Public Affairs Nathan Anderson said the main tracks through the canyon are clear, but UP crews are still working to clear sidings, low-speed track sections distinct from a running line or through route such as a main line, branch line or spur.

Daily traffic for the Glenwood Canyon tracks includes two Amtrak trains, 2-3 Burlington-Northern Santa Fe trains, 2-3 UP trains and the Rocky Mountaineer train about twice a week, Anderson said.

“We put together a special train to move excavation equipment into the canyon for initial material removal efforts,” he said. “And, we’re conducting rail inspections multiple times weekly.”

The U.S. Forest Service is acting in a support role for operations in the canyon, said Roger Poirier, White River National Forest recreation staff officer for the Forest Service.

While some crews are researching cost-effective debris-fall mitigation strategies, Poirier said the recreation team is looking at options for reopening the Hanging Lake Trail.

“I can tell you the lake is blue and 70-80 percent of the trail is perfect,” he said. “Unfortunately, the other 20 percent is gone completely, including some of the bridges.”

Despite the closure, numerous hikers have expressed an interest in hiking to the picturesque location, regardless of the dangers, Poirier said. The Forest Service is looking into the possibility of creating a temporary trail to let experienced hikers make the climb, but efforts are also underway to completely rehabilitate and upgrade the main trail with the goal of creating a trail that can withstand high volume traffic and survive future weather events, he said.

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.

Vail Resorts to require proof of vaccination for guests dining indoors along with all workers

Vail Resorts announced Monday that face coverings will be required at its properties in indoor settings, including in restaurants, lodging properties, restrooms, retail and rental locations, and buses, during the 2021-22 ski season.

Proof of vaccination will be required of guests wishing to dine indoors, but will not be required for an indoor bathroom visit, according to Vail Resorts’ 2021-22 winter operating plan published Monday.

The ski operator also announced face coverings will be required at its properties in indoor settings, including in restaurants, lodging properties, restrooms, retail and rental locations, and buses, during the 2021-22 ski season.

Employees will also be required to be vaccinated “for their safety and protection as well as the safety and protection of guests and resort communities, and in compliance with the recent rules announced under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” according to the operating plan.

Vail and Beaver Creek spokesperson John Plack said current employees who are not vaccinated have until Nov. 15 to do so.

Vail is still on track for a Nov. 12 opening, according to a release sent out on Monday.

Vail Resorts ski areas in the U.S. will not require a reservation this season, a policy which is consistent with messaging put out by CEO Rob Katz in a letter to passholders this spring.

In Monday’s announcement, Katz said the company is fortunate in the fact that the core experience it provides for guests takes place outdoors.

“However, as we welcome guests from around the world to the indoor experience at our resorts, we feel it’s important to do our part to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Katz said. “We all need the opportunity to enjoy and experience the great outdoors, and we could not be more excited to welcome guests back to our resorts for the 2021-22 ski and ride season.”

Other key details from the announcement include Vail Resorts’ plan to operate gondolas at normal capacity, “optimizing guest movement around its resorts.”

Face coverings will not be required outdoors, in lift lines, or on chairlifts or gondolas, unless required by local public health orders, Vail Resorts confirmed.

Reservations will still be required for dining, but the company is expecting “significantly more seating and dining capacity than last season, and intends to open reservations one day prior, versus the day-of last season.”

Proof of vaccination will be required for guests ages 12 and over at all indoor, on-mountain quick-service (cafeteria-style) restaurants, and the requirement includes guests 12 and over in ski and ride school programs that include lunch.

The proof of vaccination requirement does not apply to fine dining establishments like The 10th at Vail.

“Consistent with many other large-scale indoor activities and venues, Vail Resorts believes the vaccine requirement is important for the protection of its guests and employees, given the number of people using these facilities and the fact that guests will not be wearing face coverings while eating and drinking,” the company stated. “This is currently the only part of the resort experience that will require proof of vaccination, unless required by local public health.”

More details from the operating plan are available at Snow.com/info/winter-experience.

Homestake hike highlights uncertainties with proposed reservoir project

Fens of the Homestake Valley in Colorado. The cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora, which operate together as Homestake Partners, have water rights in the Homestake Valley and plan to use them to develop Whitney Reservoir.
Steven C DeWitt/Courtesy photo

HOMESTAKE VALLEY — The Eagle River Watershed Council last week hosted a hike for the public in the Homestake Valley, an area receiving increased scrutiny because of a project that proposes to take more water from the Colorado River basin and bring it to the fast-growing Front Range.

The goal of the Tuesday event — which included presentations from representatives from public-lands conservation group Wilderness Workshop, municipal water provider Aurora Water and other experts — was to provide a broad overview of a complicated issue, according to Holly Loff, the executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council.

“We know it’s going to be a long process, but we want to make sure people are engaged in the conversation and look to us as a resource,” Loff said. “We will continue to provide science-based, factual information.”

The watershed council advocates for the health of the upper Colorado and Eagle river watersheds through research, education and projects, according to its website.

The cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora, which operate together as Homestake Partners, have water rights in the Homestake Valley and plan to use them to develop Whitney Reservoir. The project would be located near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is 6 miles south of Red Cliff. Homestake Partners is currently doing geotechnical drilling to study whether the soil and bedrock in the area could support a dam and reservoir.

Bore holes from 10 locations on U.S. Forest Service land in the Homestake Valley are underway to study the area’s future reservoir potential. The bore holes will be 4 to 8 inches in diameter at the surface and refilled with cement-bentonite up to the top 2 feet, then backfilled with topsoil, according to the Forest Service.
Warren M. Hern/Courtesy photo

The proposed project would create a new reservoir on lower Homestake Creek, where water collected would be pumped up to the existing Homestake Reservoir, about 5 miles upstream. Then it would go through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, and then to Aurora and Colorado Springs. Various configurations of four potential reservoir sites show it holding between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet of water.

Project opposition

Although it’s still early in the process and no application for the storage project has yet been filed, the proposal already has opposition. Some iterations of the project call for moving a section of the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary, which requires involvement from Congress, and would inundate rare, groundwater-fed, peat wetlands known as fens. The U.S. Forest Service received nearly 800 comments about the drilling study during its public scoping phase last year, and most of the remarks were against the entire reservoir project.

Some who attended the hike — which attracted about 20 people — questioned the concept of taking more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River over to thirsty and growing Front Range cities in the face of a climate change-fueled crisis.

Protestors gather on Water Street in Red Cliff on Aug. 7 before hiking to U.S. Highway 24 to demonstrate against plans for a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley southwest of town. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, which have joint water rights in the existing Homestake Reservoir, have received Forest Service approval to conduct geotechnical evaluations in the Homestake Valley to determine whether a second reservoir is feasible.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

“I’m just very concerned that if this is a typical year, is there enough water in the drainage to take 20,000 acre-feet out every year — and how does that tie into the future curtailment call on the Colorado Compact?” said Tom Allender, who is board president of the watershed council, a former board member of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and a retired planner for Vail Resorts.

The compact call Allender mentioned could occur if the upper-basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada), as required by a nearly century-old binding agreement. Water users in the upper basin would be forced to cut back, something known as “curtailment.”

A larger share of the state’s cutback obligations could fall to Front Range water providers, since most of the water rights that let them divert water from the Colorado River basin over the Continental Divide are “junior” to the compact, meaning they were made after the 1922 agreement. If there was a compact call, Front Range diverters could potentially have to stop diverting water and let it flow downstream to Lake Powell.

“If the Homestake Valley is important to people, and if they are interested in the impacts of a compact call and the impacts of climate change overall, then they should have an eye out for additional transmountain diversions,” Loff said. “That’s a bigger concern than a reservoir in general.”

Last year, Homestake Partners tested how they could get their stored water to the state line in the event of a compact call by releasing downstream about 1,700 acre-feet from Homestake Reservoir.

Eagle River MOU

Homestake Partners is not the only entity set to benefit from a new water-storage project. The Eagle River memorandum of understanding lays out a plan for both Front Range and Western Slope entities to develop water in the upper Eagle River basin. The agreement, signed in 1998, provides 20,000 acre-feet of water a year to Homestake Partners and 10,000 acre-feet a year to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and Vail Resorts, known collectively in the memorandum as the “Reservoir Company.”

Ken Neubecker, a retired Colorado project director at American Rivers and a former environmental representative on the Colorado Basin Roundtable, gave an overview of the memorandum. He said the 23-year-old agreement is based on hydrology that is now outdated because of the worsening impacts of climate change. The models used to estimate stream flows are based on records from 1945 to 1994.

“Storage is an early 20th-century response to water-shortage problems and doesn’t really fit in the conditions we are facing now in the 21st century, and it’s based on laws established in the 19th century,” Neubecker said.

In their presentation, representatives from Aurora Water laid out the measures that the municipality is taking to conserve water, including offering rebates for high-efficiency toilets, water-wise landscaping and irrigation efficiency. Over 10 years, Aurora says it has conserved almost 500 million gallons, or about 1,500 acre-feet.

That savings, however, does not translate into Aurora taking less water from the Western Slope. About 25,000 acre-feet of water a year is sent through Homestake Tunnel to the Front Range.

“We are a growing community,” said Greg Baker, manager of public relations for Aurora Water. “Our conservation program helps us meet that future need the development is going to place on our system. Does it reduce (transmountain diversions)? No. Does it mean we are using the water more efficiently? Yes.”

Baker said there are still a lot of uncertainties with the Whitney Reservoir project. The geotechnical drilling study will help determine whether it is feasible to move ahead.


“We have not applied current climatological conditions to (the memorandum) yet because we haven’t gotten that far,” he said. “Until we know exactly what comes out of that report, we can’t say what we would want to pursue. It’s way too early for us to even come up with that timeline.”

Fate of Aspen Glen eagle buffer zone in Garfield County commissioners’ hands Monday afternoon

The eagles nest buffer zone located along the Roaring Fork River in Aspen Glen.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials stand behind a recommendation to remove a decades-old bald eagle nest buffer zone along the Roaring Fork Fork River within the Aspen Glen golf course development near Carbondale.

But that’s not to say certain protections of the riverfront habitat from new residential development aren’t warranted in doing so.

That was the upshot from a conversation in August between Garfield County planning staff and area wildlife officers Matt Yamashita and John Groves.

Details of that conversation, including several setback provisions should undeveloped parcels within the buffer zone be sold off and developed, are contained in a staff report that’s before the Garfield County commissioners Monday.

Commissioners are set to decide whether to remove the eagle nest buffer zone at the request of the corporate owners of the parcels and the golf course, the Aspen Glen Golf Co.

Several Aspen Glen homeowners, individually and through the formal position of the Homeowners’ Association, have objected to the removal of the buffer zone, saying it will negatively impact the riverfront habitat for the eagles and other wildlife, if the parcels are developed.

The area chapter of the National Audubon Society also has opposed the buffer zone removal.

“It is imperative to take any and all actions to conserve habitat for all our native animals, especially our indicator species, the birds,” Roaring Fork Audubon Chairwoman Mary Harris stated in a written comment to the commissioners.

The buffer zone was established in 1993 when Aspen Glen was first approved. It prevented development of three parcels of land near the river for as long as a historic bald eagle nest was present and restricted golf play on hole No. 10 whenever the eagles were actively nesting.

That nest was destroyed in 2018 when a windstorm broke off the upper part of the towering ponderosa pine where the nest was located. Aspen Glen Golf, a subsidiary of the national real estate development company Apollo, applied last year to have the buffer zone removed.

The Garfield County Planning Commission, following a July 28 hearing, recommended that the county commissioners approve the request. However, they also wanted more input from wildlife officers explaining their position.

A May 10 letter from Yamashita to the county advised that, even though bald eagles still frequent the area and have established a new nesting site farther upstream, the nest that was the subject of the buffer zone is no longer. Thus, the buffer zone is no longer warranted, he advised.

In his and Groves’ follow-up conversation with county planners, they did offer that it’s still important to maintain the river corridor for eagles and other riparian species with adequate setbacks.

“In accordance with referral comments received, staff supports addressing ongoing preservation or protection of habitat to meet the intent of the original eagle nest buffer zone to support ongoing bald eagle activities and nesting in the Aspen Glen area,” staff wrote in its recommendation for the Monday hearing. “This may include additional setback provisions on some of the affected parcels along the Roaring Fork River and adjacent to the BLM parcel.”

The three parcels combined account for about 14 acres of developable land, with zoning allowing for one-quarter to three-quarter acre lots, according to the staff report.

In addition to the proposed setbacks on the privately held parcels east and west of the river, a 10-acre tract of land held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management serves as a buffer along the west riverbank.

Staff also is recommending that development on the parcels east of the river occur to the east of an irrigation ditch that runs through that area, providing an extra buffer away from the river. Any new building construction on the parcel west of the river should be outside the 100-year floodplain, staff also is advising.

The public hearing to consider the request to remove the eagle nest buffer zone is scheduled to begin during the county commissioners’ afternoon session, at 1 p.m., in the County Administration Building at 108 Eighth St., Room 100, Glenwood Springs.

The meeting also is accessible and public comment is to be taken via Zoom.

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

Forest Service aims to gain support for prescribed burns in Roaring Fork Valley

With mega-fires starting to affect Colorado’s drought-stricken forests and home development continuing unabated on private lands next to the forests, federal officials are trying to earn public support for preventative measures.

The White River National Forest undertook four prescribed burns last spring that covered about 3,800 acres. U.S. Forest Service officials said Friday the work was beneficial but only a sliver of what is needed. The White River National Forest covers 2.3 million acres from Rifle to Summit County and Independence Pass to the Flat Tops north of Glenwood Springs.

“Part of the reason we have to do this, if you look back over the last 75 years, is Smokey the Bear has been pretty successful,” Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner said Friday. “We as a society have really suppressed a lot more fires. Now we’re seeing some of the challenges that come with that.”

Colorado had its three largest wildfires ever in 2020 and that didn’t include the Grizzly Creek Fire, which continues to bring consequences to Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said the evidence is clear that public land management agencies need to be more aggressive about prescribed fire and beneficial management of natural fires, when appropriate.

“We’ve got to get people on board because we’re going to have fire,” Fitzwilliams said. “We’ve got to get going. I think there’s a little bit of urgency we’re all feeling. All you have to do is watch California and what we had in Colorado last year.”

While the Roaring Fork Valley has been spared from wildfire so far this year, patchy smoke through a good chunk of the summer is a reminder of how the West is burning. Climate change has intensified droughts that are weakening trees and making them more susceptible to disease and bugs. Will the growing threat of wildfires build public support for preventative action such as prescribed burns or spook people to the point they demand immediate extinguishing of any fire?

“We’ve got to do a better job of communicating and educating people about what the realities are,” Fitzwilliams said. “I wish we could go back in time and see how many fewer trees there were 100, 150 years ago, before we started putting out fires. We have more trees than ever was natural, yet we fall in love with every one of them, and we end up paying a price. We’ve got to figure that out.”

One of last year’s prescribed burns in the Roaring Fork Valley occurred in Collins Creek, rugged territory 9 miles north of Aspen. The drainage is north and upstream from the late George Stranahan’s Flying Dog Ranch on Woody Creek Road.

Dan Nielsen, a fuels specialist for the forest, was the firing boss for that project May 7. He directed the release of about 7,000 incendiary devices about the size of Ping-Pong balls from a helicopter. The devices were dropped about every 100 feet and started multiple small fires. Snow on the high ridges kept the fire contained.

Nielsen led a hike to the site Friday to show how the area looks four months later. The fire charred thickets of oak brush and serviceberry bushes dominate the dry, south-facing landscape between 7,500 and 9,000 feet in elevation in the Collins Creek drainage. Out of the 1,200-acre burn area, 800 to 900 acres actually were affected by fire, Nielsen said. Small aspen trees have already proliferated in the burn area along with grasses and new shoots of oak and serviceberry.

“This is the perfect result,” Nielsen said. “This is what we’re looking for.”

The duel purpose of the project was to improve wildlife habitat and create firebreaks. The area is critical winter range for deer and elk. Enhanced wildlife habitat and fuels reduction go hand-in-hand, Nielsen said.

“When you sit here all summer and deal with smoke from 1,000 miles away, it should make us all realize we can’t avoid this.” — Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest supervisor

It’s hard to see the effects of the fire until in the thick of the burn area. Then, charred trees pop into view and charred wood covers parts of the ground.

“The key is that was a low-intensity burn,” Nielsen said. “We’re not burning the nutrients out of the soil.”

The result is a mosaic on the landscape — areas where old brush burned and new vegetation is taking root, and patches where the old growth remained.

“It breaks up the continuity in case a wildfire comes in here,” Nielsen said. The area will likely be ripe for another burn in 10 or so years, he said.

Phil Nyland, wildlife biologist with the White River, said the Collins Creek project paid instant dividends for wildlife.

“In the next few growing seasons, even more browse will be available as shrubs continue to grow taller than the height of the snow,” he said via email. “Grass and flowering plants, which big game forage on in summer, are dormant or buried under the snow, so the woody stems of shrubs and trees are an important primary food source for elk and mule deer.”

Nyland said projects undertaken by the Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other partners would improve habitat for elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and other native wildlife across 45,000 acres over a 10-year period.

Warner said there are five prescribed fire projects planned over the next two to three years along with another five mechanical treatments, where machines are used to thin trees and other vegetation in areas where prescribed fire isn’t an option. The planned projects will probably cover 6,000 to 8,000 acres, Warner said. It is a start, but the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District sprawls across more than 700,000 acres.

Fitzwilliams, who has held his post for nearly 12 years, said the public acceptance of prescribed burns and mechanical treatment has slowly increased during his tenure. He said treatments should occur on a broad landscape scale, not just on a few isolated projects.

“I think we’ve made some headway,” Fitzwilliams said. “When you sit here all summer and deal with smoke from 1,000 miles away, it should make us all realize we can’t avoid this. Let’s figure out how to manage it, even then there’s no guarantees.”

scondon@aspentimes.com

Blue Mesa Reservoir releases impacting lake recreation

This Bureau of Reclamation sign lists the statistics of Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest of the three reservoirs that make up the Aspinall Unit on the Gunnison River. Emergency releasesfrom the reservoir have impacted late summer lake recreation.
Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

BLUE MESA RESERVOIR — In an effort to prop up water levels at the declining Lake Powell, federal water managers are negatively impacting recreation on Colorado’s biggest man-made lake.

That’s the message from Colorado water managers and marina operators at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. On Aug. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir, began emergency releases. By the time the releases are finished the first week of October, Blue Mesa is projected to fall to its second-lowest level ever, just 215,000 acre-feet, or 22.8% of its 941,000-acre-foot capacity.

As of Sept. 1, the reservoir was 37% full, which is about 68 feet down from a full reservoir, and a ring of muddy shoreline was growing. Parking lots and boat slips sat empty, and Pappy’s Restaurant was closed for the season. The dwindling water levels are first impacting Iola, the easternmost of Blue Mesa’s three basins. Iola is where the Gunnison River now cuts through a field of mud.

Eric Loken, who operates the reservoir’s two marinas (Elk Creek and Lake Fork), said he was given only nine days’ notice to empty Elk Creek Marina’s 180 slips. The dock system’s anchors, which are not built for low water, had to be moved deeper. He said about 25 people lost their jobs six weeks earlier than normal and the marinas lost about 25% of its revenue for the year.

“There are tons of people who would like to be out here boating and are very disappointed,” Loken said. “Normally on Labor Day weekend, you can barely find a place to park. So it’s definitely been a big hit to us as a business for sure.”

The Elk Creek Marina and restaurant are closed for the season, although the boat ramp is still open and is expected to be accessible through the end of the month. The Lake Fork Marina is open through Labor Day, but the boat ramp has closed for the season. The Iola boat ramp is restricted to small boats only and is scheduled to close after Labor Day.

“We are just trying to make it through the holiday weekend and then we will be shutting up this marina too,” Loken said.

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The Bureau announced July 16 that it would begin emergency releases through early October from three Upper Basin reservoirs: 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo, on the San Juan River; 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge, on the Green River; and 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa, on the Gunnison River. The goal of the releases is to prop up water levels at Lake Powell to preserve the ability to make hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam. The 181,000 acre-feet from the three upstream reservoirs is expected to boost levels at Powell by about 3 feet.

The three reservoirs are part of the Colorado River Storage Project, and their primary purpose is to control the flows of the Colorado River; flatwater recreation has always been incidental. But the releases at Blue Mesa illustrate the risks of building an outdoor-recreation economy around a highly engineered river system that is now beginning to falter amid a climate change-fueled drought.

The boat ramp at Elk Creek Marina had to be temporarily closed so the docks could be moved out into deeper water. Colorado water managers are not happy that emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir are impacting late summer lake recreation.
Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Timing concerns

Although the secretary of the Interior can authorize emergency releases without coordination from the states or local entities, Loken, along with some Colorado water managers, is not happy about the timing or the lack of notice from the bureau. Under normal drought-response operations, the federal government would consult with state and local water managers before making releases.

“We had very little time to handle this decision that was made that none of us have any power over,” Loken said.

John McClow, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District, said Colorado should make noise and complain about what he called a clumsy execution of the releases. McClow has also served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is an alternate commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

“There’s no reason they couldn’t have waited another couple weeks or another month to release that water from Blue Mesa to get it to Lake Powell,” McClow said. “It goes back to consultation and timing. Had they even asked, it would have been easy to say, ‘Hey, can you wait so you don’t kill our business?’”

The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina on Blue Mesa Reservoir closed on Sept. 2 because ofdeclining reservoir levels. Colorado water managers are not happy about the short notice they were given about emergency releases by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Last month at Colorado Water Congress’ summer conference — a gathering of water managers, researchers and legislators in Steamboat Springs — Rebecca Mitchell, CWCB’s executive director and the state’s representative to the UCRC, told the audience that the impacts of ending the boating season early at Blue Mesa trickle down to all Coloradoans.

“That means dollars in Colorado. That is who we are in Colorado,” she said. “It’s definitely had an impact in that local community when we talk about the recreation. That is heavy.”

Mitchell said water managers in the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Utah) will be carefully monitoring the impacts of the reservoir releases and figuring out how to quantify those impacts, which she called devastating. The states will work with the bureau to develop a plan for how to send water to Lake Powell in future years, taking into consideration the timing, magnitude and duration of the releases, she said.

“Where can the states and the bureau make the best decisions to lessen the impacts?” she said.

The National Park Service operates the Curecanti National Recreation area, including the campsites, picnic areas, visitors centers and boat ramps that run the 20-mile length of the reservoir. According to numbers provided by the Park Service, Curecanti gets nearly a million visitors a year. The reservoir is popular among anglers for its trout and Kokanee salmon fishing. Blue Mesa is one of three reservoirs — along with the much smaller Morrow Point and Crystal reservoirs — on the Gunnison River, collectively known as the Aspinall Unit.

Gunnison Country Chamber of Commerce Director Celeste Helminski said her organization is planning an event later this month: the world’s largest snow dance. A big winter would help refill Blue Mesa.

“The water definitely has me concerned for the future,” she said. “We see a lot of summer recreationists who come and spend the whole summer at several of the campgrounds. It’s just going to take a lot to replace that water. It’s going to take awhile to get back to levels of what recreationists come for.”

Bureau spokesperson Justyn Liff could not provide any insight into how the timing decision for the releases was made, but pointed out that although lake recreation was impacted, downstream rafting and fishing in the canyon are getting a boost from the roughly 300 cubic-feet-per-second extra water that the releases provide. The Gunnison River below the Gunnison Tunnel diversion, which takes a large portion of the river’s outflow from the Aspinall Unit for delivery to downstream irrigators, was running around 600 cfs the first few days of September, according to USGS stream gauge data. This is a critical data point for boaters running the Black Canyon or Gunnison Gorge sections of the river, which are below the stream gauge. At 600 cfs, the river is flowing 11% above the median for this time of year.

“If we had waited six weeks, that would have been six weeks less of commercial rafting/guided fishing on the Gunnison River downstream from Aspinall,” Liff said.

The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to decliningreservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue MesaReservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Hydropower production

Although the local impacts to recreation are acute, the impacts of not being able to make hydropower at Lake Powell would probably be much worse. The dams of the CRSP are known as “cash register” dams. The power they produce is used to repay the costs of building the project, maintain operations and provide power to millions of people.

The Western Area Power Administration distributes Lake Powell’s electricity, including to some power providers in Colorado. According to Water Education Colorado, electric costs will surge as Glen Canyon Dam struggles to produce hydropower because of declining water levels.

The bureau’s target elevation for Lake Powell is 3,525 feet, in order to provide a buffer that protects hydropower generation; if levels fall below 3,490, all power production would stop. Lake Powell is currently about 31% full, at 3,549 feet, which is the lowest surface level since the reservoir began filling in the 1960s and ‘70s. According to projections released by the bureau in July, Lake Powell has a 79% chance of falling below the 3,525 threshold in the next year. The emergency releases are intended to address this.

“A loss of power generation is a pretty significant issue compared to a few months of boating on Blue Mesa,” McClow said. “Locally, yes, it hurts, but in the big picture, I don’t know if you can make a fair comparison.”

As water levels at Blue Mesa continue to fall, Loken worries that this may be just the beginning of an era of empty reservoirs.

“(The releases) don’t solve the long-term problem,” Loken said. “We are just going to end up with an empty Lake Powell and a bunch of empty reservoirs upstream. I think the powers that be really need to put pencil to paper and figure this out.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to www.aspenjournalism.org.

Trouble brewing for Colorado’s once-promising hops industry, which now faces uncertain future

Kevin Andrews seperates vines of hops to be put through a harvesting machine at the Billy Goat Hop Farm south of Montrose on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.
William Woody, Special to The Denver Post

Driving down U.S. 550 between Montrose and Ridgway in southwest Colorado, the hop bines are visible from the road. This time of year, during harvest season, they stretch 18 feet tall, climbing the trellises that farmers Chris DellaBianca and Audrey Gehlhausen hang by hand each spring.

One stormy day in July, we walk through rows upon rows of lush bines, hanging heavy with Cascade, Columbus and Chrystal hop cones. They blow gracefully in the wind like lanky green dancers doing pirouettes. It’s a romantic scene, DellaBianca admits, a twinge of disillusionment in voice.

Nine varieties of hops grow on the couple’s Billy Goat Hop Farm, which at 32 acres is among the largest hop-erations in the state. The irony? Drinkers will rarely find their crop in local beers.

When farmers began sowing the seeds of Colorado’s hop industry more than a decade ago, it was to meet the demands of a “drink local” culture, perpetuated in no small part by MillerCoors, which in 2010 released a beer made exclusively with ingredients from the Centennial State. But the once-promising industry is now in dire straits as small growers try to manage competition from large agriculture, shifting consumer tastes, increasingly unpredictable weather and changes in the way hops are bought and sold. That’s before factoring in a global pandemic.

“We have some orders for the 2021 crop, yes, but not a ton. It’s a small percentage of what our total yield will be,” Gehlhausen said. “There’s so many breweries, especially after the pandemic, that are saying support your local businesses and support your local breweries. And how many of those breweries are doing the same as far as where they’re getting their stuff from?”

Colorado is not a big player when it comes to producing hops, the ingredient used to add bitterness and aroma to beer. More than 95% of those grown in the United States come from Washington, Idaho and Oregon, according to the Hops Growers of America. In 2020, Coloradans harvested 147 acres of hops compared with more than 58,600 acres in the Pacific Northwest, the trade group reported.

Still, hops thrive here, especially in the high desert on the Western Slope. That’s thanks to the number of sunny days each year and the elevation, which intensifies the light the plants receive, DellaBianca said. The arid climate also helps prevent mildew from growing.

Hops are a resilient crop compared to most, able to withstand a hard freeze and grow stronger because of it, said David Warren, co-founder of High Wire Hops in Paonia. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to the effects of climate change.

Drought conditions can be detrimental if farms don’t have enough water for the plants, though most use drip irrigation to regulate water use. Hail or excessive wind can damage the burrs, which blossom into hop cones, affecting overall yield. Last year, High Wire produced 30% fewer hops due to heat and wind that dehydrated and stressed the plants, Warren said.

While weather is a concern, growers and sellers said it’s hardly as pressing as trying to get supply and demand in equilibrium.

The MillerCoors boom

In 2007, Randy Flores was living on a 300-acre farm in Montrose when he caught wind of a worldwide hops shortage.

“That’s what caused myself and all these other hobby hop farmers to start growing hops,” he said.

Soon thereafter, MillerCoors came knocking with the idea for a beer made entirely with local ingredients. The company was willing to pay a premium, too — about $13 per pound, Flores said — to help farmers offset the steep upstart costs. In addition to infrastructure like trellises and deadmen, hop farming requires special equipment, such as a picking machine, for harvesting and processing at the end of the season.

In 2010, MillerCoors subsidiary AC Golden Brewing debuted Colorado Native amber lager, brewed with 99% local ingredients. The brewery didn’t have enough local hops at the time to tout it as all-Colorado homegrown and even doled out free rhizomes to interested residents to up its stash.

Today, the Colorado Native line boasts seven year-round recipes and four seasonal releases. All of them are made with 100% Colorado-grown ingredients, including hops, said Anna Tomczak, supply manager at Molson Coors.

“We definitely helped jumpstart that growth in the region,” Tomczak said. “There are a lot of craft brewers in the area, so I think year-over-year demand for locally grown hops has definitely increased, and we’ve helped with that.”

The boom, however, was short-lived, growers said. According to Warren, who maintains a contract with AC Golden, the brewery amassed a backlog of hops and eventually stopped paying higher than market cost for them. Molson Coors spokesperson Marty Maloney said the company cut back on hop contracts a few years ago to “right-size inventory.”

“Some farmers were 100% with Coors. Four or five folded right there,” Warren said. “I knew to go along with Coors entirely was not a good idea, so we had a third of our crop that we were marketing on our own.”

Challenges brewing

The influx of new hop growers also yielded some unintended consequences. When farmers couldn’t sell to AC Golden, they looked for other breweries who might want their product, Flores said, who left the growing industry in 2010 and started a distribution business, US Hop Source.

“The biggest problem was they did not have a track record,” he said. “They didn’t have history like big dealers and brokers, and couldn’t provide the quantity.”

Volume is still a hindrance to leveraging local hops, said Scott Dorsch, brewer and agronomist at Odell Brewing Co. An India pale ale uses 2 to 3 pounds of hops per barrel, depending on the specific recipe. Odell brews 140 barrels at a time, meaning brewers would need 280 to 420 pounds of hops per brew, Dorsch said.

An acre of fully mature hops can yield as much as 2,000 pounds, so Colorado producers wouldn’t be able to sustain the brewery year-round, Dorsch said. Odell would still need to supplement with hops from the Pacific Northwest.

The Fort Collins-based brewery considered using local hops back when farmers were looking for buyers besides AC Golden, Dorsch said; however, the crops were twice the price before being pelletized and made shelf stable. Moreover, Odell’s customers were not demanding locally sourced ingredients in their beer.

“The small-scale growers that are currently in Colorado, we do not see volume, quality, consistency and price point,” Dorsch said. “That sounds harsh, but from a business standpoint it did not pencil out.”

Questions of quality are largely due to a PR problem, said Scott Ziebell, owner of Colorado Hop Co., which grows hops and helps small farmers process theirs. During the Coors boom, some growers did not properly harvest or store their crop, and that left a bad taste in brewers’ mouths, he said. Today, though, Ziebell maintains the quality is on par with those grown in the Pacific Northwest.

Limitations on which hop varieties Coloradans can grow further complicate the equation. Cascade, Chinook and Nugget are examples of public hops that can be grown by any farmer. But others, such as Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe, are what’s known as proprietary varieties, meaning the companies that developed them have exclusivity to grow them. The latter are in high demand due to evolving consumer tastes. Citra, for example, is commonly used in the ever-popular hazy IPA and coveted for its lime, grapefruit and other tropical fruit aromas.

But even if Coloradans could plant whatever varieties they wanted, they’re now battling a surplus of supply, according to Flores. Years ago when hops were hard to come by, breweries contracted with specific farms to buy the following year’s crop. They were often locked in multiyear contracts for what are now considered less appealing hops, leading them to have extra — lots of extra, Flores said.

Recently, breweries have turned to Lupulin Exchange, an online “spot” marketplace, to sell their surplus, directly competing with farmers and brokers, Flores said. Spot buying enables small brewers to purchase just the hops they need, and it’s becoming more commonplace, especially in light of the pandemic.

“Instead of people buying on the spot market in larger quantities for the next three months, they’re now buying quantities for the next three weeks,” Flores said.

All these factors are contributing to an uncertain future for local hop purveyors, who are traveling far and wide to find customers. Colorado Hop Co. has been experimenting with “new and exciting” public hop varieties that Ziebell is optimistic will earn the local hop scene some notoriety. Warren at High Wire Hops, however, is more blunt about his prospects.

“Without the Coors contract, we wouldn’t be in business,” he said.

“’Scary’ is my word if I were a Colorado hop grower,” added Flores.

Last winter, DellaBianca and Gehlhausen took samples to more than 250 Texas breweries in hopes of landing a sale. They had some success and are soon sending a truckload of wet or fresh hops to the Lone Star State, Gehlhausen said. Next winter, they’re planning a similar tour in their home state.

“We picked Montrose and Colorado for a handful of reasons, one of which is there are a lot of breweries and in general folks support local,” Gehlhausen said. “My hope is that more breweries do that.”

New congressional redistricting map puts Boebert in redrawn CD2 with Neguse

Colorado 3rd Congressional District Rep. Lauren Boebert inside Glenwood Springs City Hall following an August meeting with city official regarding federal funding for Glenwood Canyon I-70 repairs.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s nonpartisan redistricting commission has proposed a congressional map that would lump conservative firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert of Rifle into a Boulder-based, solidly Democratic seat currently held by liberal Rep. Joe Neguse.

The proposal also would create a new swing seat in the northern Denver suburbs.

The commission staff proposal came Friday. It would rearrange the political geography as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process. It’s the first test of the nonpartisan commission model approved by voters in 2018.

Staff had released a possible congressional map in June that kept the Western Slope together in the 3rd District, but Friday’s was its first drawn off the official, newly released Census data that is required to be used for redistricting.

The map will be followed by a series of hearings, along with a map of state legislative districts. Both may change significantly in the weeks to come, as the commission races to meet an end-of-the-month deadline to approve maps.

The congressional map keeps the four Democratic seats relatively safe, as well as preserving three as solidly Republican. It would add a new swing seat running from Adams County to Greeley that voted Democratic by 1.9 percentage points in last year’s Senate election.

That could make the final breakdown of the state’s congressional districts 4-4, an underwhelming split for Democrats in a state they won by 13 points in last year’s presidential election.

Still, Democrats see the map as an improvement over the initial map, which had a similar partisan division. This one splits the conservative western slope into two separate districts. Grand Junction and below stay in the 3rd congressional district, now stretching out to the southeastern plains, Pueblo and Huerfano County. Boebert, a Republican, represents that district, but her home in Garfield County would now go into a northern district stretching to the Wyoming border with most of its population in the liberal bastions of Boulder and Fort Collins.

“The new process is designed to gather public comment to improve upon the preliminary plan and, at first blush, this map seems to have moved in that direction,” said Curtis Hubbard, a Democratic strategist.

Boebert has the option to move south back into her district or even run for her seat there from her home next door if she didn’t want to face the liberal voters of the new district.

Republicans were steamed at how the proposal divides rural Colorado, but acknowledged that, from a partisan position, they are in decent shape.

“As a Coloradan, I hate the map,” said former State Sen. Greg Brophy, who lives in Wray. “As a Republican, it could be a lot worse.”

Closer to home, the new draft map also splits Garfield County. Glenwood Springs and Carbondale would remain in the 3rd Congressional District with Eagle and Pitkin counties. The remainder of Garfield County would be in CD2 along with Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Jackson, Grand, Summit, Boulder and Larimer counties.


Garfield County commissioners weighed in earlier this summer requesting that the redistricting commission keep two distinctly rural congressional districts on the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains. They also objected to the separate state legislative redistricting commission’s map that removed local state Rep. Perry Will of New Castle from Colorado House District 57, which he currently represents.

The Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission will hold virtual public hearings Tuesday through Friday. Individuals must sign up in advance to testify. These hearings will be the final opportunity for members of the public to speak to the redistricting commissions, according to a Friday news release from the redistricting commission.

Written public comments will remain open and available through the public hearing process and the consideration of final maps, the release states.

After the hearings conclude, the commission can approve a final plan and submit it to the Supreme Court at any time up until Sept. 28.

Glenwood Springs Post Independent staff contributed to this report.