More visitors spend less at Yellowstone and Teton

JACKSON HOLE, WYO.—Visitation was up 2 percent this summer at the south gate of Yellowstone National Park and 4 percent at Grand Teton National Park, but those visitors were spending less – except on gas.

“I think we see people being a little bit more frugal while they’re here,” said Chris Hansen, marketing manager for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. “Not as many high-end purchases, not as many nights out at restaurants.”

Statistics from Grand Teton in August support that observation. While visitation rose only slightly, campgrounds were busier and the backcountry even more so.

But the big story this year, says the Jackson Hole News (Sept. 25-Oct. 1) may be the boom in recreation vehicles. RV counts jumped 14 percent in Grand Teton during August, compared to the same month last year. Gas sales at the Grand Teton Lodge Co.’s posh Jackson Lake Lodge were up 5 to 8 percent. However, few of the RVs stopped in nearby Jackson, where parking is at a premium.

Home prices flat over last two years in Summit County

SUMMIT COUNTY —Real estate prices have been flat for the last two years in Summit County, and in some cases they have dipped. The trend was noted about 18 months ago at River Run, the Intrawest real estate project at the base of Keystone. There, buyers had been pushed to get a piece of mountain real estate before it was all gone. Plenty did, apparently thinking they could turn around the condos for a quick profit in the resale market. Instead, prices on such units have been 15 percent below the original price.

But it’s not just Keystone. Both the Summit Daily News (Sept. 30) and the Denver Post have recently carried stories on the glut of real estate and the flat and dropping prices. The Multiple Listing Service is now showing more than 2,000 properties, not including timeshares or property for sale by owners or developers.

Perhaps most telling, properties have been on the market for 203 days before selling. That compares with 100 days in a booming market. As a result, people have backed away from how much profit they’re trying to make in resales. In some cases, properties are being offered at prices less than what they were asking three years ago. The overall story, said the Summit Daily News, is that prices have been flat for two years now.

There is, however, anecdotal and limited hint of change. Several real estate brokers suggested that sales picked up over the summer. However, that observation so far seems to lack statistical confirmation.

Downtown marketing tax being debated in Park City

PARK CITY, UTAH—City officials have cautiously agreed to sponsor a proposal to tax businesses on Park City’s Main Street, with the money being returned to an organization that wants to market the business district. The proposal, says the Park Record (Sept. 25-28), is likely to spark the most contentious debate about Main Street since the City Council approved paid parking in 1997.

A similar proposal several years ago was voted down by a three-to-one margin by Main Street businesses. However, that proposal would have cost average businesses between $700 and $800 a year. This new proposal from the Main Street Business Alliance seeks to lighten the load. Only a few businesses would be charged the maximum $1,000 a year, based on square footage and business type. Most retailers would pay $200 to $300 a year; restaurants would pay $300 to $500 a year. Taxing authority would be contained within a new Old Town Business Improvement District.

A poll commissioned by the business alliance found this new proposal is supported by affected businesses by an 8-to-1 margin. Dissenters argue that the organization that conducts marketing needs greater accountability.

Main Street has been the top commercial draw in the area for 40 years is facing new competition from developments at local ski resorts as well as the factory-outlet stores.

Camper dies of exposure high in Utah’s Uinta Range

KAMAS, UTAH—A 42-year-old man died after a camping trip in the high Uinta Range of Utah.

According to The Park Record (Sept. 25-27) Authorities said two men had gone camping at about 10,000 feet and they didn’t bother to eat that much. The combination of cold and lack of nutrition may have made the victim hypothermic. The victim’s hiking partner said the victim had begun acting “kind of weird.”

Mom gets big air time for her 80th birthday gift

JACKSON, WYO.—When growing up in Maine, Arelena Hawkins often imagined soaring with the birds. But work as a bookkeeper, the duties of raising children and all the other phases of living interrupted the dream.

But finally, when approaching her 80th birthday, Hawkins’ daughter decided it was time that mom caught flight. Now living in Jackson Hole, the daughter gave her visiting mother a certificate to go paragliding. Mom took to it like a natural. She only wished the 15-minute ride had been longer.

The flight, reported the Jackson Hole News (Sept. 25-Oct. 1) was flawless from smooth take-off to picture-perfect landing, which Hawkins likened to “sliding into second base.” The only discomfort she would admit to was the cumbersome harness that attached her to the paragliding instructor. “I felt like a turtle with that harness on my back, it was so big and heavy,” she said.

Hawkins isn’t going into the night gently. She has been hot-air ballooning several times in recent years, took a helicopter ride around Denali ( a.k.a. Mount McKinley) and went whitewater rafting on the Snake River.

“It’s not for everybody,” she said of her latest adventure.

Paper says gravel pit a good reminder of town’s roots

WESTCLIFFE —Westcliffe is the commercial and intellectual center for the Wet Mountain Valley, one of Colorado’s least traveled places where ranches sweep up to 14,000-foot peaks in the Sangre de Cristos. So, it’s no coincidence that calendar photographer John Fielder, Colorado’s most successful merchandiser of outdoor scenery in the last century, named his publishing company Westcliffe.

But despite its ranching and mining roots, Westcliffe has been getting gussied up in the last 10 or 20 years. It has a jazz festival, coffee that smells good and other such things. It also has needs for a gravel pit, which is now being planned along the highway, 10 miles from the town. Said pit, with its noise, dust and heavy truck traffic, is drawing objections from residents who prefer the quiet ranching lifestyle that attracted them.

The Wet Mountain Tribune (Sept. 26) is having none of it. “Now, we like peace and quiet as well as anybody, but we think that public sentiment is beginning to push the limit of what is reasonable and realistic for our county,” said the newspaper. “Despite its recent leanings toward gentrification, Custer County remains a bastion for cow-punchers, loggers and construction workers.

True, the economic forces of the 21st century have given our county more real estate salesmen than hardrock miners. And yes, we have the trappings of the Aspens and the Jackson Holes, what with espresso shops and art galleries and gourmet restaurants. But thankfully, there are still plenty of guys with cow crap on their boots who drive their muddy pickup trucks into town. We remain, despite it all, a working-class environment.

Six-story parking garage being studied in Aspen

ASPEN —Aspen’s downtown area is in a funk, for reasons not completely understood. But several committees have identified the lack of parking as a problem. The only public parking structure in town accommodates 340 cars, but that structure, the Rio Grande garage, is often filled during peak seasons.

Now comes a new idea. A property that currently consists of an office building and an A-frame house that is being used for offices could be razed. In its place would go a six-story garage that is being billed as “luxury parking in downtown Aspen.” Three stories would be above ground, and elevators would be used to shuttle cars between floors, reports the Aspen Times (Sept. 27).

Parking spaces would be sold like condominiums, and when not in use by their owners would be placed in a short-term pool. The idea is similar to that employed in Vail in the mid-1990s, when the Golden Peak base area was redeveloped. Parking spaces there sold for up to $40,000.

When the space owner is in town, he or she notifies the management and the space is reserved. When the owner is gone, the management puts the space into the rental pool. Public parking would cost a premium for the first hour, with descending rates thereafter. That’s in reverse of most municipal parking structures, where the first hour is the cheapest. Specific prices have not yet been determined. Elected and appointed boards in Aspen are scheduled to hear the plan Oct. 21.

Sheriff has one book out and hoping to write others

TELLURIDE—Bill Masters isn’t the first county sheriff to write the book, but he may be the first author of any background to have a book-signing at a Conoco gas station.

The gas station, he confided to The Telluride Watch (Sept. 20), may have sold more copies of his book than any other outlet. A sheriff in San Miguel County since 1979, he wrote Drug War Addiction: Notes from the Front Lines of America’s #1 Policy Disaster. (Accurate Press, 2001).

Masters wrote the book at the urging of friends and members of the Libertarian Party. With the help of a Kinkos, Masters did a 24-copy test run for a Libertarian meeting in Aspen. Ironically, or perhaps not, every copy at that meeting was stolen.
When Masters finally sent it out to publishers, he made a deal with the first one that called.

The only registered Libertarian Party sheriff in the country, Masters lectures around the country on the Libertarian philosophy of responsibility and individual liberty. He said he hopes readers will think about laws, government accountability and the limits of reasonable government intervention as they read his book.

Masters’s future plans call for writing a memoir and a novel, and a book called Police Work for the Complete Idiot.

Tech downturn ripples to music concerts in Vail

VAIL—Alberto Vilar floated with the rising waters of high tech, and lately he’s been sinking with them. But that doesn’t mean that the arts organizations to which he has promised millions shouldn’t expect the money.

The New York Times reported that Vilar was late with $1.7 million in payments to two arts organization, one in New York City and the other in Washington D.C. It turns out he’s also late in delivering money to the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. He had promised $500,000 for three summers, beginning this year. That money was crucial in the ability of festival organizers to secure the services of the New York Philharmonic. The money now isn’t expected to be delivered until late this year, which organizers say is causing them to scramble. Still, the Vail Daily (Sept. 27) was unable to discern any hard feelings. Jon Giovando, director of Bravo!, said he there has been no indication from Vilar that the pledge will not be met.






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