Rainbow gathering mixes opinions

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – The beginning of the Rainbow Family of Living Light gathering 35 miles north of Steamboat Springs has been producing both heartburn and smiles.

So far, the news has followed a predictable arc. Organizers arrived to scout locations where up to 20,000 people could gather on the national forest. The U. S. Forest Service said no such locations existed – particularly given such short notice, but also because of the great risk of fire danger this summer in an area with so many beetle-killed trees. The Forest Service refused the permit.

People began arriving anyway. Some 230 tickets for illegal occupation were handed out. There has been some panhandling, a bit of shoplifting, a drug arrest or two. It now seems the Forest Service has acquiesced in the face of the human wave.

The reports from other locales that have hosted the annual Rainbow Family gatherings is mostly of balmy clouds, but with some dark edges, reportedThe Steamboat Pilot’s Scott Stanford in the days after the first scouts arrived.

“It’s a neat experience if you have never been to one of the events, but it also is a nightmare,” said Bob Alkire, sheriff of West Virginia’s Pocahontas County, where the Rainbow Family gathered in 2005 and also in 1980.

Although the Rainbow Family followers include a large number of indigents, who may leave behind junk cars, they also include lawyers and doctors, engineers and computer consultants who meld high-tech camping systems to the harmonic convergence of peace- and earth-loving spirits.

The Rainbow Family is faultless in its cleanup. The West Virginia site was “just as nice or nicer than before the Rainbow Family got here,” said Alkire, who echoed a report from California.

 “A lot of people are up there just to be one with the earth; there are a lot of really good souls who come,” said Kelly Crosby, the assistant public health director in California’s Modoc County, site of the 2004 gathering. “But you also have a lot of people who are there just to party – to drink, do drugs, and get naked.”

Steamboat resident Sarah Burkhardt, a self-described Democrat, vegetarian, and believer in communal living, reports she spent time among the Rainbow Family’s bad apples. In a letter published inThe Pilot, she blamed drugs. She reports observing the same degeneration from ideals into abusive behavior when she was a Grateful Dead follower in the 1990s.

In Telluride, San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes, a frequent attendee at Rainbow Family gatherings, was cranky at the Forest Service response. It was, he said, “heavy-handed and confrontational.”

He was also upset by reports of the local response. “Steamboat Springs is so rude,” he writes in his weekly column inThe Telluride Watch. “They’ve been arresting Rainbows for ‘loitering’ and allegedly ‘harassing’ folks outside a convenience store by begging … Since when is it a crime to ask others for help? Only in the most uptight of communities. You’d think a resort town would be liberal enough to allow street musicians and hippie saddhus.”


Vail debates skyscraper development

VAIL, Colo. – Vail residents on July 11 will decide whether to stay the course with the redevelopment of one of the town’s 1960s-style shopping complexes, called Crossroads. Nobody questions that the project seems as dated as shag carpet. What is being debated is whether the new building, which will nudge 100 feet, will be too tall and bulky.

The Crossroads redevelopment is called Solaris. The town council rejected it last year in a 4-3 vote. In November, two of the older council members, who were in their 50s and 60s, were voted out. Taking their places were people in their 30s and 40s. The new council then reversed the previous vote.

Solaris will include a 10-lane bowling alley, which seems to be a major attraction to Vail’s younger residents, many of whom are occupants of deed-restricted affordable housing. The project also includes a three-screen moving theater, an ice rink, and 69 condominiums. Also: $1.1 million in public art and a public plaza suitable for small concerts.

The Vail Daily has solicited opinions from a variety of individuals. Andy Wiessner, who lives in the nearby Potato Patch neighborhood, one of the town’s most exclusive neighborhoods, argues that Solaris would be too much. “I don’t quarrel with the renewal,” he said. “I just quarrel with the size of the buildings.” This trend of bigger and taller, he said, is removing Vail from the status of ‘village.’ “It won’t be quaint,” he added.

Already, Vail has a variety of tall buildings, six and eight stories high. In addition, two new hotels are planned at the town’s main roundabout intersection along Interstate 70. The Vail Plaza Hotel, which is rising rapidly, will have a tower that is 99.75 feet. A Four Seasons hotel planned for across the street will be 89 feet tall. Elsewhere, the buildings of LionsHead Mall will be taller than their predecessors.


Missing female climbers honored

CANMORE, Alberta – In separate services held in Vail and in Canmore on the cusp of summer, two of the continent’s leading women climbers, Karen McNeill, 37, and Sue Nott, 36, were remembered for their bubbling spirits of adventure. The two disappeared in May while climbing a daunting route on Alaska’s Mount Foraker.

McNeill, a native of New Zealand, began climbing after a trek in Nepal in 1989. From the New Zealand Alps she expanded her ambitions to Peru and then with expeditions to Greenland, Nepal, Patagonia, and Alaska.

She was known for her high energy, but also her sense of audacious fashion. In her honor, many people at the memorial in Canmore were dressed in bright, shiny colors. Even her widower, Brad Bennett, was graced with a yellow feather boa.

Not so well known was that she was also a devoted teacher of the Stoney people, the aboriginals of the Bow River Valley, where she moved in 1994.

Why did she climb?

“I know that Karen thought about this question deeply, with honesty,” explained a fellow ice climber, Kim Csizmasia. “She had to do this because she had committed – climbing was her art. Climbing was a part of her like her curly hair was, and it had just as much style. Karen’s style was classic. It was about mountains. Mostly really big mountains. And it was about exploration and about the culture of the lands she visited. But it was more than that. Karen’s style sparked. It sparked with inspiration.”

In Vail, friends and family members told a somewhat similar story about Nott. They remembered her as sunny-tempered, of her ability to whip up a gourmet meal in a freezing bivouac, of her messy car that doubled as a closet, and of how, as a friend, Mary Haynes, put it: her “crazy laugh echoed over Vail.”


Park City goes big with grooming

PARK CITY, Utah – A microcosm of changes in the ski industry can be found at the Park City Mountain Resort. Rising prices of electricity and other forms of energy are driving some changes, but so are the baby boomers that continue to linger on slopes in substantial numbers, if with less sturdy knees and legs.

In response to rising electricity process, ski area managers last year installed 10 fan guns for snowmaking. Instead of using compressed air, which requires a great deal of electricity to create, the water in this form of snowmaking is dispersed in front of fans.

The change-out saves money, although a Park City spokesman portrayed it as an environment-friendly gesture – which it is: The energy savings will be equivalent to not driving 321,000 miles. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s like planning 33,021 trees.

On the other hand, reportsThe Park Record, the resort is grooming more ski trails. To that end, it is purchasing three new Snowcats. No word as to how many trees can be struck from the balance sheet as a result of this added snow grooming.


Tahoe gets serious about wildfire

LAKE TAHOE – A poll of the residents in the Lake Tahoe Basin in 2005 found that the potential for catastrophic wildfire was the single greatest topic of local concern.

A new fuels-reduction strategy for the basin has been released. It calls for $123 million to be spent during the next 10 years to thin the forests and for prescribed burns. Some consideration is also being given to using the slashed timber for a biomass plant.

Three-quarters of the forest plots studied in the report have enough fuel to turn a low-lying burn into a crown fire, notes theTahoe Daily Tribune.

Some 18,400 acres in the basin have been worked on, but treatment is needed on another 36,000 acres during the next decade, says the draft report issued by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

-compiled by Allen Best


Copper Mountain village criticized

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. – In developing real estate at the base of Winter Park, Intrawest vows that it will make Winter Park more like Winter Park. But at Copper Mountain, where Intrawest began the village-building process several years before, that certainly hasn’t been the story.

At a recent hearing before the county commissioners attended by the Summit Daily News, a number of local residents complained. Gone are the post office, athletic center and basketball courts – all of them tangible signs of a community that is ceasing to be, several residents told commissioners.

“It’s a very, very lonely place,” said Ruth Hertzberg.

Bill Wallace, a county commissioner, also took Intrawest to task. “For 20 years, Copper was a growing, viable community,” he said. “Why have businesses left Copper? Why isn’t there a sense of community?”

Intrawest went on a building spree after buying Copper Mountain, but still has permission to build another 703 units. That isn’t enough, says Intrawest, which for several years has been seeking entitlements to build additional units during the next 10 to 15 years. Those units will provide the critical mass, Intrawest says.

Summit County’s commissioners are not yet formally considering the new proposal, and they won’t until Intrawest completes previous obligations. This, too, has generated some hostility. “You’re developing a pattern that tells me if I was going to deal with you personally, I can’t trust you,” said Tom Long, another commissioner.


Summit County looks in the mirror

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – A study commissioned by Breckenridge’s town government about youth in Summit County brings to mind the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

The 31-page study noted that many local parents lead relatively non-traditional lifestyles. People who moved to the mountains during the 1960s through the 1980s (and seemingly even today), were part of the “immediate-gratification cultures,” says the study’s consultant Lynn Johnson.

There are problems with absentee parents, and there is less rootedness. Fewer than 30 percent of the county’s residents lived in the same house in 2000 that they lived in 5 years earlier. That is the lowest rate of housing stability of any county in Colorado. And there is a lack of positive role models among the 20-somethings, who tend to have money, time, and a lack of responsibilities.

The report found that substance abuse is the most common problem, although intense methamphetamine use is lacking. So is gang violence. ACT and other test scores are higher than average. However, the drop-out rate among Hispanics is disproportionate to that of Caucasians.

The government is rearing Summit County’s children, Johnson told the council. “No matter the reason, many parents, but not all, have removed themselves from the universal tasks of parenting that is guiding and shaping the young,” the study stated.