Ski towns mostly stay on blue side

Ski towns and resort mountain valleys of the West have usually tilted Democratic, at least in recent years. This year was no exception.

Despite major Republican gains across the United States, mountain towns favored Democrats.

In Colorado, Aspen and Telluride have been the most reliable of Democratic strongholds for decades. For others, this liberalness is more recent.

Vail, for example, was a place of Gerald Ford Republicans. But as the Republican Party turned socially conservative, Vail has turned Democratic. That trend continued this year as two candidates for the county commission, both Democrats, again triumphed at the Eagle County courthouse.

This means that for at least two more years, Eagle County will have three female Democrats on the three-member commission. For most of the last century, Democrats were rare and female commissioners were, until the 1990s, entirely absent.

The margins were thinner for Democrats, however. Kathy Heicher, a long-time journalist, attributes it to the lingering effects of the recession.

“A lot of people lost their houses, and a lot of people are working jobs that pay less money and probably provide fewer benefits,” she says. As elsewhere, she perceived a frustration with a deadlocked Congress that hurt Democrats more than Republican challengers.

Elsewhere in Colorado, Steamboat Springs and Routt County remained generally Democratic. But Grand County – home to Winter Park and Fraser and a strong ranching community – swung to its Republican roots after flirting with Democrats in recent elections.

But for a true test of liberal politics in Colorado, Proposition 105 was perhaps the most revealing. Had it been adopted, food providers would have been required to identify products with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Farm organizations and allies poured money into television advertising against the GMO proposal. Denver and Boulder, reliably Democratic, heeded the warnings and cast a plurality of votes against the measure.

Aspen’s Pitkin County and Telluride’s San Miguel swam against this tide, but among Colorado’s 64 counties there was a third dissident: Durango’s La Plata County.

What is happening in Durango to push it into the über-liberal camp in Colorado?

Greg Hoch, Durango’s long-time planning director, observes that La Plata County has a “multitude of educated athletes, who care about what they eat a lot more than the average Joe, because how they eat affects their performance.”

But Durango’s geographic isolation from the rest of Colorado may have been a factor. It gets TV reception from Albuquerque, not Denver. As such, local TV viewers were spared the advertising blitz warning about high costs of the GMO-labeling requirement.

Telluride down to just one newspaper

TELLURIDE – Telluride has become a one-newspaper town, more or less. The Watch, published since 1996, mostly as a weekly, has been purchased by the Daily Planet.

On its website, the Daily Planet announced that the Watch would continue to be published, but likely with a greater emphasis on features of a regional nature.

Newspapers, of course, have had a tough time of it in recent years. In 1985, Colorado’s Eagle Valley had four newspapers, two edited and produced in Vail and two more in down-valley towns. Now it has one daily and a door-stopper publication, designed to be a repository for legal notices.

In Wyoming, Jackson Hole had two strong and healthy weeklies that merged a number of years ago. Across the Teton Range in Idaho, the Teton Valley had two weeklies, but one of them, the Valley Citizen, closed its doors in September. Mammoth Lakes, Calif., also has two newspapers, both weeklies.

Only in Aspen do you see a strong battle with two relatively vibrant daily newspapers, the Daily News and the Times.

Art Goodtimes has been writing for the local newspapers in Telluride since his arrival in 1980. Even after he was elected San Miguel County commissioner in the 1990s, he has penned a weekly column.

He says Telluride was a two-newspaper town for much of its existence. It began as a robust mining town, and around the start of the 20th century was the scene of a violent labor war between mine owners and union miners. Newspapers of the time tended to align with one camp or the other.

But while Telluride was able to make a smooth transition from mining town to mountain resort in the early 1970s, newspapers in recent years have had their own choppy waters. The Internet has sucked advertising sales from newspapers. Then came the recession that drew the wind from the sails of real estate.

The Watch tried to recreate itself as a regional newspaper with news from nearby Montrose and Ouray. To a certain extent, it may have succeeded. But Andrew Mirrington, publisher of the Daily Planet, said the Watch had not been profitable for years. In the announcement published in the Planet, he said he is confident it can be made profitable. The Daily Planet was struggling when his ownership group purchased it in 2008, and he implied it is now successful.

He did not respond to a request for clarification.

Banff gateway town adopts idling limits

CANMORE, Alberta – Councilors in Canmore, at the entrance to Banff National Park, have agreed to impose a 5-minute limit on idling cars and trucks.

Officials said the limit was partly meant to be symbolic of the community’s effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The town staff had recommended a 2-minute limit, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, but councilors said that would be entirely too difficult to enforce.

Wildlife-only areas used as open space

CANMORE, Alberta – Three Sisters Mountain Village, a major real estate project in Canmore, has several designated corridors for wildlife. But many local residents see it as open space, to be used for recreational purposes.

Biologists working on behalf of the real estate project report that three times as many mountain bikers and hikers, many with unleashed dogs, have been using the wildlife corridors, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

“It is no longer about how you get the animals to move through the valley,” said Chris Ollenberger, principal planner, with QuantumPlace, which is working on behalf of the project owners. “It is how do we stop the humans from getting in the way.”

Tom Cruise selling his Telluride digs

TELLURIDE – The actor Tom Cruise has put his digs near Telluride up for sale with an asking price of $59 million. The reason given is that he just doesn’t use the home all that much.

Cruise got married to actress Nicole Kidman in 1990 at Telluride and in 1992 began acquiring property. He designed and built a 10,000-square-foot mansion as well as a 1,600-square-foot guesthouse. All of this is located on a 300-acre estate that is a 12-minute drive from downtown Telluride.

Aspen construction up 70 percent

ASPEN – As defined by the total valuation of building permits, construction in Aspen this year is up 60 to 70 percent over 2013. It could get much busier yet.

The Aspen Daily News reports that the city council there can expect to review five major hotel and lodging proposals during coming months.

Mayor Steve Skadron hopes to moderate the building boom. “I’m frustrated really as a local, outside of being the mayor, about the livability of town during these construction booms,” he told The Aspen Times. “It’s becoming apparent to me that we’re not simply in a boom but in a long-time redevelopment cycle, and it isn’t as if one building is getting built and construction stops. We’re going to have two or three or four or five years or a decade of constant building.”

– Allen Best

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