Mountain Town News |

Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Faced with the likelihood of a forest fire someday, Vail town officials during the last year have been assembling an evacuation plan. But, explains the Vail Daily, the evacuation plan could also be put in place by the spill of a hazardous material on Interstate 70, which bisects the town for 10 miles.

Enrollment at public schools in eastern Grand County has increased this year by about 75 students. The Sky-High News suggests the increase is most apparent in the younger grades.After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing economic slowdown, enrollment in Grand County – and most mountain towns – leveled or even declined. Now, enrollment in many school districts is on the upswing once again, with talk in many districts of bond elections for new schools.

A new program called 1 Percent for the Tetons has been launched. Some 51 businesses have agreed to donate 1 percent of their revenues toward the fund. Community members, in turn, are encouraged to steer their purchases toward participating businesses.This year, the first for the program in Jackson Hole, collected $100,000, which is being distributed to various projects, from installing solar panels at the local library to mapping pathways.The program in Jackson Hole is patterned after a program called 1 Percent for the Planet. That program was co-founded by Yvon Chouinard, famed rock climber and founder of the clothing retailing company Patagonia.At its core, notes the Jackson Hole News&Guide, the programs recognize that it is almost impossible to do business without having some kind of environmental impact. The newspaper says the voluntary “earth tax” helps correct a flaw in capitalism, which has a difficult time accounting for what economists called “externalities” such as air and water pollution. “This fouling of the commons frequently occurs without its appropriate cost to businesses and, ultimately, consumers, the earth pays instead.”

Among the most famous ski marketing photographs was that of an old barn, near the base of the Steamboat ski area, and two horsemen riding past it in fresh snow, skis slung over their shoulders.That photo was first shot for a marketing campaign in 1972. Today the old barn is still out in a big, broad meadow, but it is surrounded by shops and other businesses.Steamboat city officials recently granted a $116,000 contract to stabilize and preserve the barn, which will be the center of a 4-acre park. The money essentially comes from the developers of a commercial complex called Steamboat Barn Village, reported The Steamboat Pilot.Meanwhile, city officials are also taking controversial steps to preserve the authenticity of the city’s pre-resort core. The council voted 4-to-2 recently to enact an emergency moratorium that refuses building permits that could significantly alter the historic exterior aspect of any building more than 50 years old. (The main ski area is now 46 years old.)”We intend to prohibit the demolition of historic buildings for a period of time,” said Councilman Towny Anderson, who is an advocate for historic preservation.One of the dissenting council members, reported The Steamboat Pilot, said that when it comes to private property, the owner’s consent in historic preservation is paramount.The chattering bloggers on the newspaper’s website chewed on the idea with great vigor. “So, the hysterical historical society is at it again,” said one. Another wondered if the same effort would be put into preserving portions of the base village if they were 50 years old. In fact, some components of the base area are now 35 years old – and plans are being drawn up to raze them.

Every ski resort has a “brand,” and sometimes two or three of them. But what is it at Crested Butte?For several years, it was an incongruous mixture of hard-core, double-diamond skiing and the continent’s best corduroy. But ski area owners Tim and Diane Mueller are seeking to reinvent the resort, and as they do, they want to revise the branding.To do so, they have lured Ken Stone from Telluride, formerly that resort’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. He also has experience working for corporate America, at Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

It looks like Crested Butte will follow in the tracks of neighboring Aspen and Pitkin County with setting a higher hurdle for those who want to install snowmelt systems or outdoor hot tubs.Since March, the town has had a moratorium on new snowmelt systems. But the proposal would require that energy for all new outdoor snowmelt systems, such as for driveways and sidewalks, be produced by a renewable energy system, such as a solar collector or a ground-source heat pump. As an alternative, a payment-in-lieu fee could be paid to the town, with that money then being used to implement energy-efficient measures in publicly owned facilities.The ordinance proposes to handle outdoor hot tubs of 64 square feet or more in the same way, reports the Crested Butte NewsThe proposed law is modeled upon the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program in Aspen and Pitkin County, which was adopted in 2000. Since then, more than $2 million has been collected as payment-in-lieu fees and used for such things as solar collectors at the local recreation center in Aspen. In the last several years, however, more homebuyers planning “outdoor extravagances” are choosing to create their own renewable energy sources.

Telluride has made permanent its ban on new banks, real estate and other offices at ground-floor locations on the town’s main street, called Colorado Avenue. Such a ban had been in temporary effect since December.In doing so, Telluride follows in the steps of Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs and, most recently, Crested Butte. Park City has taken several hard looks at a similar ban, but concluded it would be ill-advised there.In Telluride, real estate agent George Harvey isn’t affected directly. His office is already on the strip, and as such, will be grandfathered in. But he tells the Telluride Daily Planet that he thinks the ban is unnecessary. “If the idea is to promote diversified businesses on main street, this is probably the silliest way to do that I’ve ever seen.”He told the Planet that the town failed to offer proof that it worked elsewhere, and he just doesn’t see it creating more retail business.Currently, 20 percent of the total frontage on the main street is occupied by real estate businesses, whereas restaurants have 12 percent and assorted retail comprises 49 percent.

Firefighters finally declared victory over a 48,000-acre forest fire whose flames had invaded the slopes of the Sun Valley ski area’s Bald Mountain, forced the evacuation of 2,500 homes at its base in Ketchum, and dislocated expectant mothers to hospitals in Boise.Despite an estimated $3.7 billion in assets to protect, no structures were destroyed, or were there serious injuries.Started in mid-August by lightning, the fire foreshadowed what may well someday happen adjacent to ski towns in Colorado and elsewhere. There has been almost no precipitation since winter, which itself was dry, with a snowpack that was 47 percent of average in early April. Winters more often than not have been below average in the last decade. The trees – mostly Douglas fir, subalpine fir, and aspen – are generally mature, with patches already dead from a bark beetle epidemic. But critical in creating the big fire were winds, at times strong enough to snap tree trunks, which pushed the flames toward Ketchum and Sun Valley.Last week those winds skittered firebrands two miles ahead of the fire onto Bald Mountain. Firefighters were able to stomp them out, but the fire came within 50 feet of the Seattle Ridge Lodge, a mountaintop restaurant. The resort’s snowmaking system was used to dampen the vegetation, but the key to stalling a further advance onto the mountain were several backburns 800 to 1,000 feet wide, which deprived the fire of fuels.Smoke from the fire reduced visibility at times to two miles in the Wood River Valley, where the resorts are located. Joggers were advised against running outdoors, but those that did anyway left footprints in the ash that had fallen. One private gymnasium installed a charcoal air-filter system. St. Luke’s, the local hospital, remained open, but encouraged some visits to other hospitals out of potential harm’s way.The valley’s economy shuddered. Restaurateur Keith Perry said that the fire and smoke quelled business by 25 percent at the start, and it just got worse. A bookstore owner told the Idaho Mountain Express that what should have been the best time of year had become the worst.With flames still advancing, and worries about the valley’s lone two-lane highway being tied up with traffic, Ketchum city officials reluctantly canceled Labor Day festivities. Wagon Days, which celebrates the valley’s pioneering heritage as an outfitter for mines, draws upward of 10,000 people. Also canceled were a music festival and a performance of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”Ron Le Blanc, the city administrator in Ketchum, estimated that tax collections on retail sales and lodging will be down 50 percent for August.Some of the downturn was caused by the absence of arriving tourists. But part of the story was of second-home owners decamping or failing to arrive. The Mountain Express tells of art pieces – Picassos, Renoirs, O’Keeffes and others – being encased and flown out on private planes. “There are a number of collectors in the valley that have paintings and sculpture of significant value, pieces that you would read about in The New York Times,” said art gallery owner Gail Severn.While the U.S. Forest Service spent upward of $16 million on the fire – including the use of 19 helicopters, seven bulldozers, and 106 engines – one insurance company dispatched its own crew to the scene to apply flame retardant to homes.AIG Private Client Group has been offering loss-prevention services to more expensive homes built in what is called the urban-wildlands interface. In the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, it had 40 high-end homes at risk in the fire, to which flame retardant was applied by a contractor from Montana. Company spokesman Peter Tulupman told the Idaho Statesman that the company realized several years ago that it could save money if it took a proactive approach to wildfires. Don Smurthwaite, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, told The New York Times that the agencies see no downside to the company’s work. “The homeowner receives added protection, the insurance may be able to avoid a large payoff, and it frees up firefighters to work on suppression rather than protecting structures. That’s one big change in firefighting in the last 20 years. People are moving into areas that have burned historically.”The Idaho Mountain Express recalled small efforts – a matter of a few truckloads of wood – in recent years to thin the forest on the edge of residential areas. But no efforts had been made to remove wood from where the fire started and took off. “It doesn’t make sense to do fuels reduction where you don’t have homes,” explained the local district ranger, Kurt Nelson.At a recent briefing, federal firefighting officials were asked to comment on the relative size and difficulty of the fire. “Ten years ago, 46,000 acres was a big fire,” they said. “But with the amount of drying and the amount of fuels in the forest now, this isn’t a small fire, but it’s not a huge fire, either.”Their advice for Ketchum for the future? Plug into the national Firewise Communities program, which is geared to the urban-wildlands interface situation.

Calls continue for Latino immigrants to learn English – and now!Such was the tone of a letter published in the Vail Daily. “Last I knew, English was the official language here in the United States. How about if the Hispanics (both legal and illegal) learn English? Now, there’s a new concept!”The letter-writer objected to the influx of Spanish-speaking students in local public schools, which is now more than 50 percent, which she contended diverts attention from education of other students.In fact, many local Hispanics have been in Eagle County for several generations, having arrived 50 to 100 years ago from New Mexico, and know nothing but English. Also in point of fact, there is no national language.Also in point of fact, English is not the official language. The founding fathers at least superficially considered German – to help differentiate the new nation from English. Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen has pointed out that English was an official state language in Colorado from 1876 to 1890, but so were German and Spanish.But English language acquisition teacher Heather Goodrich, in a letter of response. says immigrants rarely learn English immediately. Citing U.S. Census Bureau data, she says that Latinos learn English just as fast as any other immigrant group. The process usually takes three generations for immigrant groups, whether German, Italian or other. “We can all be proud that we are very effective at killing any nasty bilingual tendencies our immigrants may bring with them.”An English language acquisition teacher for the last eight years, Goodrich says the diatribe she was responding to gets in the way of conversations about real issues, such as our obsession with making everyone monolingual while competing in a multilingual world.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at


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