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Regional Roundup

Brief by Martha Quillen

Regional News – December 2004 – Colorado Central Magazine

Trail Trials

In November, Gunnison County decided to continue its six-year legal battle over a local trail, which leads to the old Yule Marble Quarry. According to a story in the Gunnison Country Times, “those who’ve visited the site say it’s a mystical place, with giant piles of marble stacked everywhere and massive, square holes carved deep into the mountainside.”

The historic trail was in continuous use from 1932 until 1998, but then landowners whose property the trail passes through installed a locked gate. Whereupon Gunnison County filed suit.

Initially the county was favored in the District Court, and the Appeals Court, but then the State Supreme Court decided that a “claim of right” was required for the county to prevail in its suit against the McIntyres, who own the adjoining property. The county has since tried to come up with the paperwork required to prove that the trail was a public right-of-way; and toward that end Gunnison has presented old maps and a record of a county bridge installed on the trail. But the District Judge has thus far dismissed the county’s evidence as insufficient.

Therefore, the county has decided to appeal, because as county attorney David Baumgarten maintains, “We can either sit still and do nothing, in which case we’ve lost, or we can appeal it again to the Court of Appeals.”

Approaching Balltown from the north
Approaching Balltown from the north

Bale-Out Not So Easy

Sparks from a stucco cutter started a fire in the walls of a Salida area home, when construction workers tried to remove molding straw bales.

Becky and Charles Goff completed their straw bale home in 2003, but soon noticed a problem with moisture in the walls, so they decided to replace the straw with foam insulation. But the rotten straw, presumably caused by a leak, seemed more flammable than ordinary bales, and sparks ignited the hay. The walls were tightly packed and well-made, though, so firemen from the Chaffee County Fire Protection District quickly extinguished the flames and got the burning bales out.

Plea Negotiations Continue

in Custer County

In November, both the defense attorney and the Custer County DA indicated that a plea agreement was being discussed in the first degree murder case against Cecil L. Mercer. Mercer’s wife, Diane, 38, was shot, then her body was wrapped in an old tarp and left at a dumpsite, where it was found in May of 2003.

Mercer is also “being charged with two counts of witness intimidation, two counts of possession of a controlled substance, one count of possession of a weapon by a previous offender, crimes against the elderly and cruelty to animals,” according to an article in The Wet Mountain Tribune.

Board Bungles Bond

“The Lake County School Board made a mistake, and it is now deciding how to fix it,” announced the October 28 Leadville Herald Democrat. Apparently, after the citizenry passed a school bond issue, the school board failed to certify it by December of 2003 as required, and thus taxes for it can’t be collected from Lake County citizens in 2004.

The good news is that not passing the bond shouldn’t have any effect on the district’s ability to proceed with the project, which provided for bonuses for staff members. At press-time, the school board hoped to pass a resolution at their November board meeting, spreading the bond collection out over nine years instead of ten.

Second Homes Skew Economy

In October, High Country News ran a story about problems resulting from part-time residency in resort communities. Apparently, the quiet time in the shoulder seasons seems even quieter these days in many, many towns, as more and more homes are left empty through much of the year.

“It’s the same story from Vail to Telluride, from Park City, Utah, to Sun Valley, Idaho,” HCN contributor Grace Lichtenstein wrote. “Growing chunks of the West’s mountain towns seem to go into deep hibernation for long stretches of the year.”

The News article broaches some worrisome issues that are increased by our seasonal economy — such as economic over-reliance on the construction and real estate industries; problems in providing affordable housing; and the difficulty businesses have surviving through slow times.

That same phenomenon can also be seen in Salida, as more and more downtown businesses close in March and October and November. But the story focused primarily on Aspen, and that city’s problems seemed very different than ours due to its astounding wealth.

Contractors and realtors in Aspen may have trouble maintaining local office space, but they do get to deal in twenty-million-dollar homes; and merchants there get to sell hundred-dollar lunches and thousand-dollar outfits. So how are we, here in Central Colorado, supposed to survive this second-home trend, when our prices are more in line with the working world of the Front Range?

Is A Happy New Year Coming, Or Not?

Every new year when local taxes have been tallied, our local newspaper reports the good news: sales seem to be up. This has been such a persistent feature of living in Salida, that sometimes it’s hard to understand why so many businessmen seem worried. But P. Draper put it very succinctly in a letter to the local newspaper, in which he complained about the tax burden on local businesses.

“Let’s see,” he wrote, “my property taxes have doubled in the last six years. My medical insurance increased 100 percent in three years. My liability insurance was up 65 percent the last year. My utilities went up 15 percent in two years. County and city fees have increased.”

Animal Rescue

The Park County Sheriff’s Department raided a Hartsel resident and seized 128 rabbits and ten sheep. Sheriff Fred Wegener said the animals lived in “deplorable conditions.” Sheep were unshorn; rabbits matted; and animals were layered with excrement. Food and water were not available to many animals and some were emaciated. Timothy Ricard was charged with 138 counts of animal abuse.

Animal Rescue II

A llama was reportedly attacked by two Rottweilers east of Salida in October. A man and a woman, Vernon Davis and Nancy Dominick, came to the llama’s rescue, as did a sheriff’s deputy, who disarmed the woman after she said she was going to shoot the dogs.

Then an animal control officer and a veterinarian were also called to the scene; whereupon the dogs were transported to Mountain Shadows Animal Hospital pending a court decision, and the llama was treated for injuries.

Davis told deputies that he and Dominick had been at her home cutting wood when they heard squealing; they arrived in time to see the dogs biting her neighbor’s llama on the head and neck and then holding its head under water. Davis hit the dogs with a shovel to make them let go, then he and Dominick called 911.

Deputy Andy Rohrich recognized the dogs as two that had been found running loose before, and the owner was subsequently charged with having vicious dogs and dogs running at large.

Hartsel Resident Killed

James Tingle, 69, a Hartsel resident and monthly columnist for the Fairplay Flume died on October 29 after being shot. Tingle was also the owner of South Park Realty, the co-founder of Collegiate Peaks PFLAG, an active community resident, and the husband of Evelyn Whatley, with whom he ran the Bayou Salado Trading Post.

A neighbor, Leonard Martinez, called the Sheriff’s office on a Friday afternoon to report that he’d shot Tingle; whereupon officers were dispatched. The officers found Tingle’s body outside of Martinez’s resident, then they discovered Martinez’s body inside. Tingle was apparently shot with a deer rifle, but Martinez was shot with a different firearm.

Tingle had reportedly visited Martinez to get his signature on some paperwork regarding the sale of Martinez’s home. One of Tingle’s relatives said the men had known each other for years, and he didn’t know of any problems between them. But it was unknown whether Tingle contacted Martinez before going to his home or not.

No motive has been established for the shooting/suicide — so it could have been a tragic accident. The matter was turned over to the CBI for investigation.

Absent Absentee Ballots

Saguache County Clerk and Recorder Audrey Conley was removed from the election process on October 27 after Saguache County Commissioners petitioned the Colorado Secretary of State to have her removed because absentee ballots were not mailed in a timely fashion.

Despite claims by Conley that the ballots were in the mail, many people never received ballots. And as it turns out Conley apparently mailed hundreds of ballots late or not at all.

The date to request an absentee ballot was up on October 26, but ballots could be received until November 2, so there was still time to correct some of the problem after the Secretary of State acted on October 27th. But County Commissioner Bill McClure told the Crestone Eagle that the requisite paperwork hadn’t been done as it had in the past, and election clerks were hard pressed to determine which ballots had been issued and which had not.

Those who didn’t receive a ballot, however, could still go to the polls and vote a provisional ballot, and officials were sent by the Secretary of State’s office to oversee the November 2 election.

According to the November Eagle it was unclear whether any other action would be taken against Conley, who didn’t intend to change the election results, according to McClure, “she just didn’t know what to do.”

Son Accidentally Kills Father

In October, a fifty-five year old Missouri Hunter was shot in Gunnison County by his 23-year-old son, who said that he was removing the rifle slung across his back when it discharged. Both legs of the victim received major trauma, and it’s believed that he probably bled to death in minutes.

According to the story in the Gunnison Country Times, no charges were filed. The son said he’d thought he’d engaged the rifle’s safety, and the Gunnison County Undersheriff agreed that it was possible, because sometimes the safety becomes disengaged during transport. After the incident, Gunnison Undersheriff Rick Besecker reminded everyone to always be aware of the direction the muzzle is pointed when handling a loaded weapon because, “You just can’t be too careful.”

In another incident, Jeremy Wilson, a 48-year-old Lakewood man, was shot because another hunter apparently became confused by Wilson’s imitation elk calls.

The bullet entered Wilson’s thigh and exited through his buttocks, causing heavy bleeding. But he was able to make his way back to his hunting camp, where rescuers responded.

Wilson said he wasn’t even hunting; he was merely scouting the area for his uncle. “This is exactly why I hunt archery,” he said.

The shooting happened at 6 a.m., well before daylight, which occurred at 7:15 that morning in Gunnison, and state law limits hunting to one-half hour before sunrise, so criminal charges against the shooter were possible, pending investigation.

Very Short Shorts

The swimming pool in Leadville is repaired, revamped, reopened and renamed The Lake County Aquatics Center.

Deer on the runway are a problem at the Lake County Airport, according to airport spokesmen, Dan Jensen. Although no airplanes have collided with a deer, Jensen says he’s seen many close calls; therefore the county is currently soliciting bids for an electronic gate to keep the animals from jumping the current cattle guard and getting in.

Fairplay has a new grocery store, Prather’s Market, which is at the intersection of Highway 9 and U.S. 285.

The Red Cliff arch bridge is finally open, but…. At presstime some small details still had to be finished, so traffic was still being reduced to one lane until completion, which was scheduled for the end of November.

The most common, recurrent story in Central Colorado this November has been well covered by local newspapers: flu vaccine has been extremely limited but area medical facilities have all been hustling to provide needed protection.

Chaffee County and Salida officials have been wrangling over whether a recreational in-channel diversion right should be filed to protect the flow of the Arkansas through Salida’s new river park. This is another of those long-term water stories which deserve massive research, but we haven’t found time for it yet.

Did you ever see the huge murals depicting laborers at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum? Well, if not, it’s too late. After 15 years on display in Leadville the Hoffman murals were returned to the Colorado School of Mines.

CDOT presented plans for a Salida traffic light on Highway 50, something the community has long wanted. But now no one’s quite sure which plan is best. Designs include three alternative plans at Holman, the road to the west of the hot springs pool; or a light at New Street, where the road up Methodist Mountain leaves Highway 50, and where school kids, Burger King and several stores converge to create traffic problems.

In Custer County, Dark Skies has been working hard to preserve star-gazing by providing hoods for hundreds of outdoor lights. For information check their website:

In early October, it was confirmed that a Gunnison resident had contracted the West Nile virus, making him the first reported human West Nile victim in the county. But he had been to Mesa County in July, and gotten sick in August, so the origin of the virus is uncertain. Health officials agree, however, that he may have gotten it locally.

Moose pics made the news in October, with a photo taken by Grant Heilman south of the drive-in in Buena Vista appearing in the Chaffee County Times, and a photo of a moose seen by Reber and Marci Chambers in the Rocker 7 subdivision near Jefferson featured in the Fairplay Flume. Also sighted, but not pictured, according to the Times, were a bull moose near Trout Creek Pass and a cow near Centerville.

Judy Hassell, the director of the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce, was chosen as Buena Vista’s Citizen of the Year. Hassell is not only appreciated by her community, however, she’s also been an invaluable asset in helping us put together Colorado Central’s calendar. Congratulations, Judy.