Around the Region

Brief by Ed Quillen

News Roundup – September 2003 – Colorado Central Magazine

Deadly Skeeters

Colorado leads the nation in West Nile virus infections, and the disease has spread into the mountains, with one human case and two horses reported in Chaffee County during the first week of August. One of the horses’ cases was fatal.

The West Nile virus is spread by the Culex tarsalis mosquito, which breeds in standing water and feeds at dawn and dusk. The mosquito bites infected birds to transmit the disease to humans and horses — there is a vaccine for horses, but not humans.

As of Aug. 10, five Coloradans — all women aged 50 or older — had died of the infection, and statewide there were 166 cases. Texas was second with 34.

Most people bitten by an infected mosquito show no symptoms. Those who do generally become ill within two weeks and suffer fever, headache, and malaise. But in rare cases, the infection can turn into meningitis followed by coma or death.

Saguache and Gunnison counties may have abundant and hungry mosquito populations, but in our region, only Frémont County reported any other West Nile infections; as of Aug. 10, it had 8.

State health officials urge the usual precautions — repellent, screens, and clothes, as well as draining any standing water. And the threat should go away after the first killing frosts arrive in September.

The Silver City on the Silver Screen

If you’ve always wanted to be in the movies, but you didn’t want to go to Hollywood, here’s your chance: a movie called Silver City, to be filmed during September and October in Denver and Leadville.

It will be directed by John Sayles (Eight Men Out, Passion Fish), and the Colorado State Film Commission says the cast is likely to include Kris Kristofferson, Daryl Hannah, Denis Leary, and Chris Cooper, winner of this year’s Oscar for best supporting actor.

“Working alongside these internationally known actors will be local actors, as we always hire individuals from the communities where our films are made,” Sayles said. “We do substantial outreach to community theaters and cultural organizations to identify local acting talent, employing both professionals and nonprofessionals in a great range of physical types.”

Filming is scheduled to start Sept. 23 in Denver, with production moving to Leadville in October, and concluding by Hallowe’en. It’s a modern murder mystery with a political spin, and some Leadvillites may not like the town’s portrayal as a formerly thriving mining town that has become a lunar scene of toxic soil and polluted water.

Twenty speaking parts and approximately 600 extras will be cast locally in Denver and Leadville. All demographics are needed, particularly actors for the six Mexican-American/Chicano roles. Local professionals will also be hired to work on the film crew and in other various departments. To be considered for casting roles, send your photo to: Silver City Films Attn: Casting 2401 15th Street, Suite 200 Denver, CO 80202. If you just want some off-camera work, send a resume to the same address, Attn: Production Coordinator.

One might hope that Silver City comes out better than the last movie filmed in Leadville: the 1980 production of Heaven’s Gate, which also starred Kris Kristofferson.

Mountain Names

In July, the Chaffee County Commissioners endorsed a proposal to christen an unnamed 13,875-foot summit in the area of Mount Antero.

If the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approves, it will be called Cronin Peak, in honor of Mary Cronin, the first woman to climb all 54 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado.

And as nearly as we can tell, it would become the highest peak in Colorado to be named for a woman. One 14er in the Front Range was once known as Mt. Rosalie (named for his fiance by the landscape painter Alfred Bierstadt), but in 1895 the state legislature renamed it to honor Territorial Gov. John Evans, and Rosalie’s name was put on a nearby 13,575-footer in Park County.

Water Wars and Woes

The fall ballot in Colorado will include Referendum A, put there by the legislature. It would allow the state to issue up to $2 billion in bonds to support big water projects selected by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the governor.

Naturally, he supports it, as do many Front Range Republicans. Elsewhere, support and opposition have crossed party lines. U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, a Republican, came out against it, as did Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat. State Sen. Ken Chlouber, a Republican, is for it. State Rep. Carl Miller, a Democrat, is against it, or as he told us, “adamantly opposed.”

Sen. Lew Entz and Rep. Lola Spradly, both Republicans, are officially neutral — apparently they want to get along with the governor and his suburban allies without alienating us folks back home in rural Colorado, where hardly anybody is for it.

At the annual Western Water Workshop in Gunnison in late July, Greg Walcher, director of the state department of natural resources, spoke in favor of Referendum A. During the questions, Dave Miller of Palmer Lake asked why his pet Central Colorado and Union Park projects would not be considered. “Because nobody but you wants them, Dave,” Walcher replied.

While Walcher has always spoken straight with us, we have to point out that he was in error. The Salida Mountain Mail has editorialized in support of those projects.

Chaffee County will have its own water issue on the November ballot, if Commissioner Joe De Luca has his way. It would levy a use tax on automobiles, with the money going to purchase local water rights. Just who would benefit from this is uncertain, but we’re trying to find out.

But when it rains, it pours

Last year, the news was all about drought — and that’s still the case in the San Luis Valley. But on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo Range, there was a flood in the Wet Mountain Valley.

On July 27, a cloudburst dumped 3.06 inches of rain and hail on Westcliffe and Silver Cliff in about 90 minutes. Streets quickly filled with water, and debris clogged culverts, making the water rise even higher. State Highway 69 was briefly closed south of Westcliffe on account of high water.

About a dozen homes in the two towns had their basements flooded, and the library and medical clinic were also damaged. Much of the debris came from a nursery whose potted plants and trees were swept away by a torrent.

The Salida area also suffered from a flash flood, though on a smaller scale. That was on the southwest side of town, where about a third of an inch fell in a few minutes on Aug. 7. The water carried about 15 inches of mud into one house, and washed out part of the foundation at another, owned by Don Christiansen.

He blamed the flooding on a drainage ditch that the county hadn’t cleaned “for about 20 years,” so that the water came down the hill to his home instead of flowing down the ditch. “I’ve spoken with the commissioners about it before,” he said, “and they said they’d look into it. Obviously, that never happened.”

Storm drainage is one of those things where what your neighbor does can have a major effect on your property. Whereas many of the things covered by building codes affect no one but the home-owner. Maybe this damage will get the county government to adjust its priorities in a more sensible direction.

More storm damage

Not every thunderstorm produces a flash flood, but they all feature lightning. And even if it strikes miles away, it can cause electric surges that fry computers, stereos, TV sets and the like.

That isn’t just a possibility — on a recent visit to the computer shop, there was a pile of machines awaiting new power supplies and modems.

Nothing will protect against a direct hit. Surge protectors help, but you can damage data if the power goes off suddenly. Battery backed uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) have served us well here when the lights blink and the lightning flashes — but we still find the safest solution is to shut everything down and go sit on the porch swing and delight in the rain.


This time of year, many hikers are looking for mushrooms in the National Forests.

Two hikers in the Buffalo Creek burn area of Pike National Forest found something else in early August — 294 marijuana plants ranging from 4 to 6 feet tall, mature but not quite ready for harvest.

The hikers were looking for good spots to use their cameras for scenic pictures, and stepped off the regular trail to climb some rocks before they spotted the plants, which they reported.


Poncha Springs Trustee Bel Tomko, 79, died Aug. 7 in an automobile accident on U.S. 50 near town. She was a public official who did her homework, and she holds a special position in Colorado Central’s archives — she was the first recipient of a gift subscription.

Sue O’Brien, editorial page editor of The Denver Post, died of cancer on Aug. 6. She saw the Post as a regional institution, and with the “Colorado Voices” and “Compass” slots for outside columnists, she made sure that people from all over Colorado and Wyoming got heard.