Hidden Gems mix Colorado opinions

EAGLE – A proposal to designate 400,000 acres of federals land as wilderness is shaking up western Colorado.

The proposal, called Hidden Gems by supporters, would put motorized and mechanized vehicles off-limits in several dozen areas between Winter Park and Crested Butte. These lands are mostly at mid-elevations, as opposed to the “rock and ice” of higher elevations that have typically been the province of earlier wilderness designations.

But instead of jewels, many opponents see the proposal as fool’s gold. “I would like to see Hidden Gems go away,” said Larry Grossman, the founder of a group called the Hardscrabble Singletrack Coalition.

The group opposes inclusion of Hardscrabble Mountain, located near Eagle, in the wilderness bill. A recent meeting covered by theVail Daily featured a roomful primarily of snowmobilers and turned rowdy and rude.

Two valleys away, a group called the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association has announced it can support 94,000 acres of the designation. TheAspen Times says the group in other areas proposed for wilderness agrees with bans on oil-and-gas extraction and motorized use but not with similar bans on mountain bike use.

Mike Pritchard, a director of the group, said his members hoped for compromise on the issue of wilderness. “Unfortunately, there’s still disagreement,” he said. “It comes down to philosophy, almost religion.”

Another valley away, at Crested Butte, the process by which Hidden Gems was delivered has some people squirming. The Crested Butte Town Council was recently asked to support the proposal, and it did so. But council member Skip Berkshire said he was uncomfortable with the process, despite his belief that “fifty years from now every square inch of wilderness will be treasured.”

“But I am very disappointed in the process. I don’t like being caught between these user groups,” he said, referring to the mountain bikers and hikers. He called for a collaborative alternative.

Another council member, Dan Escalante, wondered: “What’ the rush?”

Actually, proposals for at least some of these areas originated in 1998. Conservationists argued then – and it’s their core argument now – that existing wilderness areas are almost exclusively high elevation. They say mid-elevation lands also need protection. That proposal had little traction in Congress, however.

In 2002, the White River National Forest issued a report that found substantial lands in the Aspen-Vail-Breckenridge area met the criteria for wilderness. Hidden Gems includes those areas, but many more areas that the Forest Service deemed unworthy.

Seeking to take a Solomon-like long view,The Aspen Times favored the proposal. “This debate is not about people and what they can do with their toys. It’s about the land and the wildlife, and we would rather err on the side of protection,” the newspaper said. But, added the paper, proponents have failed to define biological and aesthetic criteria used in selecting the proposed parcels.


Wyoming may mandate bear spray

JACKSON, Wyo. – About a year ago, officials in Grand Teton National Park began requiring hunters, who are allowed to hunt elk within the park, to take bear spray. Now, a lawyer is drawing up a proposal for consideration by Wyoming lawmakers to require all hunters, backpackers and others venturing into areas frequented by grizzly bears to carry spray.

The lawyer, Steve Wichman, cites two studies that have concluded that bear spray more effectively blunts attacking bears than bullets. One of those studies, by a Brigham Young University professor, showed the spray stopped aggressive grizzlies 92 percent of the time. Firearms succeeded 67 percent of the time.

Wichman’s rationale of the proposed requirement is the need to reduce human-grizzly conflicts, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Park Service officials say that hunters have mostly complied with the requirement for carrying bear spray in Grand Teton National Park.

The proposed measure also gets support from the Jackson Hole Alliance. The group’s Louise Lasley told the newspaper that carrying bear spray, “while seemingly cumbersome, will probably go a long way in protecting those backcountry users and the bears.”

In September, a deer hunter killed a grizzly bear from 40 yards away. The hunter claimed self-defense, which is allowed, but authorities didn’t buy his claim. They charged him with killing a grizzly bear, which is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, without a license.

Voters pass renewable energy loans

EAGLE – Voters in three mountain counties in Colorado have authorized their county commissioners to launch programs that will enable homeowners to access loans to pay for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems. The programs are modeled upon a program created in Colorado’s Boulder County.

Despite support from Vail Resorts, which operates the Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas, the margin was relatively thin in Eagle County, with 53 supporting the measure and 47 against. That spread of 6 percent compares with a 20 percent spread in Gunnison County, reported by theCrested Butte News, and a 46 percent spread in Aspen’s Pitkin County.

The idea behind the program is that governments can use their bonding authority to access sources of capital to be lent to building owners for energy-saving and renewable energy upgrades.

Partly at issue in the election in Eagle County was the potential exposure of costs to other taxpayers. Unless homeowners default on loans, there is otherwise no direct risk to the county government. The loans will become attached to the property. However, many worried that the county government could end up picking up the cost in case of housing foreclosures.


Aron Ralston off to the silver screen

ASPEN – It looks like former Aspen resident Aron Ralston’s gruesomely fascinating story will make the big screen. Citing the entertainment-trade magazineVariety, TheAspen Times says that “Slumdog Millionaire” filmmaker Danny Boyle is set to make a movie of Ralston’s tale of survival. Release is said to be scheduled for late 2010.

Ralston in 2002 had been making news in Aspen for his adventurous streak, which included skiing Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks during winter. Then, in May 2003, he burst on the international scene after he was discovered hiking out of a remote area of the canyon country of Utah, his arm sawed off below the elbow. He had spent five days immobile in a canyon, his arm inextricably caught between two rocks. Finally, fearing death from thirst, he used a small knife to cut off his arm in order to remain alive.


Telluride tunes up its airport

TELLURIDE – Until this year, Telluride’s airport had a 16-foot dip in the middle of the runway. Now, after $24 million in dirt moving, the runway is even, if still tilted.

With this change, more flights are expected into the airport, reports theTelluride Daily Planet. The current portal is in Montrose, well more than an hour away. “Economically, it’s very important,” said Rich Nuttall, the airport manager. “We are a resort town, and people like to fly right to their destination.”

The federal government picked up the tab on most of the previous work, and the locals hope for continued largesse for another $35 million project at the airport.


Canmore debates degrees of local

CANMORE, Alberta – In a bid to strike justice in the cemetery, Canmore has been debating the various degrees of localdom.

Lifelong residents get an automatic pass to the great beyond in the town’s cemetery, provided they paid about $2,000 for a cemetery plot. But the cost for nonresidents is more than $4,000.

TheRocky Mountain Outlook reports a discussion among city officials about the degree of cost that should be levied to residents who have left Canmore but want to be buried there; those who have maintained vacation homes for decades but never became full-time residents; and still others in hope of eternal residence.


Tourism starts to rebound in Vail

VAIL – Some glimmers of recovery in the destination ski business are being detected in Vail. Advanced flight bookings for the winter have risen 4.5 percent, compared to a 3 percent decline last year. Lodging reservations recorded by the Vail Valley Partnerships are up 20 percent from last year. However, Vail municipal officials tell theVail Daily that lodging bookings they monitor are down for November, December and January. But despite the downhill slide, Vail officials figure the drop-off is nowhere as precipitous as it has been for many other resorts.

– Allen Best

Avalanche season begins in Canada

BANFF, Alberta – Two skiers were recently buried up to their waists in an avalanche, but escaped with only minor injuries. “There’s not a lot of snow out there, but there is enough snow that looks like it’s skiable,” said Marc Ledwidge, manager of mountain safety for the mountain national parks for Parks Canada.

“The temptation is to ski the wind-loaded features just because that is where the most snow is,” noted a bulletin for Banff and other national parks. “The problem is, these wind-loaded features are also the most susceptible to producing avalanches.”

Hydrogen bus arrives in Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. –The first of 20 hydrogen-powered buses have arrived in Whistler. The hydrogen is produced elsewhere, but when used to fuel the buses, produces no exhaust. Officials say that those who ride the new bus should find it smoother and quieter than diesel buses.Pique Newsmagazine says the bus will be tested, to ensure it will stand up to the 22 hours of operations needed when Whistler hosts the Olympics in February.

– Allen Best


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High and dry

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