Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mountain town News


TColorado contends with a deluge

EAGLE, Colo.—The Eagle River was running bank to bank on Saturday night as fireworks glittered, sparkled and boomed in the town of Eagle, 30 miles down-valley from Vail. The fireworks were good, said seasoned observers, but no more than customary.

The runoff of the river, however, was another matter. Town Manager Willy Powell, whose house overlooks the river, said he could not remember a runoff that high and sustained in the last 30 years. The high runoff began about the third week of May and never has substantially receded since then.

Most often, rivers peak with runoff in early June, sometimes earlier and in big snow years later. This year, river-watchers expected an early runoff because of the storms that had deposited dust from the deserts of the Southwest onto the high-mountain snowpacks during winter and early spring.

Seeing an early runoff, foresters were warning that this could become a huge fire year in Colorado, even worse than the record drought of 2002.

But then something queer happened—it started raining, and it really hasn't stopped since. In Breckenridge, weather watcher Rick Bly recorded 22 days of rainy weather during June, compared to an average of eight. In addition to receiving nearly twice as much moisture as average, June was about 5 degrees cooler.

Clearly, having more rain and cooler weather results in more water in the creeks. But ranchers tell the Summit Daily News that something else is going on. With about 95 percent of lodgepole pine now dead because of the beetle epidemic, the trees are not using as much water.

Telluride ponders life after real estate

TELLURIDE, Colo.—Throughout Western ski towns, commentators are trying to make sense of the craters that used to be the vibrant real estate economy. The lesson, at least in Telluride, says Seth Cagin, publisher of The Telluride Watch, is that the community for various reasons became over-invested in real estate.

Cagin for years had argued that Telluride was getting it wrong. Almost militantly anti-growth policies stymied the growth of a tourism economy, he had said. This was OK as long as people were willing to bid up prices ever more for real estate. Now that, too, has ended.

"Despite our best intentions to build a sustainable community, we built instead a community for the gilded age, with gargantuan private homes and far too few tourist accommodations to support a vibrant economy with a middle class," he writes.

"This might have worked indefinitely if the bubble had lasted indefinitely. But the gilded age has come to a crashing close, as we all knew it had to, and the question for Telluride and Mountain Village now and for the next decade is where do we go from here."

For Cagin the bottom-line message is the same one he has preached for several years: "We may not get obscenely rich being the tourist town we were always meant to be, and certainly not as rich as we did when the houses we bought one year were worth twice as much just a few years later. But we can have a sustainable community."

Aspen houses sell, but cheaply

ASPEN, Colo.—Real estate sales in Aspen and Pitkin County continued to drag through May, with a 44 percent decline in volume for the year as compared to the corresponding period last year. Real estate agent Craig Morris tells the Aspen Times that those sellers who cling to prices reached during the height of the boom in late 2007 and early 2008 have not been moving. Those properties that have been reduced in price by 20 to 40 percent are selling, he said.

Colorado lynx are thriving

CREEDE, Colo.—When Colorado wildlife biologists released the first transplanted Canada lynx into the San Juan Mountains in April 1999, there were many questions. The single most important one was whether the lynx would find enough to eat.

The answer to that question at this point seems to be yes. Lynx trapped during winter have all been well fed.

But the more compelling testimony to a healthy diet is whether the lynx have interest in sex. And again, at least for now, the evidence is yes—lynx are finding enough food to eat that they have spare time and energy to procreate.

This year, for the first time, lynx kittens were discovered that had been born to pairs of lynx that were themselves native to Colorado. In other words, these kittens are the grandchildren of immigrants.

All along, wildlife biologists had said that would be a milestone if it were achieved.

Altogether, the search for lynx kittens this year by Colorado Division of Wildlife researchers found 10 lynx, most in the San Juan Mountains, but others to the north in Gunnison County and yet another in Eagle County, which is divided by I-70 in the northern part of the state.

But wildlife biologists still aren't willing to predict a sustaining population.

"There could be some weird disease that really knocks them out," said Joe Lewandowski, a division spokesman. "I don't think anyone in the division is going to say this is an unqualified success."

Though the reintroduction program has been underway for 10 years now, he said, "in terms of study of wildlife, that's just a blip on the screen."

So far, 218 lynx have been reintroduced into Colorado, with 126 lynx kittens known to have been born there.

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