Pitkin County goes bear proof

ASPEN, Colo. Pitkin County authorities have ordered that 90-gallon plastic garbage containers be replaced by steel, bear-proof containers or bear-proof enclosures. The edict was issued in the wake of yet more human-bear encounters in what wildlife officials say is an unprecedented season of such interactions.

Localized freezes in June that apparently wiped out much of the berry and acorn crops, which are the mainstays of the diets for black bears, are cited in explaining why so many bears are trying to get food from people in both Summit County and in the Aspen-Snowmass area. Particularly of concern is the absence of fear exhibited by the bears, who have been showing up in the light of day in heavily frequented areas near Aspen.

The county commissioners three years ago ordered bear-resistant plastic carts as a minimum, but did not require the locking, steel containers. At that time, the steel containers cost twice as much, $600, than the plastic varieties.

But the plastic carts amount to "little picnic boxes" for bears, in the words of Jonathan Lowsky, the county's wildlife biologist. "A big bear sits on it and it caves in enough that he can pull out the trash," Lowsky explained.

Because of such strong demand for the steel containers, the price has dropped to $300, the same as for the plastic. Lowsky said the county won't expect immediate compliance everywhere, but good-faith efforts.

Ski area takes on global warming

ASPEN, Colo. The Aspen Skiing Co. has very clearly identified global warming as the top environmental challenge, not only for the planet but for the ski company itself. To that end, the company is trying to reduce or at least minimize the increases in the emissions of greenhouse gases caused by its own actions.

To that end, the company in July began tapping a source of renewable energy in its own back yard, the streams that cascade down the mountain slopes.

At nearby Snowmass, the company has created the first of what it says will be several microhydro plants. Unlike large dams, they take some of the water out of a creek but don't block the flow. "Such systems can generate electricity from relatively small water flows, even seasonal streams. You don't need to build the Hoover Dam," says Auden Schendler, the company's environmental affairs director.

The microhydro plant uses the resort's existing snowmaking infrastructure. Water from a snowmaking storage pond higher up the mountain is drained during spring and summer to a 115-kilowatt turbine. The plant is projected to make 250,000 kwh annually, or enough to power 40 homes while preventing the emission of 500,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. Schendler estimates the ski company will be able to recoup its investment in seven years.

Paintballers target idle tennis courts

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. Tennis was to the '70s what golf was to the '90s. But now, tennis courts are going unused or, in the case of Copper Mountain, being converted into mini-battlegrounds.

The new sport being embraced by a younger generation is called paintball, in which teams of players engage in a game similar to tag but use guns called "markers." The markers shoot balls of vegetable-based paint.

After a new store catering to participants opened in Frisco earlier this year, U.S. Forest Service officials were distressed to discover that paintballers had been shooting it up in the local forests. The paint, said foresters, isn't all that instantly biodegradable. Pushed to find a legitimate place for paintball battles, the merchant approached Intrawest officials at Copper Mountain.

"We're entrepreneurs, and we're told outright not to be afraid to try new things," Robert Stenhammer, who manages lodging at Copper, told the Summit Daily News . Two tennis courts were covered with 300 tons of sand and outfitted with a 17-foot-high fence with special netting.

Woman walks around the world

VAIL, Colo. Five years ago Polly Letofsky walked out of Vail and vowed not to return until she had walked around the world.

On July 30, she delivered on her promise, arriving in Vail after walking through 22 countries, wearing out 29 pairs of shoes and covering 14,124 miles.

Letofsky had dreamed of walking around the world since she was 12 years old. The idea of walking into and through different cultures captivated her, she explained. And that's exactly what she did.

Along the way, she spread culture herself. Armed with an infectious smile and ebullient spirit, she spread the cause of breast cancer awareness, promoting the need for mammograms and lending support to the breast-cancer victims she encountered along the way.

Her favorite country? Turkey, with its blend of East and West, old and new.

But now comes the hard part. What do you do for an encore once you've done something no woman has ever done before?

"I'm scared for you," a man told her in Ontario last year. The man had taken a five-month bike trip across America, but found that getting settled afterward was the toughest time of his life. He plugged himself into his old life, but he was a different person. He didn't belong anymore.

'Last Supper' copy ordered removed

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. A copy of Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" has been ordered removed from the Senior Center on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe.

The building is owned by the city, and hence the city attorney said the painting, which depicts a scene from the Christian story, violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment requires separation of church and state.

City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo said the criterion is clear: anything that can be perceived as a government endorsement of religion and is easily identifiable. If the artwork is displayed during a private function, it would be allowed.

The Tahoe Daily Tribune reports that the order angered many seniors, who wondered who reported the painting. "No one knows who the snitch is," said one of the seniors.

Snowmass second homes want vote

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. The proposal by the Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest to create a new base-area village in Snowmass Village is headed toward a showdown and some second-home owners want to be in the middle of the fray.

Opponents who believe the proposal calls for buildings that are both too high and too dense may seek a public vote if the Town Council approves the plan. But in Snowmass Village, as in most resort towns, the nonresident property owners have no vote unless they choose to declare the town as their primary residence, reports the Vail Daily .

"It's difficult to comprehend that 175 people can make this decision (to force a referendum) when second-home owners own the most expensive real estate in the Village," said Jerry Rich, whose primary home is in Boca Raton, Fla.

Mel Blumenthal, whose primary residence is Los Angeles, said residents should get a vote in the local elections if they own property there. It is, he says, a matter of fairness.

"If it wasn't for the vast number of second-home owners providing both property tax support, transfer tax support, all of it, we wouldn't have the kind of infrastracture that's here. Aspen and Snowmass are too small to be able to afford world-class hospitals, fire departments."

A recent study partially backs Blumenthal's claim. Property taxes alone don't pay for much of a community's infrastructure, at least in Colorado, but the economy created by vacation homes has become the strongest economic driver in the Aspen and Vail areas, overshadowing conventional tourism.

Only one municipality, Mountain Village, has given nonresident property owners the right to vote.

Steamboat looks at smoking ban

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. The idea of a ban on smoking in public plans has been taken up in Steamboat Springs, although nobody is in a rush.

There has been some talk of getting a measure on the November ballot, but then even the anti-smoking specialists decided that would be too rushed. As talked about initially, the ban would be limited, requiring only that restaurants provide nonsmoking sections.

In contrast, nearly all of Colorado's Summit County has banned smoking in indoor businesses that cater to the public. Banff allows smoking only in rooms where service is not provided or expected.

compiled by Allen Best





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