Mountain town news |

Mountain town news

Allen Best

Being a millionaire ain’t what it used to be. The Wall Street Journal reports that by at least one definition it takes more than twice as much money to be rich today as it did in the 1980s.To participate in a hedge fund, the Security and Exchange Commission says a net worth of $1 million or an annual income of $200,000, the requirements set in 1982, are no longer sufficient. The new minimum is assets of at least $2.5 million, including equity in homes or businesses.At the Yellowstone Club, located near Big Sky, a net worth of $3 million formerly was required of prospective members. Now, it’s $7 million, says the Journal. Land prices at the private ski and golf course community now have pushed above $2 million.

Two more bars in Jackson Hole, including the famed Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, are going smoke-free this summer.The Cowboy Bar has thought about banning smokes for years, partly because of concerns about health effects of secondhand smoke on employees, but also to reduce maintenance costs. Smoke filters must constantly be replaced, and the smoke makes the building dingy, requiring constant cleaning.Smoking remains permissible at only three bars in Jackson Hole. Among them is the Virginian, where employees are advised in advance they will be among smokers. One of those smokers, a bar regular identified as “Spooner,” said smokers need a place where they can quietly go and be left in peace. “It’s an honest, crying shame,” he told the Jackson Hole News&Guide.Julia Heemstra, of Teton County Tobacco Prevention, wants a total ban on smoking, and also wants to force smokers 10 and even 20 feet away from doors and windows.

The first murder in 30 years occurred in the plaza of Whistler Village as the Saturday night crowds emptied out of bars.The victim, a 26-year-old journeyman plumber from the Vancouver area, had been in Whistler to party with friends. “There was a bit of an altercation [between two groups] and someone pulled out a handgun and shot someone,” police told Pique newsmagazine. The victim and his assailant, a 27-year-old from the Vancouver area, did not know each another.There were six police in the area at the time.Although tens of thousands of people are in Whistler on busy weekends, with a noisy bar scene, this is the first serious incident since a stabbing outside a bar in 2004. That case caused some bars to begin using metal detectors.The victim had immigrated from Lebanon. “I came here because this was a peaceful country,” the dead man’s father, George Boustros, told the Globe and Mail. “We came to build a family here, and now it is becoming like Lebanon on the street.”

The Durango Telegraph reports what seems to be a growing effort among activists and government agencies to rein in the impacts of off-highway vehicles in the San Juan Mountains.The Forest Service several years ago responded to the growing intrusion of OHVs by channeling their use onto specific areas. But that philosophy is being challenged by the Colorado Mountain Club, which conducted a forum called “In Quest of Quiet Places.””There seems to be a carrot philosophy here – if we provide designated routes, motorized users will abide by the rules,” said Chris Paulson, vice chair of the Durango chapter of the club. “The real question is whether these sacrificed areas save a part of the forest, or are we just opening up more areas to motorized travel.”Hunting purists are among the most aggrieved by the growing use of OHVs. Among them is David Peterson, the author of several books and now a representative of Trout Unlimited. “It’s a very personal issue to me,” he told the Telegraph. “As a fanatical elk hunter and bowhunter, I have personally lost almost all of my old favorite national forest walk-in hunting spots to motorized invasion. All of those places now have such a heavy infestation of motorized hunters, I’ve had to give them up.”One key problem is enforcement. The federal agencies – both the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management – have only one or two law enforcement officers for a vast region.In response, county governments in the Telluride-Silverton-Lake City area, which are interconnected by a labyrinth of gravel roads, many of them above timberline, have hired a backcountry ranger to patrol their jurisdictions during warm-weather months. Something similar is being proposed for the Durango area.

Commercial air service to Mammoth has been pushed back again, this time to December 2008. The delay, reports The Sheet, was caused by what amounts to a turf war between the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Park Service. Because of the proximity to Yosemite National Park, the parks agency seems to resist development of air service and the resulting incursion of noise.

Going to Whistler? Unlike many destination ski resorts, it’s still a two-hour drive once you get off the airplane. Aware of the more time-consuming access even as skier days dropped in recent years, Whistler began investigating the potential for having a close-in airport.A study identified a site close to Whistler, called Brandywine. But for now the resort interests of Whistler are eyeing continued development of an existing, if small, airport at Pemberton. The airport is located about a half-hour drive from Whistler. Unlike two years ago, when Whistler was suffering from declining tourism, there seems to be little sense of urgency now. Of course, Whistler is having a good winter.

Vail Mountain continues to get up to speed. A high-speed quad is being installed to replace Chair 10, which has been in operation since 1973. The old two-seater took 14 minutes but kept out the “riff-raff,” one loyal skier told the Vail Daily. The new quad will reduce the time to 6.5 minutes. The lift serves some of Vail’s premier bump runs. While Vail Resorts would like to replace the old three-seater in the Back Bowls, Chair 5, the Forest Service has yet to approve a new lift, says the newspaper.

Eagle County government has purchased 20 Toyota Priuses, the popular electric-gasoline hybrid. Reduced gas use – an estimated $21,000 a year – drove the purchase, as did fewer emissions. The car produces 85 percent less pollution than the SUVs that the Prius replace.The old vehicles averaged 18 miles per gallon on gallon, while the Priuses average 50.The Vail Daily reports that officials looked at diesels, other hybrids like the Honda hybrid, and sport-utility hybrids before settling on the Priuses. “None of them gave us as much bang for the buck in terms of gas savings, safety, price and maintenance costs,” said fleet manager Gusty Kanakis.

Vail town officials are assembling an evacuation plan for town residents and visitors – just in case of a major fire of the dead trees, both within the town and in the surrounding national forest.Forests of lodgepole pine have been hard hit by an epidemic of pine bark beetles that began a decade ago.The evacuation plan calls for a mass 911 telephone alert to all residences, emergency radio broadcasts, e-mail messages and, possibly, emergency workers using loud speakers to warn of the need to evacuate, reports the Vail Daily.Potential for what Phil Bowden, a U.S. Forest Service wildland fuels specialist, calls a “monster fire” will increase with passing years. Most of the dead trees now standing will have fallen to the ground in 15 years, providing more fuel. But even greater fire potential will arrive in 50 years, when logs remain on the ground and new trees are standing, allowing fire to be spread from tree crown to tree crown.Meanwhile, efforts will continue this summer to create a moat along the town’s periphery. Trees will be cut and removed on 10 acres of town land and 170 acres of national forest. Residents are also being urged to reduce fire risk by removing any dead or dying trees in their own backyards.Groves of aspen, which are less susceptible to fire, will be introduced in some areas.

If Congress delivers the money, clearing of dead trees on 3,300 acres of national forest land in the wildland-urban interface of Summit County will begin this summer. Tree removal in critical areas near subdivisions and other crucial areas is expected for the next 10 years – if the money to pay for the work is authorized.”These projects will not pay for themselves,” Rich Newton, district ranger on the Dillon Ranger District, told the Summit Daily News. “They depend on an input of federal dollars. That money hasn’t reached us yet in terms of our ability to write checks.”Some of the wood may be used at a pellet factory for wood stoves that is being planned at nearby Kremmling, Other, larger trees may be suitable for milling at sawmills, Newton said.The Summit Daily explains that the project is the first in Summit County created under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which was created by Congress in 2003. Passed in response to increasing forest fires in the West, that law streamlined regulations but provided little money.Specific projects include a buffer for the Wildernest residential area between Silverthorne and Frisco, strips in the vicinity of Keystone, some areas along I-70, and also on the Frisco Peninsula of Dillon Reservoir.

A Costco opened in October at Gypsum, 35 miles west of Vail, and immediately the sales taxes skyrocketed. By December, the town’s tax receipts were 144 percent greater than the year before.It’s not all gravy for town officials. To land Costco, Gypsum agreed to rebate 38 percent of the sales taxes to Costco, not to exceed $4.2 million. Beyond that rebate, Gypsum will give 40 percent of sales tax revenues to Eagle, which bears a portion of traffic to the store. What that means, is that Eagle gets only $17 for every $100 of sales tax revenue for the next several years.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at