Mountain Town News

Mountain Town News
Allen Best - 09/19/2019

Late-changing trees leave questions

VAIL – It’s an odd autumn so far in Colorado’s high country. The aspen leaves that usually have started their dazzle by mid-September almost uniformly retain the deeper green of summer chlorophyll.

“It’s kind of shocking to me,” Crested Butte Mayor Jim Schmidt, who observed the fall turning in Crested Butte since 1978, said.

Schmidt tells visitors to expect peak colors in Crested Butte between Sept. 20-26. On Monday, he reported, yellow was almost entirely absent.

On a trip from Denver to Grand Junction last weekend, trees also had yet to change. The color shift normally occurs a week or two earlier in Summit County than in Vail, where I lived from 1985-98. In a Facebook post Sunday, I joked that we went to the edge of the Earth in search of yellowing aspen. My joke was an allusion to the Grand Mesa, where a road goes to a point called Lands End. There, at an elevation of 10,500 feet, you can look down almost 6,000 feet to the valley below.

There we did see a lone yellowing aspen.

Acquaintances responded to my Facebook post with observations of columbine in full bloom in early September, one at 13,000 feet near Telluride and another at 12,000 feet near Vail.

Climate is rife with the noise of weather, with wide swings year to year. “Average” never perfunctorily falls on a date or number. That said, we know the edges of summer have been expanding in Colorado and elsewhere. In Gunnison, retired geology professor Bruce Bartelson has been curating local temperature records. Growing season has expanded to 80 days, up from 67 days previously. Most notable have been the rising night-time minimum temperatures.

In Aspen, Jim Kravitz was cautious. He’s the director of the naturalist programs at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. “I’m not going to speak boldly & say we’ve broken new ground,” he said.

Kravitz does not have deep records of aspen changing in their namesake town. But he has been taking photographs the last eight years and has also spoken with long-time residents. They tell him that the late color is unusual but not unique.

Many things influence when and how aspen change, including both temperatures and moisture but also genetics and light. Spring hung on late this year, and then late summer was exceptionally hot and dry.

What ensures the transformation are clear, bright days & cold nights. They could come soon, producing peak colors by the last weekend in September. “I’m thinking it will happen quick,” Kravitz said.

Will Moffat’s rails ever reach Park City?

CRAIG – David Moffat never lived to see his rails stretch all the way from Denver to Salt Lake City. Now comes a proposal that would get them closer, putting the railroads within 105 miles of Park City.

Moffat was a banker whose fingers were everywhere in Denver as well as in the mining camps upon which the young city depended. From the earliest days, Denver wanted a direct link to Salt Lake and then California.

In 1861, just three years after the first gold strike, boosters had retained mountain man Jim Bridger to identify a route across the steep wall of mountains. He took them across Berthoud Pass and past what later became the base of the Winter Park ski area, more or less the route of what is now U.S. 40.

For his railroad, Moffat instead chose an even higher notch in the Continental Divide, 11,660-foot Rollins Pass. The rails reached Steamboat Springs in 1908 but to go farther, Moffat needed more money. He was in New York City in 1911, trying to scrounge the money to do so, when he died.

Two years later, the railroad reached Craig, and in 1928, a tunnel under the Continental Divide was completed, delivering passengers to within 100 yards of the ski lifts of what in 1938 became the Winter Park ski area. Trains were crucial to the early days of both Winter Park and Steamboat.

Now comes a plan for furthering the rails westward from Craig. The Craig Daily Press reports that the Rio Grande Pacific Corp. has filed notice of its intention to extend the rail line 185 miles west to Myton, Utah. If this happens, that puts the rails 105 miles short of Park City.

Two routes are being considered, the lesser one costing $5 billion.

The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition in Utah has filed notice with a federal agency that it seeks to ship crude oil, gilsonite, coal and other mineral and agriculture products out of the Uinta Basin. Trains could also import fracking sand and other items needed for oil and gas production southwest of Dinosaur National Monument.

Grizzly gets last laugh on drunk

BANFF, Alberta – Whatever was he thinking? Obviously, the 35-year-old man from Saskatchewan was not thinking of getting a $4,000 fine when he got out of a pickup truck in Banff National Park and began shouting at a young grizzly bear.

Two nearby photographers who had been observing the grizzly for some time captured what happened next. Devin Mitsuing shouted at the bear and threw rocks for five or 10 minutes, then adopted a boxing stance before charging the bear, which fled.

He and companions were later found in British Columbia, at the Radium Hot Springs, too inebriated to be allowed to drive. To compound things, when his day in court came, he failed to show.

Prosecutors, said the Rocky Mountain Outlook, had charged him with disturbing wildlife in a national park. Jeremy Newton, the prosecutor, also said that not only did the man from Saskatchewan put himself in danger, but he put every other person who comes across this bear in danger in the future.

A tale of two very different economies

KETCHUM – Again comes a report of two economies in a mountain resort valley, this time from the Ketchum-Sun Valley area.

“We have two types of residents,” David Patrie, outreach director for Sun Valley Economic Development, said in a recent public briefing. “We have those who derive income from outside the county. They could be trust-funders, or they could work remotely for Google. Our economy works pretty well for those folks. Then we’ve got people who depend on Blaine County to make a living. It’s not working as well for them.”

“Juiced by outside money, home prices rose much faster than local wealth,” the Idaho Mountain Express explains. “The strain is showing in the labor market. Companies can’t find workers at wages they can pay, and workers can’t find a place to live – let alone one they can afford.”

About 16 percent of people in Blaine County are uninsured. That’s higher than the state and national averages, says the Express, and higher than in the counties where Aspen, Jackson Hole, Park City, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge are located.

Lodging but without the staffing needs

JACKSON, Wyo. – Here comes yet another high-end resort project, this time along a ski run at Jackson Hole.

The 134,000-square-foot property is to be “highly amenitized,” Rob DesLauriers, who is representing the owner of the property, said. He has developed two previous lodging properties at the base of the ski area. The plan is for indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a spa, plus a restaurant.

Building a luxury residential project was more appealing than a hotel, he said, because it requires less staff in a seasonal economy.

Big affordable housing project is a go

EAGLE – Eagle’s elected officials have approved the first draft of what the Vail Daily describes as the largest real estate development in the last decade. Of the 500 units in The Reserve at Hockett Gulch, 400 are to be one- and two-bedroom rental units. Some of those units will be deed restricted, available for rental only to those who work in Eagle County an average of 30 hours a week. The project plans call for significant density, about 16 units per acre.

New fossil discovery a feisty little thing

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta – After all these years of giving, the Burgess shales of the Rocky Mountains continue to produce new and interesting fossils. The latest, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, is a species described as a pair of large, egg-shaped eyes and a multi-tool head with long walking legs.

The scorpion-like creature also has several pairs of limbs that could sense, grasp, crush, cut and chew.

This find occurred in the Marble Canyon excavation site on the British Columbia side of the Continental Divide, relatively near Banff. The shales are famous for the exceptional preservation of fossils from 500 million years ago.