Mountain Town News
By Allen Best
Enrollment suggests a bottom
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Has the recession bottomed out in Telluride? If school enrollment in August was any guide, it has. The gain in students wasn’t large, but at least enrollment hadn’t declined, as was the case last year. In Wyoming, schools in Jackson Hole also reported a gain from last year.
Downhill slide … for wages
ASPEN, Colo. – Taking stock of recent labor statistics, The Aspen Times finds fewer people laboring in Aspen and Pitkin County and getting lower wages when they do.
A state agency found the recession had caused a 10 percent drop in wage earners in Aspen and Pitkin County. Wages declined 5 percent.
The Times, in noting these statistics, pointed out that they are incomplete, because Aspen is not an island unto itself. For example, while statistics are kept by counties, many contractors are based down-valley, in other counties. Similarly, the statistics do not reflect the toils of people who work for themselves.
Tax receipts point to decent July
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Mountain towns broadly enjoyed an uptick in business during July.
At Sun Valley, Idaho, the ski area operator reported a strong summer and expectations of “substantially” more business in August and September.
In Colorado, Mt. Crested Butte had 24 percent more sales tax collections for July as compared to the same month last year. The ski area’s new attractions of mini golf and the Evolution Bike Park likely contributed to the spike.
In Steamboat Springs, where collections of taxes on sales rose 1.7 percent compared with July 2009. It was the first monthly increase compared to the year prior since August 2008.
For the year, Steamboat’s tax collections are down 3.3 percent compared to last year.
Crested Butte salvages past
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Town officials in Crested Butte were planning to do a mini-archaeological dig involving the town’s earlier incarnation as a coal-mining town. The Crested Butte News notes that bricks from long-ago abandoned coke ovens were discovered as dirt was being moved to prepare for paving of a parking lot.
“I don’t want to raise any expectations, but we are going to try to see if we can excavate one or two of the ovens that might still be intact,” explained Bob Gillie, the building and zoning director for the town.
The ovens weren’t necessarily a surprise. A plaque in the general vicinity notes that 154 ovens were positioned in two rows between 1882 and 1918. Lined with bricks, the ovens could be heated to high temperatures of 2,000 degrees, hot enough to remove impurities that caused the coal to smoke. As such, the coal was of greater use in the production of steel at the mills in Pueblo, Colo.
Three require rabies shots
KETCHUM, Idaho – Three more people in the Wood River Valley have been vaccinated for rabies after direct encounters with aggressive bats. One person was bitten, indicating that the bat probably had rabies. Two more people may have been bitten and were vaccinated as a safety measure.
The Idaho Mountain Express explains that rabies can be fatal if left untreated, although it can take months for symptoms to appear after a bite. A public health official says that when bats have rabies, they will be out in the daytime and may roll around on the ground.
Politicians undecided on pot
CARBONDALE, Colo. – Mountain and other towns in Colorado continue to work through where marijuana can be sold —and grown.
In Carbondale, located 30 miles down-valley from Aspen, 12 businesses have already been licensed to sell marijuana. In addition, one business has been authorized to grow the plants.
Town officials have treated these pot shops much like liquor stores, requiring they be at least 500 feet from school property. But they’re unsure how to deal with the “grows,” as the mini-pot farms are called.
One town trustee, Frosty Merriott, says that wherever such grows are allowed, the pot farmers should be required to get at least 30 percent of their energy needs, it not more, from renewable sources. He has lobbied for a similar requirement for a major new retailer in Carbondale.
No marijuana dispensaries exist in Basalt, 10 miles up the valley, but it’s not for lack of trying. A group called Basalt Alternative Medicine had applied, but was informed that the application didn’t comply with several regulations.
Forest thinning takes root
LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Across the West, land managers have started thinning forests adjacent to towns or in watersheds from which towns and cities draw their water.
The general thinking is that it’s none too wise to have giant forest fires that might spread into towns. But there’s a second need, to prevent reservoirs and lakes from filling with sediment.
That’s certainly a worry in Colorado, where an epidemic of bark beetles is on its way to killing 90 percent of the lodgepole pine that dominate mid-elevation forests.
Some of this worry stems from the aftereffects of several giant fires southwest of Denver, particularly the Hayman Fire of 2002.Those fires blackened hillsides for miles and miles amid terrain where Denver has several major reservoirs. The heat was so intense it charred the soil, precluding regeneration, and also created hardened soil that precluded it from absorbing moisture. The result in downpours was massive erosion that quickly filled reservoirs, making them less functional, requiring dredging that cost many millions of dollars.
To reduce the likelihood of that happening, the U.S. Forest Service and the Denver Water Department have agreed to join in a $33 million tree-thinning effort in forested areas upstream from the reservoirs. Some of this thinning will get done in Summit County, home to Dillon Reservoirs, one of Denver’s largest impoundments.
What they hope to preclude in Colorado is something along the lines of the Angora Fire, which in 2007 blazed in the Lake Tahoe Basin, along the California-Nevada border. This is near the Heavenly ski area. But for whatever reason, the 2007 fire had no significant impact on the famed clarity of Lake Tahoe, according to a recent report.
If the Angora Fire didn’t muddy Lake Tahoe appreciably, it did open the door to increased funding for thinning operations. Despite the fire, some folks in the basin still are skeptical, the Sierra Sun reports. Some have even argued that land managers are selling trees to make money, a charge stoutly denied by the same managers.