C.B. in talks to save the Red Lady
CRESTED BUTTE – Since the 1970s, efforts to develop a molybdenum deposit on Mount Emmons, Crested Butte’s lovely backyard, have resurfaced about every 10 years.

Crested Butte has fought this with exceptional vigor. The local reverence for the mountain is reflected in its nickname, The Red Lady. But there’s a very practical reason for the concern: from the mountain comes the water that flows through town. Despite Crested Butte’s legacy as a mining town, from a local perspective, the new mining would produce nothing but disaster.

Now, local groups say that they are in discussions with the Wyoming company that owns the mineral rights to permanently remove the threat of mining.

“We are very pleased with the initial progress in these discussions after 35 years of working to protect Mount Emmons from mining,” said Dan Morse, executive director of High Country Citizens Alliance, a local environmental group. “There are a lot of details and negotiations still to come, but I can honestly say that we’ve never been as close to a permanent solution.”

Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep said that the effort, if successful, will “result in one of the most significant events in our community’s history.” He stressed that a successful effort would return control of the watershed to the community.

A final agreement with the Wyoming company, U.S. Energy Corp., will likely involve a combination of federal, local and private interests coming together to come up with a mutually agreeable value for the mining rights. Morse said the parties hope to achieve this before the end of the year.

Trout Unlimited wants more measures
HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS –Denver Water, along with government officials from the Winter Park area and Summit County, were scheduled to sign an agreement May 15 governing future water withdrawals by Denver.

Denver has tapped the Winter Park area for water since 1936, and it began diverting water from Summit County in 1963. It has plans to return for more but this time agreed to a far-reaching agreement with the Western Slope interests.

The water agency, which provides domestic water for about one-fifth of all Coloradans, gets more water without the expense and uncertainty of lawsuits. But there is a cost. The city has agreed to lessen the blow to local creeks and the Fraser River, which is tributary to the Colorado River, by taking water at times that are less destructive to the riparian ecosystems.

It’s probably fair to say that nobody is completely happy with the deal. The counties have portrayed the agreement as an improvement over anything that has ever happened before. And that’s true.

But Trout Unlimited issued a statement warning that additional measures are needed. “The Colorado River is still very much at risk,” said Mel Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, in a press release.

Aspen High scores among elite in U.S.
ASPEN – Aspen High School ranks 59th among 22,000 public high schools in the United States in preparing students for college, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The Aspen Daily News explains that the rankings were based on test scores, enrollment and performance in advanced placement programs, and how less-privileged students performed compared to average rates.

The magazine’s website says 85 percent of Aspen High’s students participate in international baccalaureate programs. The school has 13 percent minority students.

Relocating rabbits costs princely sum
CANMORE, Alberta – To make Canmore less attractive to cougars and other predators, Canmore decided to reduce the population of rabbits. But hewing to community sentiment, town officials agreed not to kill them.

Instead, 189 feral rabbits were trapped and relocated elsewhere, away from Canmore. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that this came at a steep price, $157 per “bunny,” as they are called locally, plus money that nonprofits spent to spay and neuter the animals and house them.
Town officials have estimated the population of rabbits at 2,000.

Towns take weather flip flop in stride
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Politicians aren’t the only ones accused of flip-flops. In Colorado, the same charge has been leveled against the weather.

Last year, people skied near Steamboat Springs on the Fourth of July. The Yampa River didn’t peak with spring runoff until about the same time.

This year, most of the snow is already gone, and runoff in the Yampa River may have peaked last week, reports the Steamboat Today.
On average, rivers in Colorado typically peak in late May or early June.

Kayakers tell the newspaper that water flows are better than expected. Nights have stayed cool, and there have been rain showers. For the time being, the river is flowing about average. But there’s no big water ahead. This is as exciting as it’s likely to get.

To the east, in Rocky Mountain National Park, snow was cleared from Trail Ridge Road, which rises to 12,183 feet. The road was scheduled to be opened May 14. If that happens, it will have been the third earliest summer opening since the road was completed in 1932.

Ski areas roll out plans for bike trails
WHITEFISH, Mont. – With new authority from the federal government, ski areas that operate on U.S. Forest Service land are announcing a variety of recreational improvements designed for summer use.

Mountain biking is the most common addition. At Whitefish Mountain Resort, the ski area operator plans 5 miles of new trails.
At Snow King, the in-town ski hill at Jackson, Wyo., managing partner Manuel Lopez plans an array of amusements, including a ropes course, zip lines, yurts and a bike park. Also planned is an alpine coaster.

In December 2010, Lopez announced that the ski area was costing him and his partners $500,000 a year. He threatened to close it unless a buyer could be found or a community foundation set up to operate it. But after studying options, he says he now believes that the new summer attractions will, if approved by the Forest Service and town officials, keep the ski area in the black.

Before, ski areas operating on federal land had clear authority from Congress to offer snow-based recreational opportunities. Summer offers fell into something of a gray area. This new law passed by Congress last year removes that uncertainty but does limit recreation to activities that are relevant to the mountain settings.

Snowboarders become slope slackers
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Statisticians who monitor the ski industry report a continued trend that should disturb ski area operators. Young snowboarders, who boosted numbers at ski areas for 20 years as baby boomers cut back their visits, have become slackers.

Covering the annual meeting of the National Ski Areas Association, The Denver Post explains that snowboarders grew from 7.7 percent of visits at U.S. resorts in 1991 to 32.7 percent in 2009-10. But since then, the percentage fell to 30.2 percent.

“We got used to snowboarding becoming this giant engine of visitation, and they were our saviors. They are not anymore, and we ignore that at our peril,” said Nate Fristoe, director of operations at RRC Associates, a Colorado-based research firm. The phenomenon is not limited to any one part of the country, Fristoe said.

The cause? Essentially, snowboarders are growing up and having their families –and not spending as much time on the slopes. Fristoe sees a further decline during this decade.

A glaring example of the drop-off can be found at California’s Mountain High. A 45-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles, a decade ago the small ski area in the San Gabriel Mountains was attracting a multi-hued throng of visitors. Skate and beach culture was transferring to the slopes. But with nearly identical weather in November, the resort had roughly half as many visits as the same month in 2002, The Post says.

Economist disputes for-sale sign ban
ASPEN – Economist Philip Verleger has been getting a lot of attention in the last six months, both in Canada and the United States. He has argued that TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline will almost certainly not deliver lower gasoline prices to consumers in the United States.

Instead, citing complexities in the global marketplace, Verleger argues that the Keystone XL will, in delivering bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to refiners along the Gulf of Mexico, increase gasoline prices.

Now, Verleger takes issue with the Aspen Board of Realtors. The group recently announced its recommendation that real-estate agents desist from posting for-sale signs in front of homes in Aspen. The board argues that the technique degrades neighborhood and hence the product.

“Do not believe a word of the claim,” Verleger writes in a letter published in the Aspen Daily News. “Removal of for-sale signs is a blatant attempt by the largest Realtors in Aspen to monopolize the market so that they can boost their commission.”

Verleger owns a home in the down-valley community of Carbondale.

In making his case of conspiracy, Verleger quotes 17th century economist Adam Smith: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
“Hopefully those seeking to sell their homes will demand the right to put signs in their yards advising the public of the availability,” he concludes.

Jackson Hole tries to congregate growth
JACKSON, Wyo. – After five years and $500,000, officials in Jackson and Teton County have adopted a comprehensive plan that calls for at least 60 percent of new development to be built in existing neighborhoods, mainly in Jackson.

The plan also sets a goal to house at least 65 percent of county workers locally, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Government officials, however, refused to adopt specific numbers on what constitutes build-out development.

Banff griz lives good life at compost pile
BANFF, Alberta – One of the 60 grizzly bears in Banff National Park has been living the good life, chewing on steak bones and scarfing down corn on the cob at a composting facility near Banff.

Town officials erected a 9,500-volt electric fence to keep the bear out.

The bear had been outfitted with a GPS collar as part of a $1 million research project aimed at reducing grizzly bear mortality, particularly on the train tracks through Banff and Yoho national parks. Trains kill one to two grizzlies each year in the parks.

The GPS showed that this large male grizzly had also visited the train tracks to eat grain and canola, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

– Allen Best