Iron Horse sees record participation

Michael Carter, the 42-year-old Littleton racer who won this year’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, was not the only one celebrating last weekend. As the 34th annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, road race, criterium and cross-country race drew to a close, event organizers looked back on a record year in terms of participation.

Iron Horse Director Kendra Holmes was still tabulating final numbers Tuesday, but said that this year’s three-day event was off the charts. On Saturday, a record number of riders made the 47-mile journey from Durango to Silverton. Holmes noted that approximately 1,100 participated in the Citizens Race against the train and another 1,000 riders raced against the clock.

“The tour was up a couple hundred, and the race was way up with 250 more riders than last year,” she said.

Holmes attributed the jump in numbers to several factors ranging from the current popularity of road riding to some of the unique features of the local race.

“I think several different things were working for us,” she said. “One is the popularity of road racing with people like Lance Armstrong in the headlines. Second, everything also goes in cycles, and we’re on an upsurge right now. Plus, having the closed highway is a huge draw for us. Very few races offer a course without vehicles on it.”

Sunday’s second-ever criterium also was a high point for organizers, racers and spectators. Racers completed laps on a downtown loop that began on Main Avenue, climbed to East Second and East Third avenues and then plunged back down to Main. Following the competitive action, the Cruiser Criterium brought out the fixed gears, the costumes and a capacity crowd.

“It was amazing, the most fun thing we’ve ever done,” Holmes said of the Sunday event. “We had great turnout from riders and spectators, and adding the Cruiser Crit this year was great for community participation.”

Grouse reintroduction under way

A former resident of Southwest Colorado is trying to make the area its home again. The Colorado Division of Wildlife is currently working to reintroduce the Columbian sharp-tail grouse to the region. The bird was pushed out of the area in the 1960s by drought and habitat loss.

Judging the success of the reintroduction will take a few years, but biologists are confident that the bird can be re-established in the wide-open spaces near Dove Creek. Leading the project is avian researcher Rick Hoffman. “We’re taking a proactive approach,” he said. “We have developed a detailed conservation plan, and we believe we can establish another population.”

Major environmental changes in large tracts of land around Dove Creek have provided the key. Economics and drought drove many farmers to take fields out of production in the mid-1990s. Farm fields throughout a 150-square-mile area were replanted with a variety of grasses favored by many species of wildlife.

In the fall of 2004, Hoffman and his crew trapped 40 male grouses in northwest Colorado. The birds were transported to near Dove Creek and released in an area where they could establish new leks – the breeding grounds used in the spring. Then in April, 40 females were captured and released at the lek sites

“No one has ever done it this way,” Hoffman said. “So far I am very pleased. We got very good survival rates in the males that we released in the fall, and it looks like the females found the leks. If they breed successfully, we’ll have a lot of grouse around in a hurry. They are prolific.”

Biodiesel continues local spread

Alternative fuel use is growing in the Durango area. This week, the local electric cooperative, La Plata Electric Association, announced it will be fueling many of its vehicles with biodiesel. In doing so, LPEA joins Durango Mountain Resort and the City of Durango.

LPEA will be fueling 50 of its vehicles with a biodiesel mixture called B20, which includes 80 percent diesel fuel and 20 percent natural oil. While the mixture costs 15 to 20 percent more, it offers lower emissions and increased engine lubrication. LPEA expects to recover some of the increased cost in reduced engine maintenance.

However, Greg Munro, LPEA chief executive officer, said the cooperative was making the switch to be more environ

mentally friendly.

 “Our hope is that this project will demonstrate a reduction in emissions and an increase in fuel efficiency,” he said. “Environmental stewardship is on our list of priorities. We’re doing it as much for the stewardship as we are for anything else.”

LPEA purchases biodiesel from Durango-based Brennan Oil, which spearheaded efforts to bring biodiesel to La Plata County.

Plague haunts La Plata County

La Plata County has earned a dubious honor this year. A local resident has the state’s first confirmed case of plague. And state and local health officials are urging residents and visitors to take precautions to protect themselves from the disease.

The first case for 2005 was reported in May and involved a woman who was infected near her home in La Plata County. State health officials believe that the woman was bit by an infected flea brought into the home by one of her cats. She was hospitalized, treated and is recovering from the bubonic form of plague, a highly infectious bacterial disease of rodents that is spread by fleas.

Follow-up testing was conducted to determine potential risk to humans and animals in the Durango area. Fleas found on rodents on Animas Mountain were tested, and a high percentage tested positive for plague. As a result, San Juan Basin Health Department has posted signs at the trailheads at Animas Mountain urging hikers to take precautions for themselves and their pets. 

Epidemiologist John Pape said that because of Colorado’s recovery from the drought and the five-to-10-year cyclic pattern of plague, Colorado could experience increased plague this year.

“The hot, dry summers during the drought kept plague activity low,” he said. “However, the recent cooler, wet weather favors plague activity by increasing the vegetation that rodents eat, which causes rodent populations to grow. The cooler temperatures also allow fleas to survive longer off the rodent host.”

Although human cases occur infrequently, the illness can be severe and life threatening.  For more information on the disease, call the San Juan Basin Health Department at 247-5702 or visit their website at

– compiled by Will Sands



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