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Guest commentary: How an oil and gas man became a leading advocate for capture of potent greenhouse gas

Tom Vessels was eulogized last Friday afternoon in Denver. As sunshine streamed through the windows of the City Park Pavilion, stories were told about his backpacking trips, devotion to family and thirst for adventure, even something ribald he had once said at a beer festival.

Almost nothing was said about Vessels’ remarkable turn in business. He had followed his father into oil and gas then veered course. He wanted to capture methane, the primary constituent in natural gas, as it escaped from coal mines.

Colorado has hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of old coal mines from Trinidad to Louisville, Oak Creek to Crested Butte. All were dangerous, partly because methane emissions associated with coal along with coal dust could, with just the right spark, produce an explosion that maimed and killed men by the scores, sometimes the hundreds.

Vessels turned his attention to still working mines and extremely gassy mines near Paonia. He wanted to burn the methane to create electricity instead of allowing it to escape into the atmosphere.

Methane has 84 to 87 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide as measured over 20 years. This short-term potency matters in a world that feels like a whistling tea kettle. Colorado’s temperatures this summer were the fourth hottest on record. Those on the Western Slope were the second hottest.

Vessels chose the Elk Creek Mine, a working mine, and then solicited partners. Holy Cross Energy, the local electrical cooperative for the Aspen and Vail areas, agreed to buy the power at a premium price. The Aspen Skiing Co. financed (and owns) the project, with a minority participation from Vessels. The power production happens to equal the amount consumed by the ski company.

The mine owner, Bill Koch, of the famous Kansas family, also agreed to participate. It’s fair to assume that profit, not global warming, motivated him.

Skico’s Auden Schendler, who had become fast friends with Vessels, wrote a remembrance after Vessels died of mesothelioma on Sept. 10. He called Vessels the “the leading authority in the United States” in coal-mine methane capture.

If an oil and gas man by trade and training, he said, Vessels was a scientist at heart. “Tom didn’t worry much about climate change in the first part of his life — he thought volcanoes emitted more CO2 — until he heard a scientist speak on the subject. And he thought: ‘Well then, we’ve got a problem.’”

Over the years, added Schendler, Vessels often shook his head at the failure of government and even environmental groups to understand the threat posed by methane.

In Denver, the service for Vessels was attended by 200 to 300 people, among them former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, whose term from 2005 to 2009 marked the start of Colorado’s big pivot in energy. Also there was Christopher Caskey, the managing director for Vessels Carbon Solutions.

Caskey, who has a Ph.D. in applied chemistry from the Colorado School of Mines and worked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wants to harness the methane emissions from the Dutch Creek No. 1, a former mine located 8 miles west of Redstone.

After an explosion in 1964 killed nine men, state officials called Dutch Creek the second gassiest coal mine in the United States. Another explosion in 1981 killed 15. Mining ceased in 1991.

In terms of global warming potential, according to one estimate, the emissions from this one mine surpass all others combined in Pitkin County, a long and skinny county that includes Aspen but also Dutch Creek. That says a lot. Think of all the private jets flying into Aspen, the mansions, the steady river of cars and trucks.

If Tom Vessels is now gone, he inspires those who follow. He was ahead of his time and, given the potency of methane, an important man of his time.

Longtime Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-journal about energy, water and other major transitions underway in Colorado and beyond. See bigpivots.com.

Guest commentary: Aspen and the 5-pound sack

OK everybody, time for a deep breath, as we stumble toward the end of September and Aspen a little bruised, a little battered, but still beautiful — like a prom queen on the morning after — can take a moment to look back at what Shakespeare’s Richard III would have called (if he’d only thought of it) “the Summer of Our Discontent.”

Who is discontented? Well, pretty much everybody who lives, works and/or commutes to Aspen.

Sure, the ringing cash registers cheered some, but the ringing in everyone else’s ears from being constantly buffeted about the head and shoulders by the visiting throngs mostly drowned out the cheerful sound of the cascading cash — especially when that cash on the barrelhead rarely makes it way down to the bottom of the barrel where most of us live.

Personal note: Yes, I’ve moved my personal barrel down to the midvalley, where I can listen to the sounds of traffic on Highway 82 and think, “There but for the grace of god …”

And speaking of traffic, one unavoidable point as we look back at that successful Summer of Our Discontent (and ahead, perhaps, to the coming Winter of Our Discontent) is that just as garbage attracts flies (and money attracts lawyers), Aspen’s success attracts traffic jams.

People driving in or out of Aspen are, in fact, mostly doing neither. They are standing stock still, stuck in traffic, gazing perhaps at the natural beauty of our (supposedly) beloved valley while breathing the excremental fumes of our (deeply) beloved cars and trucks, and our (officially) beloved buses.

Aside from the eternally popular yawp of despair (“We’ve ruined it all! I told you! But you fools wouldn’t listen!”), people have been clamoring for decades for someone to solve “The Entrance to Aspen” —that pretentiously named venomous snake that winds from the Depths of Hell (somewhere around Basalt) to the Heights of Folly (Main and Mill streets).

Solutions abound: Four lanes! Eight lanes! Tear out the roundabout! Pave the open space! Ban the bomb! (Just threw that in to see if you’re paying attention.)

But here’s the truth. (Truth? Oh, sweet Hubris, sing to me.) The Entrance to Aspen is not the problem.

What Aspen has to grapple with is the philosophical dilemma known to the ancient Greeks as The Sack Problem.

The Sack Problem can be simply stated: You can’t put 10 pounds of … um, this being a family newspaper, let’s say “stuff” … OK? You can’t put 10 pounds of stuff in a 5-pound sack.

If you try too hard, the sack explodes and, as Pythagoras said, that’s when the stuff hits the fan.

Prying the mouth of the sack open wider doesn’t change the basic equation, except to hasten the explosion and the resulting shower of stuff.

If my reference to exploding “sacks of stuff” seems a little indelicate for the refined tastes of the New Aspen, allow me to suggest a different analogy: Foie Gras, that exalted delicacy beloved by the aristocracy since time immemorial.

Foie Gras, being French, sounds of course oh-so elegant, but what “foie gras” actually means is: “fatty liver.” (Suddenly not so elegant.) And it is produced by force-feeding geese, literally cramming a tube down their throats and stuffing them with food until they almost explode and, in the process, develop serious liver disease.

And that diseased liver is the tasty delicacy known as foie gras.

Aspen has often been referred to as the goose that laid the golden eggs. If you recall your childhood story hour, that tale ends when the greedy owner of the goose cuts the critter open to get all the gold at once — and winds up with a lap full of goose guts and no gold at all.

We in Aspen are not such fools as to kill that Golden Goose (not yet, anyway) — instead, we stuff our goose to the exploding point and gnaw at his diseased liver.


OK. The point of all this is that the Entrance to Aspen is not the problem, any more than the neck of the sack or the throat of the goose.

The problem is the stuffing.

Or to be more exact, the stuff.

The town of Aspen simply cannot accommodate all the cars and trucks that people want to cram in here.

Exploding sacks, diseased livers … choose your metaphor, it can’t be done.

The only real answer is a hard one and Aspen has never yet shown the courage to deal with it. But here it is:

Ban cars from the city. All of the city.


(OK. Ban non-resident cars from the city — and that includes visitors with hotel reservations. And since I live on Missouri Heights, that includes me, too.)

From the Castle Creek Bridge to Difficult Campground, if you don’t actually live in Aspen, you can’t drive your damn car (or truck) into Aspen. Period.

The mechanics are not simple, to be sure: a huge intercept lot out by the airport; fleets of vans running constantly, maybe a train or gondola; physical barriers to stop inappropriate vehicles, banning billionaires’ private helipads … the list goes on. But all those problems can be solved. Yes, they can.

The real problem is finding the political will. Or to be more exact, the courage.

But if you think about Aspen choking to death on its own success — if you face reality, in other words — there is no other choice.

And if you think about the other side of the coin — no hour-long traffic jams between the airport and downtown, no parking problems, cleaner air, no innocent pedestrians sacrificed to the God AutoMoloch … that list goes on too — then, once again, there is no other choice.

Otherwise, it’s the force-feeding tube down your throat.

And stuff all over the walls.

Andy Stone is, like so many, Aspen flotsam and jetsam who floated downhill about 30 years ago and cheerfully lodged there. He is also a former editor of The Aspen Times.

Judson Haims: Traveling with Alzheimer’s or dementia

For about 30 years, the Alzheimer’s Association has promoted the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Currently, there are over 600 communities in the U.S. that participate in raising funds to support research and promote awareness. The Eagle County Walk is Saturday.

The holidays will soon be here. Should COVID-19 not derail our plans, many families may be packing everyone in the car or taking a flight to another part of the country. While this should be an exciting and fun time for the family, sometimes parts of it can cause anxiety.

Traveling is not always easy, but it can be especially hard when a member of your family is suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Changes in routine and long road trips may be too much for a loved one with dementia to handle.

The following guide, which includes tips from the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Services and the Alzheimer’s Association, will hopefully be educational and help take some of the stress out of traveling for you and your family.


— Make sure you have a comfortable change of clothes, plenty of water, as well as any necessary food and/or medications.

— Bring a complete list of contact numbers. These should include numbers for emergency contacts, your loved one’s doctor, the emergency services in the areas you are traveling through and/or to, and contact numbers for your hotel or accommodations.

— Consider giving your loved one some form of ID they can wear or carry on them. You might also consider enrolling in wearable locator programs such as the MedicAlert or Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return program.


– Create an itinerary for your trip.

– Plan for delays and give yourself plenty of extra time. Call ahead to your destination to see if they can accommodate early arrivals. This will reduce the chance of stressful situations.

– Plan for familiar routes and destinations whenever possible.

– Plan to limit or entirely avoid stressful situations such as short connection times.


— Avoid expressions of irritation or anger as much as possible. Stress can be contagious, especially in confined environments like a car or airplane.

— Try to travel with more than one caregiver if possible so that it is easier to care for and keep an eye on your loved one.

— Avoid traveling with those who will irritate or provoke stress in your loved one.

— If your loved one becomes agitated while you are driving, pull over. It is unsafe and will be counterproductive to try to calm them while driving.

Overnight accommodations

— If staying at a hotel, motel or resort, inform the management and any staff you will regularly deal with of your loved one’s situation.

— If staying with family or friends, make sure they are aware in advance of your loved one’s needs. Not everyone knows the best way to handle those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, so it is wise to speak with people individually and cover your loved one’s specific needs and tendencies.

Remember, when traveling with a person who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia, it always best to be over prepared than under prepared. Plan thoroughly, be prepared for potential emergencies, and do everything you can to reduce or eliminate stress and discomfort. And if you have an elderly care provider whom you can rely on for advice or help with preparation, do not hesitate to ask for their assistance.

If you are interested in doing your part to find a cure, please come join Visiting Angels for The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday as we help raise funds for Alzheimer’s research and education. It will hopefully be a beautiful weekend, so come walk and support the cause.

If you would like to help out with the set up for the event, please reach out right away to Catie Davis at 303-813-1669 ext. 9613 or email her at cdavis@alz.org. Come join the Walk and support the cause — it’s going to be a fun time.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.

She Said, He Said: It takes courage for couples who want to reconnect after a marital disconnect from affair

Dear Lori and Jeff,

My husband and I have been through several significant rough patches in our 16 years of marriage. A year ago, I learned he was newly involved in an affair. While it was a shock, I also recognize there were ways in which I hadn’t been showing up in the marriage. He cut off communication with the other woman, and we agreed we wanted to stay together. However, we can’t seem to really reconnect. We care about each other and work well logistically in managing our home and the kids, but it always feels like we’re on eggshells. We just want to get back to where we were before the affair. How do we get back there?


Get It Back

Dear GIB,

Lori and Jeff: We have great respect for any couple who is willing to dig deep and work through an affair. It takes wisdom to notice your contribution to the discord and courage to admit it to each other.

Lori: The affair in your marriage was the manifestation of a deeper illness, and the place you’re trying to get back to is an illusion. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t love and connection, but clearly it wasn’t as blissful as you’re imagining it to be now. More than likely, you were both white-knuckling through — holding it together just enough until your husband threw up an emotional white flag and sought solace somewhere else.

Although you’re both evolved enough to own your respective responsibilities, there’s an obvious need to grow emotional intelligence as a couple. I can only imagine that you’ve both gone through 16 years of continuously “getting over” a full range of relationship transgressions, only to let your feelings fester in a benighted lockbox buried deep within. The reality is we can’t pick and choose which emotions we feel. If you haven’t been willing to sit with frustration, anger, sadness or hurt with each other, then feelings of love, joy and contentment won’t be accessible either. The connection you’re seeking lies in each of you building a deeper relationship with your own feelings, then creating a safe space to experience them together.

Jeff: When a house gets destroyed by a catastrophic event like a hurricane or fire, the best practice is to rebuild it in such a way that prevents the same kind of damage from happening again. A stronger foundation, storm shutters, metal roofing — whatever improvements that can create a more secure structure are required. This is the concept of resilience. It’s not just “weathering the storm” but getting through it having gained a better understanding of how to adapt and grow so that the next one lands with less impact.

The previous version of your marriage was destroyed by the affair. Now it’s time to build a new version with the tools and materials that can be acquired by taking a deeper look at what created the storm and asking the difficult questions about what was missing from the original building plans. Many couples don’t have the courage to face these more challenging tests, but as we tell every couple in your situation, you’re going to have to do this work at some point — because the unresolved issues that led to this transgression are likely to rear their ugly heads in the next relationship, regardless of whom they are with — so you might as well do it now.

Lori and Jeff: The solution isn’t recreating the past; it’s taking the pieces that have survived and filling in the gaps with what was previously missing.

Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.

Guest commentary: Historic win in U.S. Court of Appeals over FCC, telecoms and 5G

In 2019, after six years of alleged review, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a decision that its 5G and wireless guidelines protect public health. This decision has been used to remove “barriers” for 5G deployment, to quiet the public’s concerns and to deny accommodations for those who are ill from wireless technologies. Those who raised concerns were labeled “conspiracy theorists.”

Consequently, Children’s Health Defense (CHD), the Environmental Health Trust (EHT) and other petitioners sued the FCC, challenging the legitimacy of the decision.

On Aug.13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that the FCC’s 2019 decision is “capricious and arbitrary” and not evidence based as it relates to non-thermal, non-cancer harm. The court remanded the decision to the FCC.

As a result, compliance with FCC guidelines can no longer imply that wireless “smart” devices and infrastructures are safe.

According to the court, both the FCC and the FDA failed to review substantial evidence of harm. The petitioners filed 11,000 pages of evidence, showing that pulsed radiofrequency (RF) radiation emitted from Wi-Fi, smart meters, cell towers and 5G can and have caused illness.

The court’s dismay was most apparent in the January 2021 hearing. The judges’ questions revealed their doubt that FCC guidelines are relevant to the current wireless reality.

The ruling stated the FCC failed to respond to evidence that the testing of cell phones is flawed; to address evidence of prenatal harm, a potential link to ADHD, and harm to children; evidence that this radiation causes electro-sensitivity; blood-brain barrier damage; cognitive and neurological problems; and evidence of mechanisms of harm; harm from long-term exposure; pulsation, modulation, and the effects of new technologies like Wifi and 5G.

The Court noted that the FCC failed to address evidence of environmental harm. It quoted a Department of the Interior letter stating that cell towers affect migratory birds and that the FCC guidelines are 30 years out of date.

The Telecom Act implied that communities could not question telecom companies for placement and infrastructure, aesthetics and health reasons. Many communities felt that they had no power to question or challenge the companies and their installation of the equipment.

Now it is known that the basis for the Telecom Act was based on lies and deception. Communities will be able to challenge and question the wireless technology based upon health. They will be able to demand the research that proves the technology is safe.

Some of the conditions that have been created include neurological conditions, cancers, auto-immune diseases, brain function problems. The telecom companies will need to provide the research in these areas proving that they are safe.

According to Children’s Health Defense, Robert F Kenney, Jr. (founder of CHD) said: “The court’s decision exposes the FCC and FDA as captive agencies that have abandoned their duty to protect public health in favor of a single-minded crusade to increase telecom profits.”

(For the more information about this victory, go to ChildrensHealthDefense.org.)

“This is a historic win. The FCC will have to re-open the proceeding and for the first time meaningfully and responsibly confront the vast amount of scientific and medical evidence showing that current guidelines do not adequately protect health and the environment,” said Scott McCollough, CHD’s lead attorney for the case, said in the organization’s report.

The court’s decision also said: “The FCC completely failed to acknowledge, let alone respond to, comments concerning the impact of RF radiation on the environment. … The record contains substantive evidence of potential environmental harms.”

This is a huge win, unfortunately, mainstream media has not covered this historic case. So, it is up to us to take action and inform our elected congressional representatives.

You can do this easily in less than five minutes by going to: childrenshealthdefense.org/action/chds-historic-win-action-alert/. We also recommend you sign-up for the CHD newsletter.

Judson Haims: Thyroid hormone changes often overlooked in medical evaluations of elderly

Aging is a normal process the body goes through, but not all of the symptoms that are frequently attributed to the normal aging process should be directly connected to aging — some may be associated with other illnesses such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.

Symptoms like fatigue, depression, forgetfulness and sleeplessness can often be easily attributed to “just getting old,” yet, as is the case with many other illnesses, these symptoms may indicate another problem area that should be medically evaluated.

Thyroid hormones affect every cell and all the organs of the body. Too much thyroid hormone speeds up things and too little thyroid hormone slows down things. Genetics, an autoimmune attack, pregnancy, stress, nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins can all play a part in wreaking havoc on your thyroid. These hormones:

• Control the rate at which your body burns calories

• Affect the rate of your heartbeat

• Can raise or lower your body temperature

• Change how fast food moves through your digestive tract

• Affect muscle strength

• Control how quickly your body replaces dying cells

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormone, thyroxine. Hypothyroidism can cause a number of health problems, such as obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease.

When the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism) the body’s metabolic processes becomes accelerated often causing people to experience nervousness, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, hand tremor, excessive sweating, sudden weight loss and sleep problems.

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are often overlooked in medical evaluations of the elderly. However, due to the high incidents and prevalence of these diseases in our elderly, it is wise to carefully review with your medical provider(s) the possibility of such illness being the cause of the above mentioned symptoms.

According to Dr. Ruchi Mather with the Division of Endocrinology, thyroid disease increases with age (especially in woman over the age of 65); “approximately 15% of all patients diagnosed with hyperthyroidism are over the age 60.” Even though this disease does affect those at younger ages (30-40), it is much more difficult to diagnose as we age.

Knowledge is the key. Tests, such as T4 and T3U (or T3 Uptake), can be performed to help evaluate the presence of either hyper or hypothyroidism. Replacement hormone therapy (L-T4) is effective in hypothyroidism, whereas in hyperthyroidism (the over production of thyroid hormone) an antithyroid medication is often prescribed to reduce production of the thyroid hormone with sedatives and beta blockers utilized to treat the associated rapid heart rate and nervousness.

The issue of concern here is that often seniors are never diagnosed properly as having hyper or hypothyroidism but rather are told their symptoms are typical of anyone in their stage of the aging process.

As we age, our medical needs will increase. Understanding what is changing with our bodies and how we can adjust to changes becomes ever more important. Ask questions of your doctor. Being proactive in your health and understanding your body does not mean you are second guessing anyone. You are your best advocate.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basal, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.

Guest commentary: Freedom Eagle history and finishing an American Dream

Imagine, You’re 19 years old and drive a 1958 school bus from western New York to Carbondale. Your new wife is by your side as you drive into town with $50 in your wallet. You pumped gas for $3.50 an hour until you get hired at the local coal mines for $8.50 an hour in 1978. In 1984, the mine shuts down. With two children and a mortgage, you buy a chainsaw and cut firewood. You started prospecting in your limited free time. The old west is still alive.

Imagine: You have a dream to start your own business. You find a little-known law that allows you to own a mineral deposit you discovered. You write a hand-written “Letter of Intent” and submit to the “United States Forest Service” (USFS) who approves it in one day. The law was to give the working class a chance at the American Dream.

Imagine: In 1986, you sell your first piece of Alabaster to a local artist. In 1992 you file a “Plan of Operations” (POO). The USFS reviews the plan honoring their mission statement “to encourage and facilitate mining.” You receive a state reclamation permit and post a bond. You apply for a Pitkin County permit who then sues you. Nine years in court and hundreds of thousand dollars you win and you lose. You won a piece of paper and lose your family and sanity. Your dream becomes a nightmare.

Imagine: You get an investor and build a factory and obtain equipment to quarry. Your POO limited operations to May through November because of wildlife. Line power was brought in to comply with USFS requirements to allow year-round operations. The USFS agreement went in the “trash can.” You go bankrupt. The new west arrived.

Imagine: You try to salvage your dream by creating an artist colony with artist carving art, fireplaces and water features, etc. You created a model that blends into the ever-growing local art community. You have a signed letter from the USFS approving the plan. Jeremy Dean Russell is carving a 55-foot Eagle underground called “Freedom Eagle.” The plan gets national attention. The USFS person who approved the operation retires and the approval goes into the “trash can” at the USFS Sopris office.

Imagine: You shut down operations so you can put all your limited funds into fighting the USFS. Your POO is expiring so you file for renewal. USFS orders you to put up $250,000, for two years, to study Big Horn sheep, an animal that is not endangered, threatened or sensitive. You go through three appeals with lawyer Walt Brown and win. It still takes six years to renew an existing POO. The USFS rules say 90 days to review. You are seriously injured in the mine and get sued by your business partner who didn’t file paperwork required by the BLM, doesn’t tell you, and then claim jumps the property.

Imagine: You fight the claim jump in Pitkin County court and lose. All your hard work and the fallacy of an American dream is dead. Two years later, the claim-jumping partner loses their senior rights by not filing the same required paper work and your claim becomes senior. Karma?

Imagine: The USFS says your permit, with an expiration date of 2035, has been revoked and you must vacate the site or file for a new plan. No notification is sent to you. The mining management team in the Washington, D.C., office can’t give you a regulation that allows revocation. You get a call from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department on Aug. 22 who informs you that you are being investigated for trespassing on your own valid mining claim.

You probably wonder why I keep going. The best I can come up with is “We get the government we deserve,” as Benjamin Franklin once said. We deserve better! The USFS is supposed to work for us, instead they work against us. If they can take my rights away, they can take yours. The only way to stop corrupt, abusive government is to stand up and fight legally. There is an old proverb that says “Honor your enemies as they make you stronger.” I don’t want to be any stronger. I just want to finish my American dream.

Robert Congdon operates an alabaster and marble mine in Avalanche Creek in the Crystal Valley.

Scott Bayens: Aspen real estate market is accelerating through abundance

Scott Bayens

I got away for a hike with a friend last week; a day unplugged and long overdue. We lucked out with clear, bluebird skies, cool temps, with a plan to bag an alpine lake above Gates Hut. After clearing the calendar, checking email and voicemail one last time, it didn’t take long before my frayed nervous system began to recalibrate, I found my rhythm and I began to let go and relax.

Our adventure began with a scenic drive up the Pan, along familiar rivers and creeks, through stands of aspen, open green meadow and eventually to the trailhead. The hike itself took us through fields of wildflowers and more mushrooms than I’ve ever seen. Once we got to the lake, we ate lunch, got out the rod and hooked a few rainbows. The experience was as immersive as it was absorptive; and for a moment or two, time stood still.

Simply put, me and my hiking buddy found ourselves in abundance. We needed nor wished for nothing in the brief time and place we were there as we were provided everything we needed.

As we hiked down with the reward of a cold beer at the car, I remained in my naturally induced tranquilized state. But inevitably the spell subsided as the “real world” came back into view. It got me thinking about how fast time is moving post-COVID, how quickly and how many things are different now, and if any of us, have the power to change any of it.

It sure doesn’t seem realistic when you consider the luxury real estate market around here. In the past year, the uber-wealthy have snapped up 30 properties priced over $20 million. Among those, two sold for more than $30M, one sold for $40M and a home on Willoughby Way topped $72M. Three more over $20M showed a pending as of last Friday.

These mind-blowing numbers represent unprecedented activity even for these parts. For the past 10 years, we’ve seen between five to seven homes a year change hands in this price range. That means we’ve sold at least seven years of inventory in the past 12 months. Interestingly, the MLS currently shows 30 homes and ranches over $20M available for sale.

According to Forbes.com, roughly 650 billionaires in the United States saw their net worth increase by more than $1 trillion during the pandemic. Today, that number has grown to $4 trillion. So when you take into account, and multi-millionaires and billionaires have to work really hard to spend that money in a lifetime, what we’re talking about here is just walking around money … extra funds for a $30M house on Red Mountain money … $50M for a legacy ranch just for fun money.

Safe to say the 1% of the 1% have been very active and are having a huge impact on our local economy. Easy to overlook the “median” buyers in the Aspen market where the average price of a home has risen 36% year-to-date. The average price of an Aspen home is now well over $13M when just last year you could have scored the same house for about nine and a half. When I got into the business in 2005, that number was $2M and a home on Red Mountain averaged $1,000 square foot.

In “sleepy” little Snowmass, it now takes more than $5M to secure a single family home. Sales are up 160% since last summer. In Basalt, you better have $1.8M; Carbondale demands $1.5M; and in Glenwood you better have $800K stashed away. And while sales prices and total sales numbers are up, volume or the actual number of homes sold is down significantly. Inventory across all sectors remains at record lows as well.

So I guess you could say the luxury and high-end market over $1M remain “in abundance.” And for so many here in the valley, this phenomenon is keeping us busy and paying the bills. But just as the conversation around real estate seems ever-present these days, so too is the pace of change in a place that isn’t used to so much coming so fast. Many of us from big cities have experienced it and that may have even been the impetus for our departure.

Of course, change is inevitable but this is a seismic shift, and the need to adjust to and accept all that’s different is what got me thinking that day on the trail. By now we all know this “new normal” is here to stay. Last week, I heard a national commentator suggest we start thinking about COVID-19 as “endemic” rather than a pandemic.

So wake up. We’re in the age of change; change in abundance. The 1% of the 1% are clearly in abundance. So too is human suffering and those in peril. Those in the middle must seek their own abundance. And what we choose to be abundant in is within our own power. And maybe that’s a simple as a walk in the woods.

Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more about him at www.aspendreamhome.com.

Guest commentary: LEAP will close the ‘opportunity gap’ for all Colorado kids

Alex Sánchez is the founder and executive director of Voces Unidas Action Fund, a Latino-led advocacy organization based in Glenwood Springs.
Republican State Legislator Bob Rankin represents District 8, including Garfield, GrandJackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Summit counties.

Despite the tireless efforts of parents and educators, the COVID pandemic opened our eyes to educational disparities that have existed for decades in Colorado.

Our kids have fallen behind in reading, math, science and writing — particularly students of color or those from low-income families. On the most recent national tests, only about 40% of Colorado’s fourth-graders were proficient in reading, with only 22% of low-income students scoring proficient or higher.

We aren’t just picking on fourth-graders. When you look at Colorado students in grades three through eight, more than half fail to meet grade-level expectations in reading, writing or math on state tests. The one constant? Glaring disparities based on income, race and geography; we have to end this, those factors cannot be allowed to dictate success any longer.

This fall, we can do something about it. The Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) Program will close the “opportunity gap” — a widening disparity between students who have access to out-of-school learning options, including tutors, special education support and enrichment activities — and those who do not.

LEAP supporters have turned in more than 200,000 signatures to place the measure on November’s ballot and we are pleased to be among the early supporters urging a “yes” vote.

The LEAP program would be funded by a 5 percentage point sales-tax increase on recreational marijuana and by repurposing a portion of revenue derived from leases, rents and royalties paid for activities on state lands. In the details, the LEAP program enables parents to select as much as $1,500 of out-of-school learning opportunities from a menu of providers that are certified by a state authority.

These opportunities include tutoring for reading, math and science, as well as support for students with special needs and enrichment activities. All Colorado students would be eligible, though priority would be given to those from low-income families.

As students, teachers and families grapple with online learning, hybrid models and the slow return to in-person instruction because of the pandemic, the need to provide our students with tutoring, supplemental instruction and enrichment programming intensifies.

The LEAP Program won’t just benefit students, though that is without question the primary goal. It also will benefit our teachers, who can receive additional compensation providing supplemental services in non-school hours and will have more students ready to learn or able to seek help when needed; our employers, who will find a better-educated pool of prospective employers; and our state, which will finally be on the road to closing the achievement gap.

The “achievement gap“ has been growing in Colorado for decades and has been exacerbated in the past 12 months as the COVID pandemic has upended our schools and communities. The educational future of our children transcends nearly every political, geographic, economic and racial group.

LEAP has been carefully crafted by experts from across the state to address some of the most pressing needs our students face. With LEAP in their future, Colorado students will have the equity and flexibility to sharpen their skills and add new ones.

Now is our chance to help students recover from learning losses caused by longstanding education inequities and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The LEAP program will offer out-of-school opportunities for Colorado students hit hardest by socioeconomic factors.

We must recognize this moment and seize the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our kids; they are the future. So, let’s make a difference and help our Colorado students close the opportunity gap.

Republican State Legislator Bob Rankin represents District 8, including Garfield, Grand Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Summit counties. Alex Sánchez is the founder and executive director of Voces Unidas Action Fund, a Latino-led advocacy organization based in Glenwood Springs.

Guest commentary: Masks need to stay on in schools, Board of Health members urge

After the last school year plagued by quarantines and missed work by working families, the Pitkin County Board of Health’s goal is to keep kids in school. The highly contagious delta variant has changed everything.

It affects children more than any other variant of COVID-19. As delta swept through the UK, children were infected at five times the rate of those 65 and older. Most of the pediatric cases in the United States have been mild, but not every case.

We are seeing more children hospitalized for COVID in the United States than ever before. A mildly symptomatic child can infect an adult leading to a more serious infection. Even vaccinated adults can be infected with delta. While vaccination is our best tool to control delta, masks are a close second and the only option for those 12 and younger.

We know that masks work and keep kids safe and in school. Children wore them last year and transmission rates in schools were low. Masking in schools is supported by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Federation of Teachers. Masks keep kids in school by decreasing transmission — leading to fewer kids needing to quarantine at home.

Masked children exposed to a COVID-19 positive child wearing a mask will not have to quarantine.

The experiment of not masking in schools in the southeastern United States has resulted in a rash of infection and quarantines during the first week of instruction. Quarantines exact severe economic and emotional tolls on working parents, who must scramble to secure childcare or make last minute arrangements with their workplace so they can stay at home with kids.

This past year has taught us that kids need to be in school, where they learn best and are happiest. In general kids don’t mind wearing masks and are excited to interact in person with their masked peers. The alternative of staying at home learning remotely has resulted in a silent pandemic of isolation, depression, anxiety and screen addiction. We understand that it is not ideal to teach with masks on. However, it is much more difficult to teach and make connections with children via zoom or google classrooms.

The pandemic is not yet over, and everyone is exhausted. We can all take off masks when we can keep our children safe and in school. Until then, the masks need to stay on.

This is not an official letter from the Board of Health, but has been endorsed by these members individually: Dr. Jeannie Seybold; Dr. Christa Gieszl; Dr. Tom Kurt; Dr. Kimberly Levin; Linda Vieira; Ann Mullins; Markey Butler; and Greg Poschman.