Glacier helicopter tours make a ruckus 

COLUMBIA FALLS, Mont. – Commercial air tours are banned over just one national park in the western United States, and that’s Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Congress enacted the ban in 1998 in response to a push by the League of Women Voters in nearby Estes Park.

But in Montana, there’s still plenty of whoof-whoof-whoof over Glacier National Park during the peak season, reports the Hungry Horse News. A 1998 plan for Glacier called for a “phase-out of commercial” air tours over the park but it was never implemented. In fact, the numbers have increased, to 500 per month in summer.

The National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, and others groups are calling for an end to the “incessant noise pollution” produced by the helicopters. 

One helicopter tour operator tells the newspaper he’s heard it all before and is unimpressed. “When they ban Harleys, then I’ll talk to them,” said Jim Kruger. “Fifteen seconds after I’m gone, you’ll never know I’m there.” Motorcycles, he added, deliver almost constant noise.

Bad news: bikes, spikes & rogue trails

WHISTLER, B.C. – From spikes being placed on trails in Colorado to rogue trails in British Columbia, mountain bikes were in the news across the West last week.

In Colorado, the Denver Post reported that bikers on trails in the foothills southwest of the city found a long nail sticking out of the dirt.

“They tried to pry it up but it was mounted in a concrete brick. More riders on the trail that day reported flats,” the newspaper said. Two mountain bikers uncovered three 2-pound bricks that had been formed around 3-inch nails and buried in the middle of a 1-mile span of Little Squiggly Trail.

What astounded the biker who discovered the sabotage is that mountain bikers built the nine miles of carefully sculpted singletrack. In other words, the bikers considered it their trail to begin with.

The Post notes other instances of sabotage, including one in British Columbia. In January, a 64-year-old woman was convicted of criminal mischief and sentenced to probation and community service after wildlife cameras caught her dragging tree limbs across trails in North Vancouver. The trail had been built by bike riders.

Meanwhile, in Whistler, newly constructed rogue bike trails on Blackcomb are being dismantled. Whistler Blackcomb’s Rob McSkimming lauded the spirit of volunteer trail building but wants trail creation supervised to ensure it meets environmental, safety and sustainability standards.

“We totally recognize and support volunteer trail-building that happens here and really, all kinds of places all over North America,” he told Pique.

Whistler Blackcomb in 2014 did add some pirate trails to the resort’s vaunted mountain bike park: Khyber, Kashmir, Kush, Ride Don’t Slide and Golden Boner.

iPhone app assesses lightning risk

SILVERTHORNE – A meteorologist is hoping that he has a better idea for hikers venturing to high peaks where they are more vulnerable to lightning.

Joel Gratz is developing a smart-phone application that will attempt to pinpoint when there is risk of lightning on Colorado’s 14ers. The app will estimate when a hiker should turn around, based on the route and his or her hiking speed. 

The Summit Daily News says Gratz hopes to release the app for the iPhone early this summer and later an Android version. He’s using the name TrailForecast.

“Not every cloud that pops up over a mountain in the summer is out to hurt you,” said Gratz at a recent forum. “But some are. So we’re trying to figure out 1) How can we forecast that in advance, and 2) How can we help you diagnose that when you’re above treeline. There is no way to travel 100 percent safely in the backcountry during lightning, but you can reduce your risk.”

The app will be most accurate in the 24 to 48 hours before a hike, but it will be missing the real-time component. Gratz hopes that Google or some other tech company will create a database that will make this possible.

Cars can alert others of I-70 conditions  

IDAHO SPRINGS – Twenty years ago, highway engineers were saying that someday sensors installed in pavement would provide more real-time understanding of road conditions, both for drivers and road crews.

That time has arrived on the Interstate 70 corridor. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent reports that 45 friction sensors in the highway can assess the grit of the roadway. If there is slickness, the Colorado Department of Transportation can send equipment or take other actions.

As it prepares for the era of autonomous vehicles, CDOT is also deploying automated crowdsourcing to provide more real-time information about road conditions. There are now 200 vehicles with sensors, some on CDOT vehicles and others on cars of drivers who travel I-70 frequently. The sensors detect traffic incidents and assess road conditions. 

The data is sent via cellular networks to a cloud site, which validates the information. The results can then be distributed immediately to nearby vehicles. Simultaneously, the results can be sent to a traffic management center, which can react to it in real time.

Sifting through four years of data, the Post Independent found that Vail Pass was closed most frequently in the segment from Denver to the Utah border, while Glenwood Canyon, 4,500 feet lower and 70 miles west, was the second-most closed segment of highway.

Climate change and water supplies

ASPEN – What will climate warming mean for towns, cities and farms? Plenty of people have been asking that, and it’s impossible to answer with precision. In Colorado, models have said that the northern part of the state is more inclined to get additional precipitation, including heavier snow, while the southern part of the state less. What is unequivocal, though, is that winter will become shorter, runoff earlier, and summer longer.

Still, to get a leg up on planning, officials in Aspen hired consultants to assemble a 50-year outlook of supply and demand. The Wilson Water Group found that under a worst-case scenario, local creeks tapped for water by the city could fall below the minimums needed to sustain aquatic life.

Can the city divert less water? That’s one of the alternatives being examined, reports the Aspen Daily News. One idea is to pump treated wastewater uphill from the treatment plant to irrigate the city’s golf course.

Wyoming dialect means bashing EPA

JACKSON, Wyo. – If you’re running for statewide office in Wyoming, it helps enormously if you speak the Wyoming dialect. For Republican candidates, the only ones with much chance of getting elected, that dialect includes badmouthing federal efforts to limit carbon pollution of the atmosphere.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reviewed comments from candidates for statewide office, and nearly all talked about federal overreach, trimming the sails of the Environmental Protection Agency, and pushing back against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Coal generates 11 percent of all state revenues in Wyoming, according to a 2014 study by the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy. The Clean Power Plan would require Wyoming to reduce carbon emissions by at least 19 percent and could mean a reduction in state revenues of up to 60 percent by 2030, the same study found.

Steamboat allows cannabis store in uptown location

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Cannabis will be moving into areas where tourists actually go in Steamboat Springs. Elected officials have reversed an earlier decision and decided to allow a cannabis store to relocate to an area of town with two restaurants and a hardware store.

The decision reflects the continuing conflicted thoughts about cannabis in some Colorado towns. While the majority of residents in nearly all mountain towns voted in 2012 for the state’s constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana, many towns remain leery about actually allowing cannabis stores in the same neighborhoods as, say, liquor stores.

Steamboat’s council originally voted 4-3 to prevent the cannabis store from moving to the new location. Later, evidence was reported that one of the City Council members, who had voted against the move, had a conflict of interest. With that councilperson removed from voting and another council member changing his position, the new location was approved 4-2, reports the Steamboat Today.

Finding a location for retail cannabis remains difficult in Steamboat, because of a requirement that it cannot be within 1,000 feet of schools, day cares and parks, along with a prohibition of being adjacent to land zoned residential.

Too, writes Bill French, the owner of Natural Choice Co-op, there’s this problem: “It’s incredibly difficult to find a landlord who is able to lease to a cannabis business if their property is subject to a mortgage.”

That’s because mortgages are handled through the federal banking system, and the U.S. government still has not allowed recreational sales.

Long weekend entirely too long for Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. – For more than a decade, Whistler has been trying to quell the trouble that seems to always accompany Canada’s long-weekend celebration, which took place last weekend. It’s the busiest weekend of the year in Whistler, as it follows the end of classes for many colleges and universities.

But violence has marred the festivities. Assaults have occurred and weapons have been seized. Last year, a 19-year-old from Vancouver died after being stabbed by a crowd of men as he emerged from a convenience store. Another stabbing victim survived.

Whistler has responded with the family-geared Great Outdoors Festival and beefed up policing. The strategies may be working as Pique Newsmagazine reports a “relatively uneventful” start to the weekend. 

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden describes the challenge of “taking back the weekend” as a work in progress. “We’ve had some success in refocusing the weekend to a family oriented celebration and festival and away from a weekend of hooliganism from undesirables from the Lower Mainland,” she said, referring to the Vancouver area.

But Dr. Clark Lewis, who pronounced the stabbing victim dead last year, thinks the violence is a result of the resort’s drive to maximize lodging occupancy. 

“We’re so desperate to fill our beds all the time, just take anyone and turn a blind eye. That’s the unspoken part that no one wants to talk about.”

Double-digit gains for Whistler Blackcomb

WHISTLER, B.C. – Wow, what a roaring business Whistler Blackcomb did this winter. The second-quarter results, ending in March, showed a 22 percent increase in visitors. Snow was good, of course, but for bargain-hunting visitors, Canadians low-trading currency was even better, drawing more Australians than ever before but also producing a double-digit gain from Mexico, a developing market for Whistler, company officials tells Pique Newsmagazine.

– Allen Best
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