Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Another 8,000 trees are being removed this summer from the periphery of Vail, with the goal being to create a 200- to 300-foot buffer to slow the spread of fire. Although intermixed with aspen trees, some 90 percent of the lodgepole pine in the surrounding forests are expected to eventually die.Many of the felled trees are to be taken across the Gore Range to Kremmling, where a pellet mill is being assembled, reports the Vail Daily. Cost of the work is about $650,000, with Eagle County government paying $250,000, and lesser amounts coming from the U.S. Forest Service, the town of Vail, and the Colorado state government.

Has the trend toward ever bigger houses finally crested and started to fall back on itself? The Sky-High News suggests so after profiling a condominium project called Cozens Pointe. Its located in Fraser, adjacent to Winter Park.The newspaper says the developers are offering condominiums ranging in size from 1,100 to about 1,500 square feet. We dont subscribe to the notion that bigger is better, said developer Dan Gile.

What does it mean to be in a mountain town? It means a deep attachment to the outdoors! But after visiting a number of ski towns elsewhere in British Columbia, Itssa Hauter thinks that Whistler has it wrong.He cites the signs, BYOS, posted in the patios of restaurants in these other towns. What does that mean? Explained the hostess: Bring Your Own Sweater.Ruminating on that in a letter published in Pique, Hauter explained that you can wander through Whistler on a cool day only to notice warm breezes ones originating in patios, often vacant of customers.I mean, come on, you are in a mountain town, you should get the whole experience. If you want the tropics, go to them, he says.Those who love snow, Hauter suggests, will pay attention to such use of fossil fuels, the prime culprit in accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Steamboat Springs is now looking at regulations designed to prevent the proliferation of franchised chain retailers such as Starbucks, The Gap and other such stores.At issue is the towns original business district, several miles from the ski mountain. Its a slice of small-town Americana, if now considerably gussied up. Going on 20 years, the town has been determined to retain that distinctive character even as it modernizes.Now, the changes are arriving with a roar. Several major construction projects are currently under way along the towns original main street, Lincoln Avenue. The redevelopment is expected to yield upward of 50,000 additional square feet of commercial space in the district, plus residential space.Although the town has nearly 10,000 residents, thats still not quite enough people to attract the national chains in droves. Still, with Intrawest plowing money into the ski area, the town has become one of the Wests premier boom areas.The regulations being considered would subject the national franchise businesses to greater scrutiny. The town planning staff reviewed formula business regulations from Sausalito, Calif., Port Townsend, Wash., and Bristol, R.I., among others.

The high cost of fighting forest and other wildland fires is sobering. Earlier this summer, for example, the U.S. Forest Service was bleeding $1.5 million per day fighting the Angora fire at Lake Tahoe. Altogether last year, the agency spent $1.5 billion on fires.For years, critics have said that the agency is addicted to fires. Come fire season, everybody from archaeologists to silviculturists peel off to fires, making overtime wages while engaging in a paramilitary effort aimed at a common enemy.The Los Angeles Times also notes the expenses: $80,000 an hour for rental of firefighting helicopters at one fire in California. Even seasonal firefighters, making much less than most permanent agency employees, can pull down $23 an hour including overtime. And with such hard work to do, meals are calculated for 6,000 calories a day, which comes to $47 per person.The nagging question is whether fire policy has really changed all that much. The congressional General Accountability Office says the agency hasnt clearly defined how it intends to cut back costs.Tom Harbour, the agencys director of fire and aviation management, told the Times that officials have renewed their vow to let fires in some areas long untouched by flame burn for the well-being of the forest. And, adds the Times, Harbour suggested that firefighters would steer clear of heroic measures to save remote, wood-shingled forest hideaways surrounded by cascades of flammable shrubbery.But critics say more can be done. Among them is Tim Ingalssbee, a former seasonal firefighter who now teaches at the University of Oregon.About 45 percent of the Forest Services budget is related to fire, and thats a big source of the problem, he said. The agency sees its money hitched to fire. He said contracts can be bloated, and that the Forest Service hasnt made use of prescribed fire as it should.

Even in mountain towns, where at times it seems you could reach out and grab a few stars, the sky is not nearly the same glittering wealth of stars that Galileo saw. The Milky Way is fast disappearing.There are, in ski towns and elsewhere, people who feel aggrieved by this diminished night sky. The New Yorker magazine explains that a ranking of dark skies, called the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, has been created. The darkest, a Class 1, such as existed across the world when Galileo lived, today can be found only in such place as the Andes or the Australian outback, but nowhere in the lower 48 states. The sky above New York City itself is Class 9. On this scale of 1 through 9, most American suburban skies are rated 5 or 7.Even the very darkest places in the continental United States today are almost never darker than Class 2, and even these places such as the north rim of the Grand Canyon are increasingly threatened.The magazine says that the International Dark-Sky Association, using a variety of measurements, has found that the darkest sky remaining is at the Natural Bridges National Monument, located west of Blanding, Utah, which is about 130 miles west of Telluride.

Further evidence of the pricey nature of real estate in Jackson Hole is found in the case of a development called Pine Glades. The project is located on the most prominent mountainside above the town of Jackson.Neighbors lower on the slope might well have created an uproar of opposition with a conventional plan, using their streets for access. Instead, developer Dave Taylor proposed to tunnel under the slopes of Snow King Mountain, a small downhill ski area adjacent to the building sites.In addition to 27 free-market townhome units, the project will have 12 deed-restricted affordable housing units. Half of those will be eligible to people with incomes of up to 200 percent of Jacksons median, which means they will sell initially for about $450,000, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. The affordable units are on slopes of greater than 25 percent, which pose some avalanche risk.

The town council in Crested Butte has adopted an emergency moratorium on all new development in the towns watershed, but not development within the town itself. Town officials said the existing ordinance governing disturbances in the towns watershed was adopted in 1978 and is inadequate.Exactly what precipitated the emergency was not clear, although the Crested Butte News reports that the primary objection came from the proponent of a possible molybdenum mine that has been on-and-off again since the watershed ordinance was first adopted.

Banff is now up to 8,770 residents, a 6 percent gain in the last two years, but still short of the cap of 10,000 residents mandated by the federal government. Because it is located within a national park, the townsite of Banff is subject to growth restrictions imposed several years ago on the community.The census report notes that 46 percent of people live in apartments and a majority of people are employed in the service industry. As well, 47 percent of residents walk during summer, compared to 17 percent who use motor vehicles. In winter, the numbers get closer together, but pedestrians still outnumber motorists.

Another wildland fire has hit the Lake Tahoe basin, this time destroying six structures. But what could have been a fire similar to the Angora blaze that burned 256 homes earlier this summer was averted.The difference, a fire district spokesman told the Sierra Sun, was that the 30 mph winds died down, and firefighters responded immediately with a well-executed, no-holds attack. But a key, said Ed Miller, was a forest-thinning project on 150 acres completed in 2005. If we hadnt treated that area, wed still be chasing [the fire], he told the newspaper.Thinning was also in the news when Placer County commissioner Bruce Krantz called for loosening of regulations to allow more thinning of forests near streams in the basin. Existing regulations designed to reduce sedimentation of Lake Tahoe specify that thinning must be done with low-impact vehicles.Environmental officials told the newspaper that the regulations dont preclude work, although the U.S. Forest Service officials disagreed. Rex Norman, an agency spokesman, said the stream-side forests are some of the most dangerously overgrown in the Tahoe basin. They burn very fast and with great intensity.

Theres residual heartburn in Vail about a public art project in one of the towns most prominent locations, Siebert Circle, located near the base of the busiest ski lift, the Vista Bahn.There, in 1999, the town authorized a somewhat abstract work of art designed by noted Texas sculpture Jesus Moroles. The sculpture and associated landscaping, which cost $700,000, never warmed the hearts of many people. So, in 2005 the Town Council voted to appropriate $675,000 for a fire-water fountain, assuming $125,000 came in from the private sector.But the cost of the project cost has now ballooned to $1.7 million, reports the Vail Daily. In a dissent of the latest supplemental appropriation, Councilwoman Kim Newbury called the project a debacle and embarrassing.For those who like the water display of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, this water feature is being created by the same company, WET Design.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at


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