Town reaches for heritage tourist

BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge, as a modern tourist resort, has always taken pride in its past as a gold-mining town dating to 1859. The town continues to work toward leveraging that history in the growing and lucrative market of cultural and heritage tourism.

The town’s history “is the critical differentiation” from other resort towns, said outgoing Town Council member Larry Crispell. “We should be out shouting it from the roof tops: We are a historic community. We are a real town.”

To help stake its claim as a real town, municipal officials have hired two consultants to help create a heritage master plan. For example, the town has already acquired several mining properties, and it intends to restore dredge boats, which even into the 1930s moved mass quantities of glacial till in local rivers in order to recover small quantities of gold.

Not least, the town is trying to preserve the one-time home of Barney Ford. A former slave, he had fled the ante-bellum South, eventually arriving in Breckenridge where, according to local lore, he struck it rich.

“Nobody else has that kind of story,” said Crispwell.

Main Street in Breckenridge has an assortment of brightly colored stores in the style of Victorian era architecture, and the town has limited the number of national retailers, in an effort to draw visitors searching for that “real town” experience.

Consultant Tom Gallagher said such tourists have higher incomes and spend more than the average, stay longer, and are better educated. Moreover, he said heritage tourists travel in larger groups and tend to stay in hotels or motels as opposed to with friends and relatives. Finally, they visit during spring and fall, not just winter and summer – the typical peak seasons for ski resort towns. Nationally, heritage tourism has been up 45 percent since 1996. He defined heritage tourists as those who travel to “experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.”


Aspen calls for slowed construction

ASPEN – About four-dozen people in Aspen turned out at a recent meeting to condemn what many described as “character-killing” growth and development. Tourists, they said, do not want to see construction cranes.

Among those calling for a break on redevelopment was Phil Sterling, who called on the council to “save the heart and soul that defined this funky mountain town before it became a commodity.”

The Aspen Times reports that another speaker, James March, called for a ban on construction work during Saturdays. “If we cut that back to five days, there would be less road rage, because the construction workers would have two days off instead of one.” Less construction would be more peace for not only Aspen residents, but also weekend visitors, he added.

“We have lost our way in the calculus of redevelopment,” said Mike Ireland, a Pitkin County commissioner. “We ask ourselves how much things will cost, and how much sales tax projects will generate. We prospered in the past by not defining life totally by market strategies.”


Jackson Hole spills over into Idaho

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Jackson Hole’s fastest-growing neighborhood is actually in another state: Idaho.

Wyoming’s Teton County, i.e. Jackson Hole, has grown 4.3 percent annually during this decade. But to the west of the Tetons, Idaho’s Teton County – including the towns of Driggs and Victor – grew 24.5 percent. And to the southwest, Alpine and other communities in Lincoln County grew at a rate of 9.8 percent.

Many new residents from Driggs, Victor and Alpine commute to Jackson, and some also take their children to schools in Jackson.

But while most of these commuters relocated to these outlying, exurban areas to get more real estate for their dollar, the real estate market is catching up with them. There is now talk in the Driggs-Victor area of the need for affordable housing.

Still, many are happy to have the problems of growth. “When I moved to this valley 25 years ago, there was one dentist that was starving to death,” Mark Trupp, a commissioner in Idaho’s Teton County told theJackson Hole News & Guide. “I now know of three dental clinics. It’s an exciting challenge to be dealing with growth. The opportunities now are endless.”


Group opposes Snowmass expansion

SNOWMASS – The Aspen Skiing Co. has received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to proceed with a “backcountry lite” ski area expansion. The company plans to thin trees on 500 acres of Burnt Mountain and add roughly 200 acres of skiable terrain in order to provide a semi-backcountry experience.

Such backcountry lite expansions have been the dominant theme of the ski industry during the last decade. Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge have also had expansions that suggest a slightly more wild and remote skiing experience.

But a coalition of backcountry skiers and an environmental group is challenging the Forest Service decision, reportsThe Aspen Times. Coalition members, including Wyoming-based Ark Initiative, argue the expansion will ruin the character of a roadless area and have a detrimental effect on endangered and threatened species such as the lynx.

Meanwhile, at Telluride, skiers at the end of this season were permitted to explore chutes along Prospect Ridge without guides. Avalanche shovels and beacons were recommended, but not required. The ski area is looking at incorporating the area into more regular use in coming years, reportedThe Telluride Watch.


Crested Butte gets back on its feet

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte gained in skier days this winter as the resort continues to get back on its feet after some painfully difficult years.

In the mid-1990s, Crested Butte recorded up to 560,000 skier days, although many came from the resort’s ski-free program in December. Drought, a shrunken direct-flight program, and national woes combined to pull the numbers down to around 300,000 in recent years.

This year, they’re up to 412,000, moving in the direction of the 600,000 target that ski area operators believe is necessary to achieve an environmentally sustainable skiing operation. Part of that gain has been attributed to a 20 percent increase in direct-flight seats into the nearby Crested Butte-Gunnison Airport. As well, numbers of Front Range skiers has increased, owing to sales of the X-Pass, which offered four days of skiing for $119. Sales of season passes also increased, reported theCrested Butte News.


Eagle County moratorium lifted

EAGLE COUNTY – Eagle County has lifted its moratorium on applications for new subdivisions in unincorporated areas, reports theVail Daily. The moratorium was enacted last October with the stated goal of giving county officials a breather while getting on top of development issues.

One county commissioner, Peter Runyon, said that new rules and regulations now in place give builders and developers better direction. For example, applicants must now prove their projects provide affordable housing, recreation and access to mass transportation.

A dissenting voice is that of Commissioner Tom Stone, who said the commissioners already had that authority. The moratorium, he said, was a “needless, meaningless, worthless effort.”


Frisco plans to thin beetle-kill trees

FRISCO – Communities along the Interstate 70 corridor in Colorado continue to respond to the epidemic of pine beetles. Frisco town officials, for example, plan to cut down 9,000 to 12,000 beetle and mistletoe infested trees during the next 10 years in an area used for the town’s cross-country skiing center.

“It breaks my heart to cut down old trees,” said Gene Dayton, the concessionaire.

Mike Penney, the town manager, said there was little choice. “Do we wait for the trees to turn red and blow down, or a forest fire?” he said.

The Summit Daily News reports that the thinning operations are expected to cost the town $80,000 a year for the next three years. The trees will be hauled about 270 miles to Montrose, where one of the few remaining sawmills in Colorado is located.


Colorado glaciers hold their own

ESTES PARK – While glaciers across much of the world have been shrinking, four small glaciers in Rocky Mountain National Park have been holding their own since the 1930s, according to then-and-now photo comparisons.

Researcher Jack Achuff theorized that the small glaciers – each about 20 acres in size – are not following the trend because they get little direct sunlight.

Farther south along the Continental Divide, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, two glaciers have been losing their ice rapidly. Studies by the University of Colorado suggest both the Arikaree and Arapahoe glaciers have lost more than 60 feet of ice thickness since 1960, reports the Associated Press.

Utah gains ground in skier-days

PARK CITY, Utah – While Colorado’s Summit County is always fond of pointing out that it did more skier visits annually than all of Utah, Utah is catching up. The Associated Press reports that Utah is fast approaching 4 million skier visits annually, which could cause it to surpass Vermont as the No. 3 state in skier days. California is second behind Colorado.

Utah thinks it is drawing some skiers that would otherwise go to Colorado – and they may be right. That’s been a worry in Colorado for years. Just the same, Colorado remains on track to surpass 12 million skier visits, the record that has eluded the state for almost a decade.

–compiled by Allen Best