Friday, July 6, 2012

Mountain Town News


Fire evacuees take refuge in mountains

FRISCO, Colo.—Hotels in the Colorado high country reported surging occupation from evacuees of the wildfires along Colorado's urbanized Front Range corridor.

"One, it's a little bit safer, and two, they figure if they go anywhere, they might as well go someplace where it's beautiful," one front-desk clerk in Frisco told the Summit Daily News.

Business had tripled from a normal weekend, she estimated.

But not all is necessarily well in the mountain towns. The newspaper talked with an Avon resident whose father and stepmother had fled the giant fire in Colorado Springs. The woman said she'd invite them to Avon, "except I'm worried that we're going to go up (in flames)."

Indeed, a fire did erupt in the piñon-and-juniper country north of Eagle, a short distance west of the ski country of Vail and Beaver Creek. But the fire was put out within a day.

Heat bringing in both pests and pretty things

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo.—Warming planetary temperatures are clearly producing changes, and are likely to produce much greater changes. But what will they be?

That's harder to say. Entomologists tell the Summit Daily News that it's likely that changes, both good and bad, will be visiting the Colorado high country.

With warmer winters, for example, mosquitoes can survive from one year to the next more easily. But already there is evidence of beautiful butterflies in Colorado. And in Glenwood Canyon, there has been a huge emergence of caddis flies, perhaps the result of an absence of ice in the canyon this past winter.

But both temperature and precipitation inform what kind of species exist. Purdue University Professor Jonathan Neal pointed out that the Arctic has some of the highest population densities of mosquitoes. It's much colder than Summit County, even if Summit County ranges from 8,000 to 14,000 feet, but the Arctic has much more standing water.

In other words, both the movement of temperatures and precipitation matter in climate change, and models are more clear about the former than the latter.

Zebra mussels muscle into mountain lakes

WHITEFISH, Mont.—Worries abound in Whitefish that zebra mussels and other warmer-water nuisances will soon find a home in Whitefish Lake unless corrective action is taken. The city government is considering how to inspect boats.

"This is one of the crown jewels of our town, and we don't want to lose that," said Bill Kahle, a municipal councilor.

"Zebra mussels and watermilfoil are the most likely threats," said Mike Kooal, of the Whitefish Lake Institute. "There's an economic impact and lifestyle impact if they get in the lake. The key here is to have some vision for prevention rather than trying to treat them."

If an inspection program materializes, it would be the first in Montana.

At Lake Tahoe, on the California-Nevada border, an inspection program in place since 2008 has stopped four boats this year. Two of the boats with invasive species attached to them had come from the mussel-infested water of Lake Mead, several hundred miles south and about 5,000 feet lower, near Las Vegas.

Lake Tahoe instituted boat inspections in 2008 to prevent introduction of quagga and zebra mussels into the lake. Experts predict that the locust-like mollusks could wreak havoc on Tahoe's environment and economy.

Ma grizzly and cubs flunked shyness test

CANMORE, Alberta—A grizzly sow and her three cubs, also females, have been deported from the Bow River Valley. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that the mother, called bear 105, and two of her cubs were flown to northern Alberta, while the third cub, a 3-year-old, was taken to nearby Kananaskis Country, which is south of Banff and Canmore.

What did these bears do wrong? Essentially, the mother wasn't afraid of people. Not belligerent or threatening. Just not afraid. That bothered wildlife officers.

"She's not an aggressive bear. She never has been," said Jon Jorgenson, a senior biologist. "But shouting and yelling at her, we had to get very close to her. That's not the response we want. Normally when you work with bears, they should run into cover."

The sow may have migrated to the Banff-Canmore area to avoid male grizzlies. The boars often kill cubs during mating season so the mothers will go into heat. The mother had lost cubs to large males in years past. Biologists think perhaps she wandered into the Bow Valley, where there are apparently few male grizzlies, to save her current trio of cubs from the same fate.

Upon arriving, though, she and her cubs vexed wildlife officials. For example, she got onto the TransCanada Highway, where there was blood on the pavement from a previous road kill. Traffic came to a grinding halt, and all available wildlife officers were summoned to herd her and the cubs to safety.

Then the bears wandered into neighborhoods, a golf course and other places that people don't want grizzly bears to be. It took 12 officers to "baby-sit the bears." They shot her with rubber bullets and used the giant Karilean bear dogs to chase her. But she didn't take the cue to scram off center stage.

"She was tying up a huge amount of resources we use for dealing with other bears," said Jorgenson. "We had to cut our losses.


How many notes are too many in Telluride?

TELLURIDE, Colo.—How much is too much? Telluride has been asking that question for years in regard to its summer lineup of festivals. At one point, the town even decided to adopt a no-festival weekend.

The addition of a rock 'n' roll music festival now poses the question of whether there are too many music festivals. There's bluegrass, of course, as well as a jazz festival, and others, too. But some fear that the new festival proposed as a fundraiser for the local radio station may be cannibalizing the efforts of others.

Working against that, explains the Telluride Watch, is the notion that anything that brings people—and their credit cards—to town is a very good thing.

"We need people in this town to keep this town alive," said Jennifer Hayes, a business owner.

No June Mountain come next January

MAMMOTH LAKE, Calif. -- Starwood Capital Group, the owner of the Mammoth Mountain and the adjoining June Mountain ski areas, has announced it is closing June Mountain this summer and next winter. The ski area has operated every winter since 1954.

Rusty Gregory, chief executive of Mammoth, said June Mountain had operated at an annual deficit each year since Mammoth purchased it in 1986. He estimated the loss at $1 million per year.

"It's time to invest some of this subsidy into the analysis and planning required to position the resort for a sustainable future, then secure the approvals and financing required to create it," he said.

The ski area had 14,000 paying skier days last winter and 14,000 visitor days from season-pass holders.

Mammoth Mountain purchased June in 1986 with the idea of significantly increasing the size of the resort, but for a number of reasons never did. It's 16 miles from Mammoth, and there was some talk of creating a gondola to link the two. Also, unlike most ski areas, there is no base-area development—and, in fact, you can't see the ski area from the base. There are lodging and other amenities, however, in June Lake, a town. There was quite a bit of local resistance to base-area development.

Of course, other junior ski areas have become vibrant in their own right. Consider Beaver Creek, which opened in 1981. It's located five or six miles west of Vail, and to help surmount branding recognition, it was identified as being in the "Vail Valley," an artificial branding construct created by the company's marketing directors. Beaver Creek has grown by leaps and bounds for the past 20 years, even as other ski areas have treaded water. A key is its major new profusion of hotels, lodge and other real estate development.

Meanwhile, at Mammoth, The Sheet points out that the permit to operate on national forest land specifies that it could be yanked for failure to operate the ski area. But Mammoth and the Forest Service are also engaged in trying to do a land swap, yielding land for development at the base of Mammoth Mountain.

The Sheet notes that in the wake of the announcement by Starwood Capital, Facebook pages "lit up like a Christmas tree," including comments about "grassroots snow culture."

Merchants of 'ade count their quarters

ASPEN, Colo.—Young entrepreneurs were out all over Aspen this past weekend, hawking the virtues of lemonade. The Aspen Times explains that Lemonade Day Aspen was the local manifestation of a national program designed to spike their interest of entrepreneurial efforts at a young age. The sloshers of lemon--and lavender and raspberry—'ades were encouraged to save some of their profits, but also to share the money with good causes.

"What's so cool is how many kids wanted to give back," said Heather Hicks, director of Lemonade Day Aspen. "It's such reflection of our community. The kids are so compassionate, and they wanted to channel their energy into something so positive."

Aspen moves ahead with affordable units

ASPEN, Colo.—If with greater caution than during the boom years, local governments in Aspen and Pitkin County are moving forward with a new affordable housing project.

The new phase of the development, called Burlingame Ranch, will offer one-, two- and three-bedroom units with prices ranging from $107,000 to $224,000 for qualified applicants. They have to work in Aspen or Pitkin County and meet income eligibility requirements.

The Aspen Times says 15 people were queued at the door of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority on a recent morning before the doors opened, suggesting a high level of interest. The project will have 82 units, and 200 people have qualified, though only 87 have qualified as buyers. Winners are chosen by lottery.

Sea to Sky Gondola gets another A-OK

WHISTLER, B.C.—Plans to install a gondola near Squamish, along the ocean at Howe Sound, to a mountaintop above Squamish continue to advance. A local government has approved the top terminal for the Sea to Sky Gondola, which would give riders a 2,700-foot lift in elevation. The next and final stage, reports Whistler's Pique, is for the provincial government in British Columbia to rezone the land over which the gondola passes.

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