By Allen Best
Short sales push realty activity
KETCHUM, Idaho – Here and there comes evidence that the real estate market is recovering. In the Wood River Valley, homes have been selling at double the rate of last year. Prices have also increased. Total sales volume for the year was reported to be $72 million, compared to $47 million for the first four months of last year. Foreclosures have also been up, but just a little. The biggest story, real estate agents say, has been in so-called short sales, when the mortgage holder agrees to take less money than what was owed on the property.
Don’t make wolves the scapegoat
JACKSON, Wyo. – Moose populations have declined dramatically during the last 20 years in Jackson Hole. Why? While some point to the introduction of wolves in 1997 as a basic cause, scientists contacted by the Jackson Hole News&Guide point to broader changes in the ecosystem.
Joel Berger, a wildlife researcher from Montana State, said that the overall pregnancy rate in female moose has declined from 90 percent to 75 percent, and that the percentage of those having twins has dropped from 10 percent to 5 percent.
“This suggested it wasn’t predation, but that it had to have some basis in nutrition,” he said. He noted that malnutrition accounts for 60 percent of known deaths in adult female moose, while predation, roads, and human hunting account for only 10 percent.
One hypothesis is that the moose have depleted the willows. Another is that less extensive conifers in the wake of the 1988 Yellowstone fires reduced the amount of shade available to moose, which means they must spend more time looking for summer shade and less time eating.
Ball doesn’t move in the Butte
MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – After much ado, nothing much has changed at Crested Butte, where the ski area operator has been hoping to expand onto nearby slopes of Snodgrass Mountain.
Shocking many, the regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service last autumn announced he would not accept a proposal. This delighted a significant proportion of the Crested Butte population, who would like to keep things pretty much as they are.
But the ski area operator was dismayed, believing the forester had indicated that there was a green light for environmental review – which, in most cases, results in approval of ski area expansions. Many in the community similarly have believed that more intermediate terrain will be crucial if Crested Butte hopes to rebuild its slipping tourism economy.
The ski area appealed that decision to a higher-level official in California, Jim Peña, who concluded that the regional forester had not done anything wrong. The ski area indicated it will appeal the decision up another level to Tom Tidwell, the Forest Service chief in Washington D.C.
Revelstoke not quite resort town
REVELSTOKE, B.C. – A few years ago, it looked like Revelstoke might be the next big thing in the resort world. Revelstoke Mountain resort did open, with the promise of having the most descent of any ski area in North America. Real estate product began going up at the base.
But a report from Alan Mason, the director of community economic development in the town of 8,000, suggests it’s nowhere near Whistler just yet. While income in resort communities tends to come from outside income, 75 percent of income in Revelstoke came from wages as of 2007. Public-sector and forestry jobs lead the wage-paying jobs, both more than twice as much as tourism. The Canadian Pacific Railroad is also a major employer. This income diversity has served Revelstoke well.
Real estate prices rocketed as the new resort got underway, going from $130,000 to $540,000 in the span of three years. But they have since slipped to $370,000.
Mason said that the experiences of Fernie and Golden, two other resort towns in British Columbia, suggest a slow, steady gain in population can be expected. He noted that Whistler, with a base population of 9,000 people, hasn’t grown hugely because of the millions of visitors.
Aspenites like it where they are
ASPEN, Colo. – Already, Aspen has a distinctly grayish tint to its population. In future years, as baby boomers begin to retire, 88 percent of locals want to stay in Aspen. That works out to a potential market for 1,200 people for retirement housing.
“They don’t want to move downvalley, or to Arizona, or Timbuktu,” said Iris Marsh, executive director of the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation. “Some of these people have been here 30, 40 years or more, and this is their home. They have invested in the community, contributed to the community. Their friends and family are here.”
With that in mind, the foundation has assembled conceptual plans for a continuing-care retirement community. Included would be 60 independent-living apartments, 40 assisted-living apartments, and 20 skilled nursing rooms, as well as communal facilities such as a dining hall.
There is already a substantial waiting list for rooms at an existing assisted-living facility in Aspen.
Telluride nixes scalping ban
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride’s town council has rejected an anti-scalping law that the town marshal had proposed in anticipation of two Phish concerts this summer.
The Telluride Watch explains that the proposed law was designed to dissuade fans without tickets from going to Telluride in hopes of securing spots at the sold-out shows through professional ticket sellers. But one council member called the effort naïve, and another wondered why concert tickets should be treated any differently than bolts at the hardware store.
The marshal, Jim Kolar, conceded the rejection of his idea. “If they want to pay $1,500 a ticket – it’s a free market,” he said.
Pay to climb?
WESTCLIFFE, Colo. – The Forest Service has been talking about pay-to-play programs again, this time in connection with a basin used by climbers to access four of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. The agency has talked about $10 for dayhikers and $20 for campers in South Colony Basin, a mostly above-timberline valley in the Sangre de Cristo Range.
But if it works there, government officials tell The Denver Post, the same fee system may be employed at other popular backcountry areas to help pay for maintenance and such things as backcountry privies.
The state has 54 of the 14ers, all but one located on public land. The problem, say officials, is that government budgets for recreational maintenance have not keep up with growing use – nor do they expect them to.
“We don’t see in the big picture, that recreation funding is going to be a top priority with all the other issues – the war on terror, health care, saving Social Security, and cutting the federal deficit,” said Mike Smith, a forester with the San Isabel National Forest.
Hikers tell the newspapers that some people will accept the fees, but others fear what one described as a slippery slope of incremental costs for use of public lands. The Forest Service already levies fees for access to big peaks in Washington state, Oregon, and California.