Ice climbing park in Ouray
OURAY, Colo. – A calico cat sat in the highway that bisects Ouray one night last week, unfazed by passing traffic because, in fact, there was none. Nights this time of year get quiet in Ouray.
The town is located in a spectacularly beautiful amphitheater at the north end of the San Juan Mountains, a few miles as the crow flies from both Telluride and Silverton but separated by tall mountains.
Ouray was one of the richer mining towns, a bit like Aspen, as is still evident in the gingerbread Victorian architecture. Thomas Walsh, one of the miners, got so wealthy so quickly that he bought a bauble for his daughter. It’s called the Hope diamond.
Mining petered out in the 1980s, but has come back to life a few times. At least one mine is now operating again, and it was in the news last week after the U.S. government imposed a fine of more than $1 million as the result of the deaths of two miners last November. They died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the Revenue-Virginius Mine.
But like most old mining towns, Ouray today makes most of its living from tourism. Some 80 percent of all sales tax revenues now occur within three months of summer, and most of that in just six weeks. During those weeks, you hear a lot of accents from Texas.
Winters remain relatively quiet, but they used to be much more sleepy. Mayor Pam Larson recalls that 20 years ago only two motels, at best, remained open through winter, and just one restaurant.
Today, it’s a far livelier place during winter, with several hundred motel rooms available, as well as a variety of restaurants and shops. A big reason for the new vitality is ice climbing.
It began as something of an accident. A pipe conveying water into the town sprang a leak and, in the cold temperatures, produced a nice wall of ice on a narrow gorge in the winter shadows. In short order, somebody realized that this could be a good thing.
Now, the ice is intentionally created every fall, providing challenges for everybody from children just learning how to climb ice to some of the world’s best ice climbers.
“There is literally nothing like it in the world,” said Nate Disser of San Juan Mountain Guides.
He estimated the ice park has 13,000 user days each winter, 84 percent of them non-guided.
Access to the ice park is free, although, of course, motel rooms are not.
Truckee River just a trickle
RENO, Nev. – The Truckee River that flows off the Sierra Nevada has been reduced to a shallow stream as it flows through Reno.
The Associated Press notes that outfitters who normally send rafts down the river through October this year shut down at the end of July.
The flows in the river at the California-Nevada stateline were the lowest in two decades for this time of year, dropping to 70 cubic feet per second at Reno.
Lashing the whip on rentals
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The municipality of South Lake Tahoe has whiplashed homeowners renting out their properties, but not collecting sales and lodging taxes.
Lake Tahoe News reports that the city conducted an audit of one vacation home rental and then collected $14,800 in transient occupancy taxes. The owner denied the illegal activity, but a criminal investigation showed the owner had been renting the home since at least 2008.
Another case yielded $24,000 in fees paid as a result of past rentals.
El Dorado County is also pushing a good neighbor program in case of neighborhood home rentals.
Going a little less organic
DURANGO, Colo. – Three weed-infested parks in Durango may lose their organic designation, getting artificial fertilizers and herbicides.
Mayor Sweetie Marbury said one of her nearby parks is “deathly ill.”
Durango, explains the Durango Herald, has nine parks that can get only organic fertilizers and herbicides. But taking the three parks out of the program will save the city $66,000.
Building activity on the rise
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Many ski town newspapers tell of development proposals moving through the review pipeline.
In Telluride, officials with San Miguel County are reviewing two different residential developments outside of Telluride.
One of those projects would involve 20 single-family residential lots, and the other, 15 single-family residential lots. The Telluride Daily Planet says the County is asking for a .2-acre piece of property to be reserved for a larger affordable housing project in one of the neighborhoods.
In Crested Butte, Dallas-based Cypress Equities has submitted an application to annex 44 acres of land into the town with the idea of developing 115 housing units.
In Steamboat Springs, developer Curt Weiss has broken ground on 14 townhomes. The units were originally approved by city officials in 2009, Steamboat Today notes.
And in Ketchum, the company that has approval to build a hotel is seeking an extension. The project has been more than 10 years in the making and finally got approved in 2010 for 119 rooms and 19 condominiums.
But the Bald Mountain Lodge hasn’t been able to secure funding. Bald Mountain LLC, the developer, reports being in conversation with a Colorado-based partnership, called the Aspen Group. If this Colorado-based group is to provide funding for construction, Bald Mountain needs an extension of the approvals to allow construction to begin next summer.