String Cheese fills bleachers but not cash registers

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The String Cheese Incident, a Grateful Dead-type band that was born in Crested Butte a decade ago, was the marquee attraction at Steamboat's July 4th celebration. Bookends were James Brown, the soul singer, and Earl Scruggs, the bluegrass icon.

That rainbow coalition of musical talent drew 11,000 people and produced $9,000 in sales taxes for municipal coffers, even if it didn't fill many high-end hotel rooms. Still, the Steamboat Springs City Council definitely wants a different headliner for next year. According to the Steamboat Pilot, a jazz festival, country music or even full-fledged bluegrass affair were all mentioned at a recent council session.
The String Cheese crowd, council members indicated, could have been more respectful to the community and, according to at least one, Bud Romberg, could have left more money. Only one council member wanted to see String Cheese return.

"We do provide a lot of culture and activities for the older and more well-to-do demographic," said Councilman Paul Strong. "But we do not provide a lot of culture for our younger and less-affluent demographic. String Cheese is a part of that culture."

For the record, the concert promoter defined "mainstream" as being exemplified by Dave Matthews, Train and Sheryl Crow.

Tahoe ski resorts expecting big snow

LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. – Ski resorts at Lake Tahoe are being told to expect snow, and plenty of it for the next two winters. El Niño, the tropical weather phenomenon that originates in the South Pacific, is gaining strength.

Still, next winter's weather may not be nearly as severe at the Sierra Nevada resorts as the last time El Niño came through, 1997-98, or even as 1982 or 1986, reports the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Ultra-endurance wilderness race to attract 10,000 bikers

CANMORE, ALBERTA – Although it started out small, organizers of an ultra-endurance wilderness bicycle race held in Alberta this summer project they'll attract 10,000 bikers within five years.

The event, called the TransRockies Challenge, is modeled upon a similar bicycling stage event in the Alps. The 200 participants in Canada vied for a $20,000 prize purse. The big-stakes nature of these new made-for-TV sweat-soaked backcountry events is illustrated by the financing. The TransRockies race cost at least $300,000 to stage, and organizers don't expect to break even for at least four more years. But they insisted they'll return for at least five more years. They point out that after starting out with 220 teams just four years ago, the European race now attracts 6,500 entrants, according to the Canmore Leader.

Concerns about impacts to wildlife and other resources caused bicycle riders to be diverted briefly onto the crowded TransCanada Highway. Racer organizers say that's unacceptable in the future. Local officials rave about the publicity possibilities of the race. Canmore Mayor Glen Craig called the event an opportunity to get on a world stage "to further enhance our image of being a Mecca for sports tourism." Located downstream from Banff and its nearby Lake Louise ski area, Canmore is described as a community of "outdoor, athletic, healthy people."

Mushroom collecting in a year when there are few

TELLURIDE – Mushroom scavenging in the drought-plagued Southern Rockies is described as being somewhere between grim and mediocre. Mushrooms need moisture, both early and late, and there's been a paucity at both ends.

Still, some mushrooms can be found in the forests. Would it be acceptable to harvest them? Or should they be left alone?

Two knowledgeable sources in Telluride suggested to the Telluride Watch that it's OK to get the 'shrooms, but show some restraint. Collecting too many mushrooms in one spot is the most damaging, says Art Goodtimes, a Green Party member who is also a commissioner in San Miguel County.
John Sir Jesse agrees. "Too many people in an area leads to compaction," he says, causing less water and oxygen around the underground elements of the mushrooms. He admits to having worried about over-picking by restaurants, commercial picnickers and recreational gathers, and he favors limiting commercial picking. However, he notes that in years with weather conducive to mushrooms, they thrive even in areas that have been heavily picked.

Both men recommend mushrooms be filed cleaned – using a knife at the site to shake off some of the spore, causing additional propagation.

Plucking the entire mushroom is like taking all the apples from a tree. Some seed should remain.

Vail considers $50 million conference center

VAIL – Town voters in Vail will be asked in November to approve $5 million in debt in order to build a conference center that, according to one study, will result in 70,000 additional lodging rental nights by the fifth year of operation.

For nearly 20 years, the town has debated whether to build a convention center. The largest existing space in town is 8,300 square feet, located in a hotel. This conference center would have 40,000 square feet. A Minneapolis-based consultant confidently reported a break-even in operations by the third year.

Struggling with flattened sales tax revenues, caused largely by a flat ski market, the Town Council is almost unanimous in supporting the proposal. Members argue it's an antidote for economic stagnation, and they also think that town voters may well support the issue. Twice before, ideas have been killed by voters or by evidence that they would.

What may be crucial in this debate is who gets the money. At the outset, it looks like the ski area operator, Vail Resorts Inc., is priming the pump handsomely. It has offered $9 million for the hotel site. Moreover, because of the larger land mass, the building need not rise as high, and hence costs will be kept a little lower.

But this donation is not exactly philanthropy. Vail Resorts last year bought a nearby hotel, the Marriott, which would stand to benefit most from the adjacent convention center, as Diana Donovan, a resident skeptic, pointed out to the Vail Daily. She also questions whether airports are close enough to make the optimistic projections realistic. Denver International Airport is more than two hours away, and Eagle Country Regional Airport is at least 30 minutes. Convention-goers are thought to favor places where they can hop off and on planes.

Also potentially important are nonresident property owners. They have become more aggressively involved in town politics, opposing tax increases that do not benefit their interests. However, the convention center would be paid for primarily by lodging and sales tax increases, less directly affecting them.

Winter Park looks to build an on-mountain reservoir

WINTER PARK – Winter Park is looking to join the ski areas that have or are planning on building on-mountain reservoirs for snowmaking. Vail already has some on-mountain storage and is looking to expand that storage significantly with a small reservoir near the top of the mountain. Snowmass is also creating on-mountain storage.

The Winter Park Manifest reports that ski-area planners there are studying potential for a reservoir that would store 40 acre-feet. Discussions are reported to have just started, and the Forest Service, which administers the land, is studying the bigger picture of how the water would be used.

On average, Winter Park uses 58 million gallons for its snowmaking, or about 171 acre-feet. By having on-mountain storage, the ski area is buffered against limitations on already dry streams. Research suggests that area streams haven't flown this low since1851.

Town may seek another $10 million for open space

PARK CITY, UTAH – Having now spent the $10 million bond approved by voters in 1998 for open space, government officials may ask for $10 million more in November.

Three-quarters of the money was spent last year to buy a 424-acre property. City property owners are paying for that original bond, the first of its kind in Utah, at the rate of $18 per primary home or $33 for second homes and commercial property, per $100,000 of assessed value. Unlike Colorado and most other states, Utah has a "homestead" provision that causes nonresident homes to be taxed at a higher rate.

Municipalities try to get off the gas habit

VAIL – The municipality of Vail has added a hybrid Toyota Prius, which has both a gasoline engine and an electric motor, to its fleet. The car cost $20,000. It has a low-emission rating and gets 40 to 50 miles per gallon. If successful, the town will add other hybrid vehicles to its fleet of 300 backhoes, Saabs and buses.

Breckenridge, meanwhile, is converting town buses and machinery to soy-based biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel reduces cancer-causing emissions by up to 90 percent but costs 12 to 16 cents more per gallon. It also jells more readily in extreme cold.

Crested Butte wonders about real estate offices

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte has joined the ranks of ski towns, among them Aspen and Park City, wondering whether street-level real estate offices are dampening retail sales and hence the sales taxes that keep town government going.

Seven real estate businesses and one property-management firm are found on the ground level on Elk Avenue, the town's dominant business street. The town has taken a look at excluding those businesses from the street level, a concept called horizontal zoning.

As have newspapers when the idea came up in their towns, the Crested Butte News went out to see what people had to say. Some thought enough was enough already – more retail diversity was needed. Others concluded that real estate really is the primary product. And others remain leery of government making business decisions. "There is potential for socially engineering ourselves into a corner," said one property owner, Brad Morton.

Jim Gebhardt, owner of Coldwell Banker Real Estate, counseled patience and perspective in the 1970s, he said, nobody would have expected a T-shirt shop to survive. And, although real estate offices proliferate now, the market could turn tomorrow and many could disappear.

It's eye for eye, two wolves for four cows in Wyoming

JACKSON, WYO. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a permit to a rancher grazing cattle in the Gros Ventre River area to shoot as many as two wolves if he catches them attacking his livestock.

This is the first such permit issued in the Jackson Hole area since wolves were reintroduced to northwest Wyoming in the early 1990s, reports the Jackson Hole Guide. Death of three calves and a yearling had been documented by government agents. However, they have had difficulty figuring out which wolves did the killing. However, federal wildlife agents recently killed three wolves on a national forest elsewhere in Wyoming in an effort to end chronic livestock depredation.

In Montana, meanwhile, federal agents have authorized killing of wolves responsible for killing two llamas. But it's a somewhat futile proposition, reports the Missoula Independent. "We can't just have vulnerable animals standing out there waiting to be killed, and then killing the predators," said Ed Bangs, coordinator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's wolf recovery program.

Wolf proponents are helping llama owners to erect electric fences. Also strings of fladry, which look like Tibetan prayer flags, are being strung in the hope that they will, at least for a time, discourage wolf attacks.

Lake Tahoe looks to cut visually intrusive homes

LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. – In fast-growing mountain towns, it's a constant contest about which will hold the human eye, houses or hills. In recent years, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the houses seem to be gaining the upper hand.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency says that man-made structures are beginning to dominate the natural environment there. This, according to staff members, is because there's too much horse trading going on. The staff wants a more black-and-white review process.

The system they propose would use numbers to rate the contrast a home creates with the natural environment at the shoreline. The less contrast produced by a structure, the greater amount of lake view a property owner would be allowed. For example, if somebody wanted to attach a deck to an existing home, he or she might be required to paint it a darker earth tone color before a permit is issued.

Opponents argue the new system has been rushed and unstudied, and warn of dramatic economic consequences.

Owner says lease is too much for gallery

ASPEN – An art gallery owner who has led the charge to revitalize Aspen's economy has succumbed to the high lease costs that he says are part of the problem.

Barry Gordon has two gallery locations, the first opened 18 years ago. The second, smaller, and off-main street location has 1,100 square feet and costs him $7,000 a month to lease, plus fees. That's too much, he says, and he's closing the second gallery, although not the first.

The Aspen Times reports that Gordon also has tried to reinvigorate Aspen's flagging downtown sector by enticing chefs to put on demonstrations on Saturdays and by enlisting stores to remain open until 10 p.m. on Fridays. In addition, the organization of retailers he formed has lobbied the City Council to limit real estate stores in Aspen. The council resisted emergency action, although Gordon thinks the effort may accelerate such a zoning reform.






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