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Regional Roundup

Brief by Ed Quillen

Local News – October 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

Bear Tales

In some parts of the state, it was drought. In others it was an early frost. Elsewhere a late frost. In all cases, it meant that black bears (which actually come in many hues) were having trouble finding enough to eat in the backcountry. And they need plenty to eat, about 20,000 calories a day, as they prepare for hibernation this fall. So they’ve been pursuing other food sources, like gardens, fruit trees, homes, and trash cans. The result is a large number of bear sightings and problems in Central Colorado.

Poncha Springs often produces many bear sightings, along with the occasional attack on a camper, but it’s been pretty quiet on the bear front this year. Nor have we encountered many accounts of encounters from another usual bear hotbed, Custer County. Perhaps people there are following the guidelines about living in bear country.

Salida in the fall from Arkansas Hills.
Salida in the fall from Arkansas Hills.

But in the Gunnison Country, an Almont woman reported that she was “absolutely terrorized” by a group of five bears who hung around her house for much of the summer. They stared into her window, climbed her house looking for an entry, and pawed at her storm doors.

Harold Seiss, owner of the Almont Resort, said “They’re definitely more prevalent this year than ever before, and I’ve been here 17 years.” He did observe that “The tourists get a kick out of them.”

Saguache County Sheriff Mike Norris said there had been “numerous bear problems throughout the county and several in the Baca” Grande area near Crestone. Steve Anderson, a Baca resident, told the Crestone Eagle that on Aug. 12 he saw a parked vehicle with “muddy bear prints all over it and the doors completely pried back and forced open. There was stuff scattered about, plus food bags like chips and cookies torn open in a way humans never would employ.”

And of course, there was the sow with two cute cubs eating crabapples on the mall in Aspen, where many other bears were seen. A bear was also spotted in a tree in Boulder and chased down. It climbed another tree, where officers wanted it to stay for a while, since by then school was out and children would be passing nearby.

Colorado’s policy on bears is “two strikes and you’re out.” They’re tagged and relocated after their first intrusion into human spaces, and killed if they come again.

Just where to relocate them is a good question, though. A study of “urban bear ecology” in Colorado has shown that bruins range more widely than previously thought. Aspen bears, for instance, have ranged south to Pitkin and Crested Butte in Gunnison County, and west as far as Paonia. The Elk Mountains don’t block them, and the mountains in general are more inhabited these days. “I’d challenge anyone to find an area where within 15 miles there isn’t a cabin or small community,” said J Wenum, Gunnison area wildlife manager.

135th Anniversaries

Two churches in Central Colorado both celebrated 135 years of services this summer: the Presbyterian Church which meets at the Sheldon Jackson Memorial Chapel in Fairplay, and the Hope Lutheran Church in Westcliffe.

Hope is the oldest Lutheran Church in Colorado, and dates back to a German Lutheran colony in the Wet Mountain Valley. The first services were conducted in German, and some members can remember the days when men sat on one side of the church and the women on the other. The current building replaced a log structure in 1917, and there are expansion plans now. One long-time member, Chuck Kastendieck, said he was concerned because there were so few young people in the church.

Over at the Sheldon Jackson Memorial Chapel in Fairplay, there were 56 children in Bible School this summer, with an average of 16 coming for the weekly service.

The building in downtown Fairplay dates to 1874, but the church began on Aug. 11, 1872. Sheldon Jackson was a Presbyterian missionary, and his diary for that date recounts: “Preached in Fairplay this morning. In the evening preached in the wide open, no seats and three tallow candles. Breath steamed with the cold. Slept on the ground. The church of Fairplay was organized that day with only eight members.”

At the anniversary service, some minutes from old church sessions were read, among them a 1901 entry that a Miss M. was dropped from membership “at her own request and because she preferred dancing and the companions there found, to the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper.”

Good Summer

Several towns in Central Colorado reported good seasons as summer wound down. River outfitters in Chaffee County told the Salida Mountain Mail (Aug. 17 edition) that traffic was good all summer. The afternoon rains kept the river higher than usual, one said, but did not discourage floaters. County lodging tax revenue, collected in April, May, and June, was $62,826, compared to $55,284 in the second quarter of 2006. Tourists also appeared to be staying longer.

In Leadville, the Sept. 6 Herald-Democrat reported that “Last year in June, the chamber averaged 60 to 80 visitors a day. After the second weekend in June this summer, the numbers never went under 120 visitors a day,” and “The hotel industry saw very few open rooms from mid-June through the end of August.” In Leadville, a bar owner “noted that there were 15-minute waits sometimes for the restroom, a sure sign of good business.”

Traditional pre-tourism enterprises also fared well, at least in the Wet Mountain Valley, where frequent rains at the right time helped produce a bumper hay crop. The rain started in April, and let up in time for cutting in August. Several ranchers interviewed in the Tribune said the good year will help make up for losses they’ve endured since a drought cycle started in 2002.

Greater Poncha

Mailing addresses in southern Chaffee County can be peculiar. The Cleora Post Office has been closed since 1882, but it still has a listed Zip code — 81201, the same as Salida’s.

Other one-time post offices now assigned to 81201 include Maysville, Smeltertown, Swissvale, Turret, and Wellsville.

To the west of Salida, both Garfield (home of the lodge and offices for the Monarch Mountain Resort) and Monarch (basically, a ghost town near the big limestone quarry) once had post offices.

Monarch’s closed in 1903, while Garfield got Zip Code 81227. A few years ago, Garfield’s post office was renamed Monarch, at the request of the resort, but retained the Garfield Zip Code.

Anyway, if you go west from Salida 81201, you get to addresses in Poncha Springs 81242. But west of Poncha on up to Monarch, the area has Salida addresses, rather than Poncha addresses. Poncha Springs would like to change that. Pat Alderton, town administrator, recently told the Chaffee County Commissioners that it is difficult for emergency services to find a location when a Salida address is actually west of a Poncha address, and it’s also difficult for consumers to find businesses.

Mary Holmes, Poncha postmaster, noted that the Sears store on the west side of Poncha has a Salida address. “Salida is all the way around Poncha Springs.”

Just how to implement such a change remains something of a mystery, but the county will look into it, perhaps by working through the building department. Holmes noted that the “downside would be that businesses would have to change their mailing addresses. I expect some resistance, but not a whole lot.”

Lightning Strikes

Late summer often brings serious thunderstorms to Central Colorado, and this year was no exception. On the night of Aug. 31, a thunderbolt hit the studio of KWMV, Westcliffe’s community radio station and destroyed some equipment, knocking it off the air for several days, although audio streaming on the Internet continued.

Lightning hit a tree at a home near the golf course in Salida on Aug. 27, then traveled through the sprinkler system, shorting its electrical outlet. There appeared to be no other damage there. Down the hill on the same day, another tree was hit by lightning and fell against a power line that fed a street light.

A July 27 electrical storm was blamed for knocking out wireless service for Salida, Leadville, and Mount Princeton.

Lightning was not blamed for a glitch on Aug. 20 that shut down some credit-card machines, wireless, long-distance, and Internet services at varied spots in Gunnison, Salida, Crested Butte, and Grand Junction. The glitch hit Qwest facilities, many of which provide services to other carriers like AT&T and Verizon. The outage lasted about seven hours.

Hot Dog Dangers

The hot-dog shaped diner made its move from Conifer to Bailey along U.S. 285 a while back, and it’s now in business. The problem is that 285 is a busy highway, and there’s no turn lane. Since it opened, there have been three accidents at the turn.

“When you’re driving up to the intersection, you have to make a split-second decision whether to turn or to stop,” co-owner Ron Aigner told the Fairplay Flume. “If there’s a car coming the other way, you’ve got to slam on your brakes, and so does everyone behind you.”

He hopes they can figure out something with the Colorado Department of Transportation, and if there isn’t room to make for a safe entry, he’ll consider closing the restaurant.

Saving the Tank

Half a century ago when steam locomotives remained in use, railroad water tanks were pretty common. Nowadays, we can think of only three in our area: South Fork, one along the LC&S line between Leadville and Climax, and Sargents.

Sargents, on the west side of Monarch Pass, also sits at the west foot of Marshall Pass, the old narrow-gauge railroad crossing. Helper locomotives were attached to east-bound trains at Sargents, which was once a busy railroad town.

The tracks were removed in 1956, but the water tank, built to replace a smaller one in 1937, remains in its original location. It had been in private hands until 2005, when the Upper Tomichi Historical Community Association (UTHCA) bought it with plans for preservation.

That will involve treating the wood, among other things, and UTHCA needs to raise about $20,000 to make the repairs and to match various grants. If you’re interested in contributing, make that check out to UTHCA, P.O. Box 104, Sargents CO 81248; for more information, call 970-642-1346.


“You guys have instruments of war, waking us up.”

Gunnison resident Bob Teitler, talking about military helicopter tests at the local airport, Gunnison Country Times, Aug. 23

“I don’t want body counts to determine what is done to improve safety on these roads.”

Custer County Commissioner Dick Downey in the Sept. 6 Wet Mountain Tribune.

“Gregg [Smith] was training for the ’24 Hours in the Sage’ when he fell, injuring his sternum, back, and neck. My heartfelt thanks go out to the three men who were riding with Gregg and took care of him … I am sure that years of exaggerated stories lie ahead.”

Marta Smith in the Gunnison Country Times, Aug. 23.

“… we could list the foods we’d like to eat before we diet. I begin my list with a cherry pie; its flaky pastry would be laced with lard. Crisco is good, but lard is better.”

Doris Dembosky in the Wet Mountain Tribune, Aug. 16.

“About 75 percent of all students graduating from high school today stay within 100 miles of their home to go to college. Ten years ago, it was only 60 to 65 percent. That’s a trend that is not helpful to us.”

Tim Albers, director of admissions at Western State College, Gunnison Country Times, Aug. 23

“I don’t complain about a rained-on bale of hay. I can deal with a rained-on bale of hay. It’s when you’re droughted out and there is no bale of hay, that is really not fun.”

Mike Shields, local rancher, in the Wet Mountain Tribune, Aug. 30.

“We do seem to be at least somewhat insulated — both from national economic surges (which is why it’s so hard to make a living here) and the corresponding slides (which is why it’s consistently hard, but not impossible).”

Chris Dickey in the Gunnison Country Times, Sept. 6

“We’re nice people here, but we aren’t that nice.”

Marcia Martinek in the Leadville Herald-Democrat, Sept. 6

“It’s the only place I’ve ever pastored where people come early to get front-row seats.”

Retiring Tin Cup chaplain Newt Cole in the Gunnison Country Times, Aug. 30.