Cannabis of interest but not top issue

GUNNISON – For the last two Sundays, the New York Times has been devoting great space to explaining why the legalization of cannabis that has started in Colorado and Washington should be expanded to other states.

This week’s editorial, accompanied by an essay by Lawrence Downes, was a gem of reporting. He examined Crested Butte, the one-time mining town now reborn as a mountain resort, and Gunnison, 27 miles downvalley, a ranching center, home to a small college, a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

Gunnison, observes Downes, is the sort of place where a $6,000 mountain bike sits atop a $700 Subaru.

Crested Butte has three recreational marijuana retail stores, whereas Gunnison, so far, has resisted. Chris Dickey, editor of the Gunnison Country Times, said it’s not the top issue in town.

“This is how it feels in Colorado, in Denver and beyond,” Downes wrote. “Even people and places not overeager to embrace marijuana are not cowed by legalization. Seven months after plunging into the what-if world of legal marijuana, Colorado feels years ahead of the rest of the country in cannabis understanding.”

He went on to say that Cheech and Chong jokes will not amuse 20-something cannabis entrepreneurs, nor, for that matter, most other Coloradans, “who are going on with their lives, living apart from the world of weed.”

The report also included this observation from Gunnison-based writer George Sibley: “Above 8,000 feet, it’s almost always Democrat, and down-valley it’s almost always Republican,” he said. “Down-valley it’s more agricultural, self-reliant, Jeffersonian-type republicanism. But up-valley, it was miners, originally, and union people, and then it became post-urban liberals with urban backgrounds.”

And so post-urban Crested Butte readily accepted pot sales, but Gunnison, not so much.

Aspen weighs cannabis smoker’s lounges

ASPEN – Aspen’s elected representatives had no reservations about allowing first medical and now recreational marijuana. They’re ambivalent, however, about whether to allow smoking lounges.

Such clubs, if Aspen does allow them, must find a legal detour around Colorado’s clean indoor air rules, which ban all smoking in restaurants and public places. As well, Amendment 64, which legalized recreational use, bans smoking of cannabis in public places.

The Aspen Daily News notes that the city has expressed no appetite to be a test case in this matter. Cannabis commercial interests have said tourists need a legal place to consume, since they are permitted to smoke in neither hotel rooms nor public places.

Lodges remain neutral about the proposal for smoking lounges. Donnie Lee, general manager of the Gant, points out that people in Aspen have been figuring how to purchase and consume cannabis for 40 years, despite its illegal status.

Despite the absence of places to consume cannabis, tourists seem to be the majority of recreational buyers in Colorado. Locals, mostly, remain glued to the untaxed underground economy.

One new commercial venture seeks to provide an alternative. The website called Chronic Lodge, somewhat similar to Airbnb, seeks to pair cannabis smokers seeking short-term lodging with condos and homes that allow puffing.

Brisk business this summer at C. Butte

CRESTED BUTTE – Business has been so brisk in Crested Butte this summer that some locals say it feels like Breckenridge.

One restaurateur tells the Crested Butte News that he had to tell customers no tables are available between 5 - 9 p.m.

With such anecdotal reports, the newspaper says that last summer’s record collections of sales taxes, a barometer of tourism activity, almost certainly will be surpassed – and those were all-time records.

Elk Mountain Lodge last July had an occupancy rate of 95 percent, what then seemed the highest possible. This year it raised rates and went even higher, 98 percent.

At the base of the ski area, occupancies are also rising. “Room nights were up 36 percent from June to October,” says ski company spokeswoman Erica Mueller. “We have been booked at nearly 100 percent occupancy for our rooms every weekend in July.”

Similar to Telluride, the summer economy in recent years has surpassed the winter economy in Crested Butte.

“I think people forget winters in town are flat and surrounded by two off-seasons,” Mike Marchitelli of Marchitelli’s Gourmet Noodle told the News. “So let’s enjoy this time and figure out a way to increase business during the slower times.”

Transient tourists trip into Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – What exactly is the difference between a transient and a tourist? The dictionary makes a thin distinction, defining a transient as one of brief duration and a tourist one who travels for culture or pleasure.

So how do you define people traveling between various gatherings of the Rainbow Family of Living Light? The followers commonly hold gatherings in remote but beautiful places of the West. Taking note of these “transients,” Steamboat Today reports some complaints about panhandling and illegal camping.

But a police sergeant had nice words for these transient tourists. “Personally, the ones I’ve contacted have been extremely nice,” said Sgt. Scott Middleton.

Car sleeping OK’d for just a night

JACKSON, Wyo. – Housing is so tight in Jackson and Teton County that the Jackson Town Council is preparing to adopt a law that allows people to sleep in cars for a maximum of one night.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide notes that the liberalized policy reflects not only the housing shortage but a desire to allow more leeway for visitors or residents from outlying parts of the valley.

The severity of the housing shortage is being debated in the community. Mayor Mark Barron says it doesn’t rise to the level of crisis. He tells the newspaper that he has seen a housing shortage every summer since he moved to Jackson in 1975.

Barron concedes the need for more robust public policies to address the shortage that has resulted in a steady flow of traffic by resort and construction workers to communities outside of Jackson Hole, especially across Teton Pass into Idaho, about a 45-minute drive.

But Councilman Jim Stanford says the housing shortage is the most acute in his 22 years in Jackson. He sees evidence of a trend transcending the usual busyness that comes with being a portal to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Various strategies are being debated. One idea is to create a permanent housing fund, similar to some other communities. Barron has long advocated more vertical building in Jackson, with employee housing at upper levels financed by commercial development at the ground-floor level. Many Jackson residents have pushed back vigorously, suspicious that it represents just a Trojan horse for development without delivering a true solution.

Tourists willing to unknot bear jams

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Go to Yellowstone at some time other than mid-winter and you have a good chance of seeing a bear. A survey found that 99 percent of visitors expected to see a bear on their visits, and 67 percent actually did.

Many of these sightings occur along the narrow asphalt roads in the national park, where first one car and then several pull over to rubber-neck at the sighting of a grizzly or brown bear. Pretty soon, the roads are like Wal-Mart parking lots.

These are called bear jams, and there are more such knots on Yellowstone’s roads than there are park rangers to unknot them, notes the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

The study published in the Journal of Environmental Management found that surveyed visitors indicated they would be willing to spend an average of $41 on top of the current $25 entrance fee to cover the costs of managing bear jams.

– Allen Best

Bears fined the max for brazen behavior

WHISTLER, B.C. – Two more bears were killed in late July in Whistler, bringing the total to nine for the summer.

One of those slain by wildlife officers had a long history of breaking and entering. The behavior that yielded the death penalty for a sow was breaking through a home’s window – forcing a woman and her son to take refuge in a bedroom – and rummaging through the kitchen.

A second bear was killed because he refused to take the hint when shooed away from the community’s heavily trafficked village plaza.

Body of hiker found in melting glacier

JASPER, Alberta – The body of a 28-year-old man who disappeared on the Athabasca Glacier in 1995 was recently discovered.

The body had melted out of the glacier and was discovered by a mountain guide leading a group of hikers. Police tell the Jasper Fitzhugh that they see no evidence of foul play, although they couldn’t explain why the man died.

Wolves killed in Idaho for depredations

KETCHUM, Idaho – The Idaho Mountain Express reports that three wolves were killed by traps in July in the Sawtooth Valley, located around Stanley at the headwaters of the Salmon River. The traps were set near sites where the wolves had already killed, said Todd Grimm, Idaho director for Wildlife Services, a federal agency. “The wolves were returning to the sites when they were killed.”

Grimm said since wolves were reintroduced into Idaho in 1995, cases of livestock depredation include 2,600 sheep, 538 calves, 86 adult cattle, 70 dogs, and eight horses or mules. Many more were suspected.

International flights a no-go at Vail

GYPSUM – For decades, there has been talk about installing customs agents and other border personnel that would give Eagle County Regional Airport upgraded status as an international field.

But a consultant has concluded that the gains still lag the costs. The airport serves the Vail-Beaver Creek area and, to a lesser extent, Aspen-Snowmass.

“Although passenger demand patterns may justify three weekly round-trip frequencies to (Mexico City) during ski season, the operations and maintenance cost of an international arrivals facility render the opportunity infeasible,” the study says. Flights from Panama City were also evaluated.

Renovating the airport to accommodate international arrivals would cost $2.6 million, but even greater would be the ongoing costs.

The Aspen Daily News notes that Aspen Skiing Co. shared proprietary information for preparation of the study. The newspaper noted that the privately owned company normally keeps its most interesting statistics close to its vest.

“We don’t disclose such information publicly or to our competitors, but if it’s something useful for our business, then we would share it,” said spokesman Jeff Hanley. The company in the past has said that international visitors are responsible for about 20 percent of its business.

– Allen Best
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