Fraser chilly toward old slogan

FRASER – It’s been 33 years since Fraser had a weather station that supported the town’s claim as “icebox of the nation.” Other locales – Big Piney, Wyo., International Falls, Minn., and Truckee, Calif. – sometimes had the dubious distinction of having the coldest reported temperature in the continental U.S., but often as not it was Fraser.

Radio announcers and “Today Show” hosts described it as the nation’s icebox so often that even after the weather station was removed in 1973 (because local volunteers Edna and Ron Tucker were tired of getting up every two hours to look at the thermometer), the slogan stuck, a source of local pride.

Then, in 1987, it also lost a court case with International Falls, which had registered the name “icebox of the nation.” Fraser can still use that name, but only in Colorado. It does so on the town’s welcoming sign.

But there have always been those who would rather the town wear a different badge of pride. TheWinter Park Manifest reports that the latest push to shelve the tagline is coming from developers, but also town officials. Jeff Durbin, the town manager, says the slogan could make employee recruitment more difficult. He had second thoughts about taking his job because of the reputation the town wears on its sleeves – and stationery.

Also, anecdotal evidence suggests that the icebox just ain’t what it used to be. While mid-winter plunges of 30 below were almost nightly occurrences several decades ago, lately they have become the exception. Still, Fraser has relatively few peers in the Southern Rocky Mountains for cold.

Beetles continue feeding frenzy

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – The pine beetle story continues to shape up as a major, significant story in north-central Colorado.

There, bark beetles continue to chew their way through the aging forests of lodgepole pine in the Vail, Summit County and Winter Park-Grand Lake areas. The epidemic in some areas has now waxed for about a decade, causing growing worries about the potential of major, so-called catastrophic fires. The concern is heightened by the fact that so many people live so close to forests.

In Summit County, U.S. Forest Service officials estimate that 50 to 90 percent of the lodgepole pine will succumb to bark beetles in the next few years, reports theSummit Daily News.

Don Carroll, deputy supervisor, said similarly high infestations could occur across the White River National Forest, which extends from the Eisenhower Tunnel to beyond Aspen and northward within 30 miles of Steamboat. One area, between Winter Park and Silverthorne, has 300,000 acres of affected trees.

All of this is causing revised local reactions. A decade ago, most ski towns scorned logging, partly because much of the timber was sold at below cost after administrative expenses were tallied. But earlier this year, the ski towns along the I-70 corridor asked that all fees be waived, in order to encourage loggers to remove the dead and dying trees.

Two bills currently before Congress propose to make it easier to build biomass burners in these I-70 communities, notes theVail Daily. A delegation from the I-70 counties is lobbying in Washington, D.C., for a rule change that would allow logging companies to sign contracts for harvest of trees from national forests for at least a decade. “Over the last 20 years, citizens here have done their best to tell the forest industry to go away,” said Peter Runyon, an Eagle County commissioner. “I’ll admit that I’ve been among them. But we’re going to have to involve the forest industry in this.”

Regs would put damper on fires

GUNNISON COUNTY – An open-hearth fireplace produces pollution particulates at seven times the rate of newer, EPA-approved wood-burning stoves. So who wouldn’t want less pollution?

Contractors in Gunnison County, for one, if they’re trying to sell homes. It seems that some buyers of homes want the romance of the crackling, spitting fire in an open hearth. And the contractors think they should be able to provide that amenity.

TheCrested Butte News explains that county officials have gone back and forth on the issue since 2001. The latest proposal would most severely restrict fireplaces in areas near the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte. Both ski towns long ago limited fireplaces. Elsewhere, each home would be allowed two wood-burners, but not the open hearths the contractors want.

If those rules stick, they will better jibe with those of more well-developed ski valleys in Colorado.

Inclusionary zoning debated

GUNNISON COUNTY – Inclusionary zoning – the idea that a set percentage of homes within a subdivision need to be allocated to lower- to moderate-income buyers and residents – has been embraced in many resort towns and valleys hit by an influx of high-income buyers.

Gunnison County, which is home to Crested Butte, has been more slow to be hit by this invasion but is girding for the probability. Specifically, before the county commissioners is a proposal to mandate 30 percent of homes in subdivisions be affordable to those of low and moderate incomes.

The Gunnison County Contractors’ Association disagrees with the idea and provided economist Eliot Eisenberg to testify why he believes inclusionary zoning fails. TheCrested Butte News reports that Eisenberg argues that the cost of subsidizing affordable housing makes free-market housing more expensive.

The usual counter-argument is that in resort communities, price is no object for many buyers, leaving whole valleys akin to gated communities. In Aspen, the free market has spiraled so high that relatively few people can afford to live there unless they arrived decades ago or they live in deed-restricted housing. Roughly half of Aspen’s population lives in affordable housing.

Eisenberg also argues that the poorest are rarely helped by inclusionary zoning. He said units are usually distributed unfairly through lotteries. Also, he contends inclusionary zoning encourages sprawl.

He instead urges that standards be relaxed, impact fees be waived and density be encouraged to produce more affordable housing. “Smaller yards, no garages, knockers instead of doorbells, etc.,” he said. “These things truly reduce the cost of the house.”

Rainbows leave myriad opinions

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – About the only clear conclusion in the aftermath of the Rainbow Family gathering 35 miles north of Steamboat was that people were interested.

The Forest Service never did issue the group a permit for a mass campout of what turned out to be 15,000 people, who received mixed environmental reviews.

“They were good guests,” said Michael Zopf, director of the Routt County Department of Environmental Health, “The environmental ethic that they live and that they practiced, at least in Routt County, was exemplary,” he told theRocky Mountain News.

TheDenver Postsaw the effects as less benign: “The event left the unavoidable mess that you’d expect 15,000 campers to create.” Added thePost: “It’s hard to miss the irony of free spirits who profess the desire to live lightly on the land and to heal the earth leaving such a heavy impact on one 4-square-mile piece of the plant every July.”

The Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Scott Stanford said the gathering had been the talk of the town. He says lodging property managers told him customers were checking out because of what they read in his paper. He also reported that his newspaper’s website nearly crashed from getting so many hits. He attributed the heavy traffic to a link provided by “The Drudge Report.”

“I suspect that, in the final analysis, the Rainbow gathering will not have nearly the impact on Steamboat Springs that many, including (this) newspaper, led us to think it would.”

Bicycle wins rush-hour race

ASPEN – Frets about traffic have consistently ranked as the most steady source of news in Aspen during the last several decades, ranking perhaps equally with real estate development and public angst about dog doo-doo on pedestrian paths, notesThe Aspen Times.

The traffic has mostly to do with the town’s entrance, where a four-lane highway narrows to two lanes. Twice a day, traffic crawls, sometimes taking a half-hour to get 3 miles through this bottleneck.

Trying to make light of an old, repetitive and wearying story,The Aspen Times decided to stage its own great race, launching a variety of reporters and editors by car, bus, foot and so on from the newspaper office, which is located in the middle of Aspen, at 5 o’clock. The goal: the Airport Business Center, not quite 4 miles away.

The winner: a bicycle rider, who made it in nine minutes.

Aerial gunning, motor vehicles would be allowed in wildnerness

Ken Lay’s death and something rotten in Aspen

ASPEN – At least in its resort era, Aspen has something of a morbid history. There, pop singer Claudine Longet killed her lover, racer Spider Sabich. There, mass-killer Ted Bundy escaped from jail.

Now, it will also be remembered as the place where Ken Lay, who was CEO of what may have been the large smoke-and-mirrors corporate deception in U.S. history, died.

Lay had rented a home near Aspen, at Old Snowmass, after his conviction in May of fraud and conspiracy at Enron. When he died, it just so happened that two of the biggest names in television, Katie Couric and Wolf Blitzer, were nearby.

But not everybody believed the Pitkin County coroner’s report of a heart attack. Under the headline “A Sense of Something Rotten in Aspen,”New York Times business columnist Tom Zeller Jr. recounts the web postings of victims of Enron and others who felt no compassion for the man who, just 18 months before Enron toppled, had issued an edict about “fairness and honesty.”

“Word on the street is that he’s actually chillin’ in the Dominican Republican, fanning himself with his offshore money he squirreled away and sharing a pitcher of sangria with Tupac (Shakur, the slain hip-hop artist),” wrote one blogger.

Said another blogger, “I hate it when those jerks go off and die before they get their punishment. It’s so unfair.”

– compiled by Allen Best

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