Silverton Mountain clears hurdle

The end is in sight for Silverton Mountain Ski Area and it appears that the Bureau of Land Management is going along with the vision that started the unusual ski area. This week, the agency released a final environmental impact statement after nearly three years of work. The document recommends as many as 475 skiers a day on the mountain in a mixture of unguided and guided skiing.

Aaron Brill first submitted a proposal to the Bureau of Land Management in 1999 to operate an expert backcountry skiing operation on 350 acres of his land and 1,300 acres of adjacent BLM land about 6 miles north of Silverton. In 2001, he installed a double chairlift on his personal property, an old mining claim, with visions of creating a powder skier's paradise with $25 lift tickets and a 475-skier cap.

However, the dream was put on hold when the BLM ordered an environmental impact statement to assess the full effects of the ski area. The draft EIS was issued last summer and outlined four alternatives for operating the ski area, including the preferred alternative a mix of guided and unguided skiing.

This week, the final EIS rolled off the presses. The document would allow up to 475 unguided and guided skiers per day on as many as 1,300 acres of BLM land. Whether the entire area is open to unguided skiing would hinge on snow stability. Brill said that the area would likely take a safety-driven approach to what would be open to unguided vs. guided skiing.

"The good news is that the EIS says they want to give us the permit," he said. "I'm looking forward to offering different types of skiing to different types of skiers."

Brill added that he is pleased about the release of the final EIS but that Silverton Mountain isn't out of the woods yet.

"It's a big step closer, but it's not the final step," he said, noting that a public comment period on the EIS has just begun. With this in mind, Brill said that he expects to be guiding 80 skiers a day on the mountain this year just like last season. If the process goes smoothly, he said that there might be unguided skiing at the area this April.

However, one thing has not survived the last three years of review. Brill said that he is not sure what a ticket for unguided skiing will cost at this point. However, he added that because of the expense of the BLM's review process, which he must cover, a $25 ticket is out of the question.

"Our financial status keeps changing," Brill said. "I didn't anticipate that the EIS would cost this much or take this long. Unfortunately, the concept of a $25 lift ticket has come and gone due to the cost of a review process that has escalated way beyond our control."

The BLM will accept public comment and protest on the final EIS through Sept. 6. A Record of Decision is expected later that month. The document is available for public review at local libraries and online at

White prevails over Black in primary

Record numbers of voters turned out for last Tuesday's La Plata County Primary Election. When the polls eventually closed, Wally White prevailed over David Black in getting his name on November's ballot as the Democratic candidate for Josh Joswick's county commissioner seat.

White earned approximately 62 percent of the vote, a margin he was comfortable with. "It was a good margin of victory. It was exciting," he said. "It kind of gives a picture of what at least the Democratic side of the county wants to see for the future."

That picture, according to White, is defined by stronger growth and development regulations. "Obviously growth is the main issue and stronger growth regulations will help us to manage growth so that it will be a benefit to the county rather than a cost,"he said. "It's important to me that we take hold of our destiny here rather than letting the developers guide our future."

White said that now he is looking forward to campaigning for the real prize, which he hopes will be a victory in November's election over Republican candidate Roger Phelps.

On the state level, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar won a landslide victory over Mike Miles for the Democratic slot in the race for the U.S. Senate seat. Pete Coors also won by a large margin for the Republican slot on the ballot.

The race for the Republican nomination for Scott McInnis' U.S. House of Representatives seat was not decisive as of Wednesday. Greg Walcher led Matt Smith by just a handful of votes and election officials were looking into provisional ballots. Either Walcher or Smith will face John Salazar, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination

First local West Nile case reported

The first human case of West Nile Virus in La Plata County has been reported. The San Juan Basin Health Department announced last Friday that a local woman had contracted the disease. She is currently recovering at her home.

Joe Fowler, regional epidemiologist for the San Juan Basin Health Department, said that late summer and early fall are the high times for the virus with most cases occurring between mid-August and the end of September. As of Tuesday, no additional human cases of the disease had been reported. However, Fowler said that more are likely coming.

"Every day, we expect to get a call saying that we have another human case," he said.

West Nile activity is now well documented in the Durango area and in Southeast La Plata County. As a result, the San Juan Basin Health Department is no longer accepting dead birds for testing from those areas. The department is still interested in testing birds found north of Durango or on the west side of La Plata County.

For more information on West Nile virus, call The San Juan Basin Health Department at 247-5702 or call the La Plata County and City of Durango Infoline at 385-INFO, Ext. 2260.

Local food directory now available

Access to locally grown food and fiber just got a little easier. The Mesa Verde Country Guide to Local Sustainable Food and Fiber has been printed and is available at local natural food stores, libraries, health offices and extension offices. The guide lists producers of fresh vegetables, fruit, flour, honey, flowers, wine, cheese, meats, wool and more in the Four Corners region.

The first edition lists 30 producers who sell their locally produced agricultural products direct to consumers, restaurants and stores. "This is just the beginning," said Jim Dyer of the Southwest Marketing Network. "We hope to list many more direct marketing producers soon, as well as restaurants and stores that feature products from our local farms and ranches."

This directory currently lists producers roughly within 90 miles of Mesa Verde.

In addition to being available around the region, an updated version of the guide is available online at To be listed as a producer or for more information, contact Dyer at 588-2292 or Sue Bruckner at 259-3123.

compiled by Will Sands





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