Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mountain Town News


Ski country tries to regulate gas drilling

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo.—Part of the federal 2009 Recovery Act earmarked $7 billion in subsidies for delivery of Internet connectivity to underserved areas, including mountain communities.

Nearly four years later, that connectivity is arriving in Western Colorado, but with criticism left and right.

For years, Crested Butte has thought it needed to get better Internet access if it hopes to draw people who could be living anywhere. A Colorado-based firm called Eagle-Net, using federal money, is using microwave-based technology to boost Internet connections in Crested Butte and Gunnison. But the local governments, reports the Crested Butte News, prefer another fiber-optic line.

“We’ll take microwave for right now if that’s the only option we have,” said David Clayton, a councilman from Mt. Crested Butte.

Both his town and adjacent Crested Butte say they want to have the same bandwidth found in the nation’s cities.

About 80 miles to the southwest in Ouray, the same company is delivering fiber-optic installation, but existing cable operators and telephone companies say the federal stimulus money is being used to “cherry pick” schools and libraries. For those institutions, the new fiber optic line is wonderful. It’s like going from “an old jalopy to a brand-new Corvette,” Ouray schools Superintendent Scott Pankow tells the Telluride Watch.


Aspen Skiing pushes for mid-sized hotels

ASPEN, Colo.—The Aspen Skiing Co. continues to advocate for policies that yield more mid-range lodging options in Aspen’s downtown commercial district.

For years, the city has discussed—and sometimes cussed—the idea of taller buildings in the Victorian-themed district. In general, the city has distrusted new buildings that would change the scale. Most of the older buildings are two or sometimes three stories tall. Around the edges of downtown, especially against the mountain, are some taller lodging properties.

Earlier this year, the council, in a 3-to-2- vote, instructed planners to draw up regulations that would cap redevelopment at 28 feet, effectively killing the third-floor penthouses that have been popping up as the result of more liberalized building caps adopted about eight years ago. That policy, still to be finalized, would allow exceptions.

In a recent appearance before the City Council, ski company chief executive Mike Kaplan outlined his company’s vision of the future. The downtown area needs more mid-size hotels, of about 100 rooms, he said.

He called for more limited-service hotels, similar in size to the Limelight Hotel, which the ski company bought and redeveloped.

Aspen, said Kaplan, needs to look beyond baby boomers, who have been the resort’s staple since the late 1960s.

“Yes, things are good now,” he said. “But the baby boomers aren’t going to keep coming here forever.”

To stay competitive, he added, Aspen needs to focus on creating more lodging opportunities, particularly those geared toward younger age brackets.


Not a good country for young critters

BANFF, Alberta—It’s been a bad month for both grizzly bears and wolves in Banff National Park and adjoining areas.

Two young grizzly bears were struck and killed on the train tracks in early October. Wildlife biologists say the yearlings, along with their mother, had returned to the Bow Valley after a summer of feeding on buffalo berries in the remote Cascade Valley.

The bears were not feeding on grain spilled by passing trains, as has been the case with so many of the 13 confirmed grizzly bear mortalities on the tracks since 2000. Rather, it appears they were just using the tracks as a travel corridor, officials from Parks Canada tell the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

As for wolves, just two of the six wolves born to the Bow Valley pack this year have survived. But biologists say that isn’t unusual. Wolves often have five to six pups each spring, but the chances of all pups surviving are very slim.

The wolf pack in the Bow Valley, where both the towns of Banff and Canmore are located, currently has five wolves. This is in direct proportion to the size of the elk herd in Banff.

Meanwhile, Banff officials are working to reintroduce woodland caribou. The last herd of caribou in Banff was wiped out in an avalanche in 2009, and only five herds remain in Jasper, located just to the north.

If the caribou herds grow, more wolves will be eating them, too. Absent the caribou, the wolves are eating a surprising number of mountain goats.


Jackson produces giant gourd

JACKSON, Wyo.—Jackson Hole averages altogether 60 contiguous frost-free days each year. It’s not the first place you’d think of as being home to giant pumpkins.

But with a great deal of coddling, Greg Hahnel coaxed a 401-pound gourd from a community garden this summer. He tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide that he ordered $50 worth of Dill’s Atlantic Giant seeds from somebody in Oregon. Of the 10 seeds he received, only four germinated and two flourished. But the seeds were certified from a strong lineage of monsters.

“My pumpkin’s got papers,” he said.

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