Friday, November 26, 2010

Mountain Town News


Capitol Christmas tree comes from Wyoming

JACKSON, Wyo.—When your Christmas tree is 67 feet tall, it's not just a matter of tossing it into the back of a pickup truck or strapping it down to a Thule ski rack.

Especially when it's a 2,100-mile drive, as is the case for this year's tree at the U.S. Capitol. The tree, an Engelmann spruce, was felled just outside Grand Teton National Park and then loaded onto an 81-foot trailer outfitted with a wooden cradle to keep the tree secure.

The truck driver told the Jackson Hole News&Guide that towing such a long bed has its challenges.

"There's a lot of the curves that we won't be able to make," Jeff Underwood said.

To get the truck around tight curves, cranes will have to be deployed.

In what surely must cause some heartburn in fervently Republican Wyoming, the tree will be lit on Nov. 29 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

A U.S. Forest Service employee in Jackson Hole had had her eye on the tree for several years. Photos in the newspaper show a tree in the perfect shape of a cone. Alas, the employee died recently, though not before learning that her project was going to see fruition.

As for the tree, it was 87 at the time of its felling, still relatively young for an Engelmann spruce. The trees in Wyoming and Colorado live 500 to 600 years.

Just how much digging for bones will there be?

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo.—With the snowstorms now almost a daily occurrence, the mucking around in the peat and silt near Snowmass Village has mostly ended for the winter, raising the question of just how much more digging will occur next year?

More than 200 bones of now-extinct species have been removed in the month since a bulldozer operator enlarging a reservoir scraped against what was originally thought to be a cow's skeleton.

Instead, a veritable museum of Ice Age megafauna emerged as crews began digging in the mud: bones of two Columbian mammoths, five mastodons and three bison of a type that was twice as large as today's bison, plus a ground sloth and a small type of deer.

Many of the species are believed to be from 12,000 to 15,000 years ago, a time when glaciers from the last great advance of ice still filled high-elevation valleys in Colorado.

But the oldest bones found at Snowmass are much older than the last ice age, anywhere from 43,000 to 120,000 years old, according to Kirk Johnson, chief curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Plans for the site haven't been announced. The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District appears unwilling to foot the bill for additional digging. The district is already on the hook for $30,000.

"We can't afford to dig for the sake of removing the bones," said Bill Hamby, director of the water district.

That's also the perspective of Snowmass Mayor Bill Boineu.

"There's no pot of gold out there when you find these animals," he told The Aspen Times. "People say, 'It's a million-dollar find.' Well, there may be a million-dollar cost to it."

The museum, however, will return in spring to dig again, this time with volunteers.

But Snowmass and Pitkin County officials are calculating how they may leverage this find into enhanced tourism. Among locals, there's clearly huge interest—some 1,200 people showed up to gaze on the antiquity in just a few hours last Saturday.

Museum officials have agreed to cast a replica of one of the unearthed animals at a cost of $50,000 to $100,000. Which animal will be chosen and where the cast will appear have not been determined.

Meanwhile, the Snowmass Village Town Council decided to have some fun with the discovery, going on record as adopting an official song for the town: "Big Woolly Mammoth" by the band Widespread Panic.

The song isn't a perfect fit. The bones discovered are of a Columbian mammoth. But it's close enough for Councilman Reed Lewis, an admitted fan of Widespread Panic.

"It's just to remind us we're a fun mountain town," he said.


Sun Peaks expects visits to hit pre-recession level

KAMLOOPS, B.C.—Ski resorts in the interior of British Columbia expect a good season, capitalizing on a slowly recovering economy while riding the coattails of last winter's Winter Olympics in Whistler.

Visits rose 7 percent last year at Sun Peaks, and Christopher Nicolson, president of Tourism Sun Peaks, says the increase this year should restore numbers to those before the Great Recession.

Pique Newsmagazine reports that resort officials expect to attract people from Australia and New Zealand, though changes in air travel and economic conditions will cause fewer Europeans to visit.

Only 2 bears killed in Aspen this summer

ASPEN, Colo.—It was a berry, berry good year for bears in and around Aspen. Last year, 20 were killed, compared to just two this year. What gives?

Part of the story seems to be improved compliance with mandates to secure trash, making it unavailable to bears. City officials conducted what they called "knock and talks" with residents and business operators who had failed to secure their trash in wildlife-resistant containers.

But the larger story may have been that bears just weren't as hungry. There was no late frost to kill the berry crop, with plenty of nuts to be had in the backcountry as well, officials told The Aspen Times.

This corresponds with a study by a wildlife researcher who attached radio telemetry tracking devices to some bears. Sharon Baruch-Mordo's study had found that during years when the natural food supply is good, bears stay in the backcountry and largely avoid civilization.

High-calorie pumpkins a feast for Banff deer

BANFF, Alberta—It was also a berry good summer in Banff National Park. Wildlife officials told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that both black and grizzly bears appear to be in excellent shape to survive winter after indulging in the bountiful crop this year.

But deer are another story. They've been feeding on pumpkins left outside homes after Halloween. That's good for the deer, in that the pumpkins are rich in calories. But the pumpkins are not natural food.

New ski lodge has unsold real estate

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo.—Ski area operator Vail Resorts has a new and magnificent lodge at the base of ski runs in Breckenridge. It has a stone fireplace the likes of what you'd expect at Old Faithful Inn.

Unlike its other real estate projects through the years, some of the units remain unsold. But the company isn't dropping prices—to protect the investment of existing buyers, says a company spokeswoman.

Among the amenities at the lodge are a bowling alley, a "rejuvenation center" and a bar that has 40 types of beer on tap, reports the Summit Daily News.

Upscale fishing resort now being reimagined

GRANBY, Colo.—Orvis Shorefox is no more. The project along the banks of the infant Colorado River, halfway between Winter Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, was supposed to appeal to extremely well-heeled anglers, golfers and others. But it went belly-up soon after the recession started. Now, the name has been expurgated.

CNL Lifestyle Property, a real estate investment trust, has contracted with a resort manager called Resort Ventures West to pick up the pieces. New land-use and marketing consultants have been retained.

Liens filed against the project, $7 million altogether, have been settled.

While the previous developers had completed a fair amount of infrastructure and partially completed a golf course, a representative of Resort Ventures West suggested in an interview with the Sky-Hi News that changes will be made.

"It's fair to say that the original plan was fairly ambitious," said Gavin Malia. "There is some question as to whether Granby was the appropriate market for such a plan. But what has happened, has happened."

He told the newspaper that the new project would be carefully introduced in "stages and phases."

"It's fairly exciting to look at a property of this size and think of the numerous possibilities," he said. "The process is just getting started. We've really tried not to have any preconceived notions of what the product is going to look like."

In a sense, the business plan for Orvis Shorefox envisioned a high-end resort for people who couldn't quite afford the swank of Aspen, Vail or Jackson Hole.

It had lots of company in those grand aspirations. Idaho's Tamarack Resort comes to mind, as do a handful of projects close to Vail, including the giant project at Minturn on the site of former mining properties. Now in other hands after the bankruptcy of Florida-based developer Ginn Co., it is also being downsized.

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