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Briefs from the San Luis Valley

Brief by Marcia Darnell

Regional News – November 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Choo Choo Contractor Bye-Bye

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission voted to fire its operating contractor.

George Bartholomew, head of the company that runs the 64-mile narrow gauge railroad, was given 30 days to take care of delayed financial statements, track and engine repairs, and other problems with the railroad. Bartholomew blames the problems on bad weather and publicity, and is working his crews hard to meet the deadline. No replacement operator has been chosen.

Blight Contained

The dreaded late blight, the potato fungus that invaded the San Luis Valley last year, only zinged about 60 acres this growing season. Most Valley farmers were affected, though, spending big bucks on fungicides to combat the blight.


A group is talking about building a movie village (for filming, not watching) along the Conejos River west of Antonito. Los Huertes Enterprises says it plans an 1880s-style, old-West village to lure movie makers to the area.

Heated Race

Andrew Bielecki promised the government that last year’s snowshoe race up the Great Sand Dunes would be the last. Then he reneged, and held another Tabasco Extreme Heat race this year, with entry fees of $30 to $35. Park officials are less than pleased and said they will cite Bielecki by mail.

Town Turmoil

The Antonito Town Board canceled a poll of voters on the subject of a private prison being built in the area. An anti-prison flier mailed to voters before the poll misled the public on sewer, water, and tax issues, board members said. The city attorney quit.

Meanwhile, petitioners in Rio Grande County missed the deadline to force a special election to recall Sheriff Desi Medina. Medina was accused of abuse of power and lack of respect for the citizens and employees of the county. Residents of East Alamosa are circulating a petition to request annexation by Alamosa. The prime motivation is water — the unincorporated area is served by private water companies, which have been accused of poor service. And in Alamosa County, a move is afoot to recall commissioner Bob Zimmerman, accused of malfeasance, fiscal irresponsibility, and mishandling of employees.

Condemned Prison

The Costilla County Jail in San Luis was condemned, meaning its 11 prisoners were moved to other facilities. Like many rural detention centers, maintenance has been slack due to financial constraints, and the building has had it. The county received a $198,000 grant from the Department of Local Affairs to renovate the jail, but no one is willing to bid on the project.

Early Targets

Ken Salazar, the state attorney general, is suing three mining companies that previously worked at Summitville, the mine site near Del Norte. The mine became an EPA Superfund site a few years ago. Galactic Resources Inc., considered the prime polluter, is based in Canada, making its officials hard to nail.

New Boss, Same Rules

Since buying the Medano/Zapata Ranch, The Nature Conservancy has had problems with trespassers. The same no fishing, no hunting, no trespassing edicts still apply. Anyone who wants to tour the ranch can call (719) 378-2503.

Bad Year for Barley

The wet summer of ’99 has meant a poor barley crop for Coors farmers. The brewing company bought less than 20 percent of the Valley’s barley crop, because it has too much mold. The crop can still be sold as feed barley, but that nets only half what Coors usually pays.


The town of South Fork is dropping its suit against Rio Grande County for approving a monstrous development after the town nixed it. Among other conditions, the developers will donate land for a new elementary school.