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Elizabeth Milias: Self-dealing in Aspen’s West End

The city’s latest boondoggle stands to capitalize on the new land-use regulations that permit the development of multi-family subsidized housing in all zone districts.

On July 12, the city approved the voluntary historic designation of the unique 1950s-era Swiss chalet and two out-buildings on an 18,000-square-foot lot at 949 W. Smuggler in the West End.

The long-time owner approached the city to voluntarily designate the property in exchange for a lot split (into two parcels, 10,000 square feet and 8,000 square feet, where the 8,000 corner lot could be sold) and a variance to relocate an existing structure.

The Aspen Modern program, the voluntary designation of significant 20th-century historic assets as determined by the Historic Preservation Commission, enables an owner to negotiate variances and other concessions from the city in exchange for formally designating a property as a historic landmark. The benefit to the community in this instance is the preservation of a truly historic asset.

The commission agreed, approving the proposal. However, in the process, they identified unusual and seemingly unethical “right of first refusal” language that would exclusively enable the city to purchase the newly-formed 8,000-square-foot corner lot.

The commission ordered this condition struck from their resolution. It’s in the minutes. But, two weeks later, the city reinserted an “exclusive 30-day window to negotiate with the owner” back into the proposed ordinance for council’s approval.

The city’s interest in the 8,000-square-foot lot in the West End, previously zoned R-6 for single family homes and duplexes, should come as no surprise. Now that housing can be developed anywhere in town, the city likely wants this parcel for a multi-family, subsidized-housing development. Neighborhood character, parking pressures, public feedback, mass and scale be damned, these are the new rules.  

Thankfully, the owner is not compelled to sell to the city. But, should they reach an agreement, we’ll likely see Ordinance 13 in action, and an indication of how devastating its city-wide impacts are soon to become.

Many questions surround this revelation of the city negotiating favorable circumstances for itself. Where did the “first right of refusal” originate? Who overrode the Historic Preservation Commission when the designated deciding body struck it? Why should the city have this undue advantage? Such conditions have no place in Aspen Modern negotiations.

This proposal was an obvious “yes,” a straightforward win-win for the owner and the community, but the city has managed to muddy the waters. The 30-day exclusive negotiation window begins soon.

There is interesting case law that relates to the city’s questionable tactics. Koontz vs St. John determined the government is liable for “a taking” when it withholds a permit until the landowner agrees to dedicate personal resources to a public use. 

In that case, landowner Koontz requested a permit of the St. John Wastewater District to develop some of his land that was designated as wetlands. St. John had jurisdiction and agreed to issue the permit on the condition that Koontz place a conservation deed on the rest of his property and to do some mitigation work in the form of funding improvements to nearby government-owned land.

Koontz agreed to the deed, but not to the mitigation work. St. John denied the permit application.

Koontz sued, citing the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment. A trial court found in favor of Koontz, and the Florida appeals court affirmed. Later, the Florida Supreme Court reversed.

In 1994, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari, holding that the government may not conditionally approve land-use permits unless conditions are connected to the land use and are proportional to the effects of the land use.

Such demands (asking for property or money from an applicant) place an undue burden on the applicant, which diminishes the land’s value and violate constitutional protections against having property taken without compensation.

In our case, the property owner got what he asked for and only had to agree to a special negotiation period, not a sale, so a lawsuit is unlikely. However, the sketchy initial “first right of refusal” and later exclusive 30-day negotiation window definitely sound like a bribe, as in: If we approve this proposal, then we get first dibs on the new lot. And, now that we can build subsidized housing on any lot in any zone, and since we don’t have to mitigate or pay fees like everyone else, and since we can pay any price you ask with public funds, we’re your buyer.

Ordinance 13 is set to impact every vacant lot in the city. The city is the only developer willing and able to build subsidized housing when the numbers don’t pencil. Worst of all, the surrounding neighborhoods will sadly bear the long-term brunt of this newly-permitted development, including the associated decrease in property values.

The voluntary historic designation of 949 W. Smuggler should have been a straightforward victory for the owner and the Aspen Modern program. But, the city’s self-dealing adds an unfortunate asterisk. It’s hard not to see the true motives of a punitive government that seeks to redistribute wealth by devaluing neighboring properties and, in so doing, destroying neighborhoods.

And, they’re coming to a vacant lot near you.

The city’s agenda appears very different from the community’s. What is going on? Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net

High Points: Summer takes a turn

It first hit me last night a few minutes after 8 p.m. The sun is setting a little earlier. We are making a slow turn on summer. But, it’s only the 12th of August, you say. It’s 80 degrees out; these are the dog days! And, you’re right on all three counts.

But, come Monday, it will be the 15th of August, halfway through the final month of summer. Today, we are much closer to the autumnal equinox (Sept. 22) than the summer solstice (June 21). The days are getting a little shorter. The sun is a little lower. There are a few, just a few, yellow leaves showing up in the scrub oak and on the tops of the trees. If summer were a baseball game, we would be rounding third base. 

Now, there is no need to panic, but let this serve as a gentle reminder that this is a good time to start not just thinking about, but also actually doing all the things you wanted to do this summer. Food & Wine, the Ideas Fest, Mountain Fair, Heritage Fire — they are all done. Rearview mirror stuff. And, you’ve only got two weekends left of the Aspen Music Festival Summer Season. The final concert event of the year is Aug. 21.

If you love rodeo and haven’t made it out to Snowmass for some bull ridin’, you have one more chance, as next Wednesday, Aug. 17, they welcome the buckaroos for the last time in the summer of 2022. That went quick. Hope you got your tickets for Stevie Nicks and Chris Stapleton at the JAS Labor Day Experience, ’cause that too is happening in the blink of an eye. 

For some reason, summer seems to be the fastest of the four seasons. While it has as many days as fall, winter and spring, it seems to come and go quicker than its three cousins. Which is odd because summer days can occasionally seem endless. How many of us sit and think “This day will never end” when the heat is on, and the sun hangs high until late in the evening. There’s an old adage: Days drag, months run and years fly. I think that is another quirk of time. 

Anyway, it’s time to get out and enjoy what is left of the season. If you haven’t made that hike over the hill to Crested Butte that you planned, the time for doing is now. Want to bag a fourteener? Best set a date. Riding to the Bells? How about tomorrow? 

The thing is, though there is an inevitable sense of melancholy that sets in these final weeks of summer, it really is the best time of the season. The crowds begin to diminish as folks head back to the city to get kids back in school. The light takes on a unique glow, particularly at sunrise and sunset. And, the Palisade peaches and Olathe corn are at their sweetest. While we are at the peak of the heat now, over the next few days we can expect the temps to mellow a bit mid-day. With such a hot summer everywhere in the hemisphere this year, we should count ourselves lucky to have been spared the worst.   

Yes, we still have some summer days left on the calendar, so let’s enjoy it. And, remember, the lifts will open in just 104 days from now.

Saddle Sore: Oh, but you can go home again

She had some pictures, faded. A couple cracked, the few others rolled up on themselves, but one stood out above all the rest: A young girl, maybe 10 or 12, long-legged pants and a nondescript shirt, standing in front of a sidewalk flower garden, one foot up on a two-step porch. A wonderful, smiling laugh — the kind that reflects innocence and joy — was clearly the biggest draw of the photo.

Ah, what wonder lay ahead for the unknowing girl? Or, was the undulating road of life a tough one?

“My oldest is dead,” she said, “killed in Vietnam. You were his friend, weren’t you? And the younger one lives in Washington — hardly ever see him anymore. Maybe you could take me around one day?”

Hadn’t seen her since my high school years. Her face had long ago lost that innocent laugh, supplanted by drawn-in cheeks, gray face long under a worried brow but oddly absent of wrinkles. Instead, there were a couple of long furrows running down her cheeks on either side, the kind one gets from worry and hardship.

She smiled when she first saw me, kind of bashful-like, a chance meeting, hoping I’d recognize her after all those years, and you could tell there was still a spark inside. 

Old roads go by fast when they’re paved, so I drove them slow in my pickup truck, trying to recreate the feel of long-ago country lanes, and we took our time. She knew the countryside and was busy looking rather than talking, and I offered to stop a couple of times, but no, let’s keep going. She hadn’t been this way in over 30 years.

“You walked all this way to school?” I asked. Her younger sister and some cousins from down the lane made the trek together; although, she allowed it could sometimes be a little brutal in the winter, what with the wind and all.

“If we stayed home, we got put to work, so we were willing walkers,” she said. “Sometimes, there were chores before or after school, but we didn’t know anything different.”

We rounded the corner, and there it was — all rundown, weeds tall and bushes untrimmed, but a miracle in the sense that it was still there: A ranch homestead ,from generations before, located in an area popular for its views and quiet but increasing subdivisions. She’d left there when she got married in the 1940s. The truck had barely stopped before she was opening the door to get out to savor the air where so many of her memories were stored.

The back door of the house, the one they always used, looked to have been kicked in. A couple of windows were broken, but it was relatively clean. I waited on an old chair in the kitchen while she slowly walked through the dilapidated house, reliving a life that would have been impossible to share with me or anyone else.

Obviously, the well pump hadn’t been used in years, there was no electricity to the place and the lava-stone pumphouse her dad had built eons ago was nothing more than a paean to a past that no longer existed, its perpetual dampness forever gone.

“Look, there’s the apple tree,” she exclaimed with a brightness she had not before exhibited. “Oh, my God, I don’t believe it’s still there. That was our favorite place, along the irrigation ditch, spreading blankets underneath and living in a land of make-believe.” Entertaining cousins and nearby friends, home-base for many games, she wanted to sit under the tree for a bit. The grass used to be green, not like the dust-up it was now. Let me help you.

It’s impossible to get inside the head of another when they’re traveling a road we not know of, and we can’t share the depth of meaning that reliving those old memories up close brings, but, certainly, her enthusiasm brought me into her world a tiny bit, looking in from the outside.

After that day, we didn’t see each other again, not that we’d ever talked much before, and thoughts of mine were elsewhere, working on this or that project. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise a couple of months later, as she was a generation older, but there it was in the obituaries.

Sadness overtook me, but happiness, as well. We connected on that one day, me helping her go back in time for a final visit, reliving long-ago memories before she left for good. She must have known.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.

Andrea Chacos: The road to constitutional equity

Women in our country have been lobbying, challenging, rallying, and fighting for civil rights since the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788. “We’ve come a long way, baby,” as the saying goes, yet a woman is nowhere close to having constitutional equality with men. The fight is painstakingly long, riddled with many setbacks, and it’s made more challenging when we fight a system designed to keep us marginalized.

To understand what women are up against and the length of time it takes to move the needle, you need to look no further than the century-long battle by the suffragists to pass the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.

Regardless of its eventual ratification by a two-thirds majority, 13 states continued to argue that women lacked the mental capacity, expertise and useful opinions about political issues to vote in elections, according to the National Women’s History Museum. 

Mississippi finally became the last state to officially ratify the 19th Amendment in 1984. By then, Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the women’s rights movement, had been dead for 78 years. 

Not surprising, many who fought against the 19th Amendment were part of societal structures of wealth, privilege and political power, encouraging them to keep things status quo.

One anti-suffragist was Josephine Jewell Dodge, who was a founder and president of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. She argued that, if women became enfranchised, they would become uglier, less feminine and less desirable to men. She considered suffrage unnecessary because women already had some civil rights.

Suffragists were made out to be demonized, unattractive man-haters, like the propaganda facing modern-day feminists — and, obviously so, because no one takes kindly to agitators.

The next major milestone for women I never learned about in school was the eventual passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Labor activists lobbied for decades to end wage discrimination and fight for equal pay for equal work.

However, 60 years after the law passed, women continue to earn only 84% of what men do, according to the latest data from the Pew Research Center. Closing the loopholes that make it hard to narrow the gender wage gap is harder than explaining to a Proud Boy how women are kept marginalized in society.

Women reluctantly understand inevitable setbacks when it comes to fighting for their rights, and there’s no better reminder than the rolling back of Roe v. Wade on June 24. The historic 1973 Supreme Court ruling stated that women had the constitutional right to a safe, legal abortion.

Now, the court voted 6-3 to overturn a precedent because Justice Samuel Alito stated for the majority opinion that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak.” 

Regardless of your personal convictions, this is a devastating blow to women everywhere. We will undoubtedly spend years arguing fetal viability, the will of G-d and why a woman should or shouldn’t have control of her own body without ever talking about the real issue: constitutional equity and the semantics routinely used against women.

It’s like the “medical issue” men successfully argue when they need Viagra at 80. Women aren’t afforded that language because intercourse is a “lifestyle choice”, and contraception is not protected the same way as an octogenarian’s hard penis. 

Roe v. Wade is no longer about abortion rights but has become another way to keep women farther from control of their own self. We’ve collectively dismantled what we’ve been working centuries to attain. And, that’s equal support under the law.

Reversing Roe v. Wade put a woman’s right to choose back in state control, and, if history is any indicator, it may take 100 or more years to get it back.

We must vow to stay the course and chip away at the system cleverly designed to reinforce a woman’s unequal footing. And, if you don’t see that women are struggling under the current laws that have benefited men first and foremost, I’m not too threatened by you in the long run. We’ve got this, no matter how long it takes.

Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair. She can be reached at www.andreachacos.com.

David Hale: There’s nothing to compare

Once a week, I drive to Grand Junction to teach two classes in philosophy at Colorado Mesa University. Driving back and forth between the two very different cultures of Aspen/Snowmass and Grand Junction/Grand Valley area allows me a unique perspective.

Grand Junction is a desert environment, populated with generally regular folks — mostly blue color/working class, with a fair share of retirees and of homeless people.

In contrast, Aspen is a mountain environment, destination resort, peopled by short-term visitors, well-to-do long-term visitors, ski bums, capitalists, opportunists, superstars, influencers (whatever) and some rare locals.

I often get the impression that people I’m acquainted with in Grand Junction think I am wealthy. (Put hilarious laughing emoji here.) Isn’t Aspen the town where there are no houses listed under $20 million? Where the airport runs out of parking for all the private jets, and boutiques sell handbags for ten thousand dollars a pop?

Yep, it’s true. As a humble contractor, some of the people I work for are very wealthy. And, some of my neighbors are also very well-off. One of them actually sports a private jet. Super nice guy; we go out to dinner with him every summer.

Does that make me feel rich? No. Actually, it makes me feel dirt-bag poor — if I compare myself to him. And, therein lies the rub: comparing yourself to others, whether they be the homeless of Grand Junction or the rich and famous of Aspen.

Comparing oneself to others has never been a good idea. There are various religious texts that have a lot to say about this.

Let’s start with an ancient Buddhist work, the Dhammapada. It’s a collection of sayings of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha, who lived sometime around 500 BC. Many of the texts speak of “clinging to nothing,” and “calling nothing our own.” Chapter 16 states: “Those who hold nothing dear and have nothing have no fetters.”

Thinking you have something in comparison to the homeless — or nothing compared to your neighbor with the private jet — doesn’t really gain you anything.

The Bhagavad Gita, one of the foundational texts of what is called Hinduism, was written somewhere between 200 BC and 200 AD. It also speaks to the issue of nothing versus something. It calls this world of material manifestation maya, or illusion; all of existence (prakriti) is an illusion. 

A later arrival on the scene is Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva, another Buddhist work written sometime in the 8th century AD. Shantideva goes so far as to say we are nothing because we have no self. This also signifies the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism teaches a god-self — the atman — whereas Buddhism teaches that we don’t have a self because we are nothing. Nothingness, or sunyata, becomes a major teaching in later Buddhism (Zen, Pure Land, Mahayana, Tibetan, etc.).

The Bible has more than a few words on this issue, as well. In the New Testament, we find James 4:14 asking the question, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Then, there are the words of Jesus (Matt 7:25): “Do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you drink, not about your body, what you put on it. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”  

Any kind of self-satisfaction we might get because we have more stuff as compared to others (the homeless) or dissatisfaction we might get because we have less stuff (private jets, $10,000 handbags) is really about letting yourself get wrapped around material things.

Our neighbors, Clint and Kate, lost their house and two parents in a catastrophic fire last month.  (See the story by Rick Carroll in the July 27 issue of The Aspen Times.) The photo of them sitting together holding hands — still recovering from a devastating tragedy yet smiling into the camera — said it all.

It’s not material things that mean the most in life. It’s the intangible things, like love and relationships. Clint and Kate are homeless now, but, I’ll bet they have something that a lot of people would gladly trade a house for.

David Hale earned a Joint Ph.D. from the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology in Philosophy, Religion and Cultural Theory. He is a lecturer in philosophy at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, where he teaches two classes a semester. His dissertation was solicited and published under the title of Of Nomadology: Religion and the War Machine. He lives in Snowmass, where he works full time as a contractor and lives with his wife, Susan, dog-child Bodhi, and two cats, White Kitty and Black Kitty.

Judson Haims: Exercise and time of day correlates to efficacy and mortality rate

With little doubt, exercise plays a fundamental role in enhancing one’s health. However, new research indicates that duration and time of day may have profound effects on mortality.

Look around our mountain communities and you will see that the propensity of people take part in daily physical activities. However, it is not just people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are exercising and enjoying physical activity. Our senior community members are skiing, golfing, hiking, biking, playing tennis, working out and taking classes at the recreation centers, and participating in classes offered at the senior centers.  

It is not by happenstance that the longevity of the seniors living within our mountain communities exceeds that of the rest of the nation. In May 2017, the Vail Daily published a series of articles that referenced a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The article, Inequalities in Life Expectancy Among US Counties, 1980 to 2014, was an analysis of counties within the U.S. with varying life expectancy – Summit, Pitkin, and Eagle counties ranked first, second and third respectively.

At the time the newspaper published the article, Summit County’s expected longevity was 86.83 years, Pitkin County’s was 86.52, and Eagle County’s was 85.52.  The most recent data addressing longevity in the U.S. comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). IHME’s most recent data is from 2019 and now shows that longevity for all three counties has increased — Summit County at 91.72 years, Pitkin County at 91.34, and Eagle County to 88.47.

Understandably, these numbers may appear questionable. However, it’s difficult to question what you can see. Last week, I met a friend for lunch who had a friend of his sitting with him. They had just finished playing basketball. During lunch I learned that my friend’s friend was 77 years young and had a hip replacement five years back. At 77, he was playing ball with people 20 to 30 years his junior. Similarly, we care for a client in Garfield County who is 92. Twice a week our caregivers go on walks with this lady — for 2 miles or more! It’s a slow walk, but the client does it with a commitment that’s impressive and inspirational.

As we age, not everyone may be as fortunate to be this active. Sometime life events occur that impede one’s ability to be so physically active. My mom had Parkinson’s and her mobility and cognition was often challenged. However, she rarely chose to sit and do nothing. Rather, she participated in weekly yoga and tai chi classes. She rarely let the disease impede her from moving and being physical. Likewise, one of our clients who has now passed, had kyphosis, a painful condition commonly known as “hunchback.” Sitting, laying in bed, and walking was quite challenging for him. However, at 96 years young, we were able to take him flyfishing and for walks up and down his street with use of a walker and gait belt. I reference these examples because these people demonstrate the fortitude and tenacity to keep moving and thus maintain the quality of life they value well in to their senior years.

Research is now providing scientific and measurable data proving that physical activity fosters a better quality of life and longevity. Circulation, a journal published by The American Heart Association, recently published research that stated people who followed the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans minimum guidelines (150-300 minutes/week) for moderate physical activity (walking, lower-intensity exercise, weightlifting and calisthenics), lowered their risk of dying from any cause by as much as 21% and 22-25% for cardio vascular disease. Adults who exercise two to four times the minimum may lower their mortality risk by as much as 31%.

Further, research is now proving that exercise at different times of day influences the efficacy of physical exercise. Researchers at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, conducted a study that investigated the effects and differences of exercising at various times of day between men and women.

Dr. Paul J Arciero, principal investigator and professor, recently stated in an article published in SCITECHDAILY that the results are intriguing and suggest that for men, “Evening exercise lowers blood pressure, the risk of heart disease, and feelings of fatigue, and burns more fat, compared to morning exercise.” He also states that, “We show for the first time that for women, exercise during the morning reduces belly fat and blood pressure, whereas evening exercise in women increases upper body muscular strength, power, and endurance, and improves overall mood and nutritional satiety.”

Given the effects on outcomes, exercising for a minimum of 2.5 hours a week and exercising at different times of day is worth considering. For those who cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly due to personal condition(s), try being as physically active as your abilities and conditions allow. A consistent regimen of exercise is essential for better health outcomes and quality of life.

While it’s important for everyone, older adults should make sure a portion of their weekly workouts include multifaceted physical activities like balance training, aerobic exercise, and muscle strengthening activities.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.

Giving Thought: Nature as an antidote

The surgeon general issued a warning last December about the youth mental health crisis in this country. Rates of suicide and depression are increasing at dramatic rates. Many of us are left to wonder: Is there anything that can be done?

Last week, a sold-out audience filled the Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Auditorium to hear from Dr. Lisa Miller about emerging research from her book, “The Awakened Brain,” suggesting there is something available to all of us that is 80% protective against suicide and recurrent depression. Sustained spiritual life and connection, which all humans have access to, is emerging as the antidote.

Dr. Miller’s work underscores the difference between spirituality and religiosity and suggests that there are many pathways to spirituality. MRI data and other science confirms that our brains are all inherently wired for spiritual connection. She emphasized that nature is an access point for a spiritual life and that a connection to nature changes our brains to allow for deeper connections and that connection is part of what makes spirituality protective.

Looking around Aspen, there is no shortage of nature available to us to connect with and explore, but not every child growing up in our region has a depth of exposure and experience. Furthermore, not all of them are aware of the options available for connecting with nature on a deeper level through stewardship and community building experiences.

In 2021, the idea of connecting environmental and nature-focused community partners to create a youth empowerment and experiential education program emerged at Aspen Community Foundation and Youth in Nature was born.

Youth in Nature is an empowerment program for local high school students that combines nature, community building, exploration, and self-discovery, all elements supported by Dr. Miller’s research. Co-developed and led by a team of community partners and made possible through the generosity of the Jonathan D. Lewis Foundation. Youth In Nature’s purpose is to spark a curiosity for the natural environment, support social and emotional growth, and encourage students to explore their interests.

The pilot program began in June with orientation at Aspen Valley Land Trust’s Coffman Ranch in Carbondale and was followed by a four-day trip to a 10th Mountain Division Hut in July. During the 2022-23 school year, students will continue to meet monthly to participate in partner-led activities.

Eleven students from four area high schools are represented in the cohort. The partner organizations they will be working with include: Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Aspen Valley Land Trust, The Buddy Program, The Farm Collaborative, GlenX Career Expo, and Aspen Skiing Co..

“Experiential learning experiences, like the ones students will experience through Youth in Nature, allow them to expand their ideas about what might be possible not only for themselves, but for their communities,” says Mark C. Zitelli from the Jonathan D. Lewis Foundation. 

Ben Sherman, education director of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, joined students on the hut trip and shared that witnessing the power of bringing students of diverse backgrounds together allowed them to create new connections outside of their comfort zones and see themselves grow individually and collectively and he trusts that will continue throughout the year. 

He noted that these connections were so strong that a stewardship project meant to take two afternoons to complete was finished in three and a half hours because of the teamwork the students developed.

Other partners echoed the importance of creating these opportunities for youth to combat the realities they are facing.

Aspen Valley Land Trust’s executive director, Suzanne Stephens, noted: “These days especially, teens face daunting challenges — from a climate crisis to global unrest and social anxiety exacerbated by social media and complicated peer-to-peer dynamics. A deeper connection with nature — and working with others to care for our natural world — can reduce anxiety, give valuable perspective, agency, and build the authentic relationships we all need. This program has the opportunity to provide so much to our kids, our community, and the land.”

Teens who participated in the hut trip noted that it allowed them to reconnect with themselves away from daily stressors and look at the place they live differently. Additionally, they shared an appreciation for connecting with peers outside of their normal groups.

Both Sherman and Stephens said this experience has created excitement for more community partnerships and is supporting their efforts to reach more area teens through collaboration.

As Dr. Miller said, when individuals connect to their true nature in nature, there is a ripple effect. Youth In Nature connects individuals and organizations and its impact is already being felt by those involved and the momentum will continue to be felt throughout the region as partnerships strengthen.

Allison Alexander is the development director of Aspen Community Foundation. The organization, with the support of its donors, works with a number of nonprofits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.

Writers on the Range: Will salmon finally win this year?

For the last 35 years I’ve been covering what we call the “salmon wars” in the Pacific Northwest, writing so many stories about salmon heading toward extinction that I’ve lost count.

The decline occurred year after year while we spent $18 billion on what’s politely called “mitigation.” That meant building fish passages around dams without fish ladders or snatching fish from warming rivers and trucking them around dams before they died. Nothing has ever worked.

The truth is that some dams must be removed if salmon are to have a prayer of leaving the ocean and swimming up rivers to spawn.

Now, finally, there is a sign of hope for the fish even as Snake River salmon in the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington remain close to extinction.

There’s hope because the Biden administration has been in settlement talks with legal plaintiffs the state of Oregon, the Nez Perce tribe, and sporting, fishing and environmental groups. They have sued the federal government five times over its failed attempts to save salmon under the Endangered Species Act, and each time the government has lost.

Meanwhile, spring chinook, sockeye and steelhead trended toward extinction in the Snake River watershed, which includes their best remaining habitat in the lower 48 states.

In 1997, my newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, wrote a series of editorials calling for breaching the four lower Snake dams in Washington to restore salmon abundance. The editorials urged paying for the impacts on dam removal on power supply, grain transportation and irrigation as a more effective and cheaper fix than continuing failed policies. The federal government chose to spend $18 billion on those failed policies.

But now, the Biden administration and others recognize that restoring our rivers is an issue of tribal justice as well as the only real solution. For far too long, say biologists Rick Williams of Idaho and Jim Lichatowich of Oregon, we have treated salmon as an industrial commodity. Our reliance on hatcheries while we continue to fragment and destroy habitat has been at the root of the fish’s struggles.

But if we remove the chief obstacles that block the fish from their cool, high-elevation habitat, the biologists say, these wild, adaptable fish will recover themselves. “Because of our long reliance on substitute nature, we’ve almost lost faith in salmon to reproduce itself in quality habitat,” Williams said.

It has taken decades, but much of the public has come to understand the folly of our industrial fixes for salmon. In the May Republican primary, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson won reelection by a landslide after introducing a plan to breach the four dams to save salmon and make impacted communities whole. His losing opponent opposed breaching the dams.

More significant, Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who has long resisted any salmon recovery plan that included removing the four dams, joined with Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in endorsing a study of how to replace the services provided by the dams. 

The study showed that breaching the four dams was the most promising approach to salmon recovery, though it would require spending from $10.3 billion to $27.2 billion to replace the electricity from the dams’ hydropower, plus grain shipping and irrigation.

Murray is the most powerful northwestern senator in Congress. But she will need the rest of the Democratic delegation to join her if she is going to turn the tide.

Most of all, Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio will need to join Murray, Simpson, Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer and outgoing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, if legislation is going to pass this year.

The resilience of the wild Snake salmon and the quality of the high-elevation spawning habitat has led biologists to predict the fish will reverse the 40-year extinction trend if the four dams are removed. This might just be the year that rivers and salmon are set free, ending the salmon wars. Here’s hoping.

Rocky Barker is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a retired reporter who lives in Idaho and is the author of “Saving All the Parts: Reconciling Economics and the Endangered Species Act.

Jesse Kravitz: Wise advice for e-biking safely around Aspen

Dear people who ride e-bikes in Aspen:

I am really concerned about everyone’s safety with so many folks riding around, and I’m hopeful that a few suggestions might make a big difference for all of us — and reduce the number of accidents. So, please do the following.

  • Slow down to below 10 mph when you pass people and dogs. You freak us out and kill the vibe when you whizz by.
  • Let people know you are coming up behind them with a bell or your kind words of warning. As you approach people and slow down (see above), it is really helpful to let folks know you are about to pass them so you don’t hurt them. Note to pedestrians: please leave one earbud out or turn down the volume so you can hear the bikers and e-bikers warning you.
  • Follow the rules of the road. Stop at a stop sign, for instance. With pedal assist, it’s super easy since you don’t need to rely on momentum like a regular bike.
  • Wear a helmet. I know the bike shops tell you to (I called and checked), so please protect your head. I promise you get used to it and it’s not that hard to do — just like on the ski hill.
  • Be aware at all times. Be on the lookout for cars pulling out in front of you, and for cars passing (a sideview mirror helps).
  • Stay off the sidewalks. Bikes are not pedestrians. The sidewalks are not for biking.
  • Stay to the far right side of the road to make room for cars to pass safely. If there is no bike path or lane where you are going, be mindful of cars and don’t take up the whole road.
  • Be aware and prepared for the surface to change from gravel to dirt to mud or pavement. Trails change surfaces, and it can happen quickly and without warning. Pay attention and slow down. Our hospital is busy enough — and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to go there anyway.

You could just ignore my advice, but if you follow these suggestions, we will all be happier and safer. I love biking more than any other activity, and I just want us all to stay on two wheels and healthy.

See you out there!

Jesse Kravitz is a seventh-grader at Aspen Middle School and fellow e-biker and mountain biker.

Don Rogers: Yes, I know, you want answers

So what am I going to do?

That’s inevitably the question after initial greetings with just about everyone. Well, first let me thank you for your welcoming spirit when we’ve met. Gives me a lot of hope about the hard work to come.

What am I going to do? I’m going to learn a lot about you, us, myself. I’m going to learn about our grit, our character, our very souls as only such tests can reach. I’m going to learn whether that modern stoic article of faith — the obstacle is the way — is true or just another self-hype truism.

I’m going to grind. I’m going to listen as carefully as I can. I’m going to be part of rebuilding something I’ve long appreciated as great. Yes, great.

I’m going to have fun doing it. Well, my sense of fun: Contributing to something bigger than me. Kicking butt in the professional sense. Catching fire. Seeing The Aspen Times crew with its swagger back.

And OK, maybe also riding a trail, boarding a new run, having a conversation that sparks a new idea, savoring my wife’s glee as she strolls downtown Aspen again, maybe in a light snow.

UNHOLY TRINITY

I’ve broken this down to three thematic goals:

  1. Restock the news staff with people up for big challenges, not easily daunted, ideally curious and creative and ambitious. Ambition most often means more effort to build skills, make that extra call, get it right.
  2. Navigate the inevitable bumpiness with new ownership. I was with Swift Communications when the company bought The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Post, merging it with the Independent, back in 2000. The integration was the furthest thing from easy for their staffs. I don’t believe it’s ever easy, having seen a few and most recently from the perspective of the suddenly acquired, twice in six months. The second sale came in June, whipping with all the red flags of the kind of investment owner who bought The Denver Post. Simply put, this isn’t that.  
  3. Rise from the ashes, if you will, of the defamation suit, since settled and the all-around ugly aftermath, coals still hot, feelings in every quarter still very much inflamed. I’ll turn to Churchill for this one: “When you find yourself in the middle of hell, keep going.” But yeah, easy for me to say.

How am I going to do all this? The short answer is I’m not.

THE YOKE

I can be a catalyst, maybe a linchpin or even a symbol of a turning point when we look back a year from now, a first fresh shovel in still smoking debris. Any saviors in this case were already here, digging out. They already are my heroes.

I think I can see mistakes and misunderstandings, calls I may or may not have made myself, all with the gift of hindsight. One thing I’m not going to do is judge them, apologize for them, try to explain them, compound any errors of observation from outside with my own assumptions. Seems there’s been quite enough of that all around.

My sense of journalism done right is about going as far as primary evidence and direct sources lead and having the discipline to go no further. This is the antithesis of assumption — easy to talk about and hard as hell to practice. Even the vaunted New York Times can’t do it, at least not consistently.

What am I going to do? Slip on that yoke and do the hard work I’m supposed to do suit or no suit, staff filled or with openings, whether the folks paying the bills live upstairs or in Lucerne.

At some level everything outside the work itself is noise. To me, journalism is a holy calling. It ain’t about easy hours, everyone loving you, or the pay. It is, perhaps weirdly, a sacred quest hewing to a pale form of the scientific method. Only in this pursuit, how humans feel is part of the picture, too.

And just as no newspaper edition is the work of one person, the recovery of The Aspen Times from its perfect wave will depend on a team.

So this has to be a “we” thing. We will work our way through, keep going, those of us with the grit and the belief in the cause.

I see the 1, 2, 3 of this challenge as a braid, that stronger rope. We will be a braid of old and new, and something in between. I’ll help get this going. That’s what I’m going to do.

HOW WE ALL HELP

We’re human, as such all deeply flawed. We leap to conclusions. We don’t pay close enough attention, and then we believe what we believe and too often act in ways we’ll surely regret later.

There’s a whole nation suffering from this on a grander scale. We’re quick to blame, slow to reflect, and many of us may never check on what we know for certain to see if that’s really so.

This tempest in a teacup is huge for us in the moment, of course, but it’s also emblematic. By that I mean yes, you have a role in the mess, too.

I can demand we do journalism right, accurately, fairly and free of fear or favor, as the platitude I happen to believe goes. But we can only exhort you to read in the same spirit. I know some of you will and plenty won’t, and that is simply the reality of Teddy’s arena.

Still, the best thing for all of us is to hit hard stop with the facts that can be vetted to legitimate sources — primary ones, documents, court records, mainstream and what can be cross checked.

That just happens to dovetail with disciplined, rigorous journalism and punditry free of pejorative labeling, insinuation or speculation beyond the direct evidence we can unearth.

If we all do that, The Aspen Times, Aspen, and each of us as individuals will be better — and better humans — for it.

What am I going to do? That may not be the most important question. Yeah, I guess I’m asking something of you, too.  

Editor Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@aspentimes.com or 970-376-0745.