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Regional Roundup

Brief by Martha Quillen

Regional News – March 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

Weather, Weather and More Weather

Weather has been the biggest headliner this season. Snow has fallen in cumbersome amounts, resulting in huge snowpacks. As of February 13, the Arkansas basin snowpack was 168% of average, the upper Rio Grande, 169% of average; and the Gunnison, 147% of average (and on February 14th, it started snowing again). Heavy snowpacks have heightened avalanche dangers and clogged backcountry roads, inspiring travelers’ advisories: don’t stop, don’t stand, beware of treacherous trails, and double check conditions before x-country skiing or snowmobiling.

But snow hasn’t been the whole story. Temperatures have plummeted repeatedly, icing highways throughout our region, plunging to 35 below in Guffey, and freezing water meters in Salida.

Looking downstream from Barrel.
Looking downstream from Barrel.

And wicked winds have swept through the high country, closing highways, and stranding motorists. Conditions in the Fairplay area on January 29 shut U.S. 285 from Grant to Fairplay; shelters for stranded motorists were opened in Hartsel and Fairplay due to severe ground blizzards; and wind gusts in excess of 120 miles per hour were reported on Monarch Pass.

Adverse weather conditions have also lead to big problems clearing roads and worry about people living in remote subdivisions — especially in South Park. In response to reports of stranded residents in the Fairplay area, Chaffee County authorities recommended numerous precautions, including keeping food on hand, medical prescriptions filled in advance, and wood piles covered.

Accidents have also been a problem throughout Central Colorado. On February 8, high wind and blowing snow created extremely hazardous driving conditions in Chaffee County, resulting in at least 11 wrecks.

And figuring out what to do with all this snow has been problematical, too. On February 14, the front page of the Denver Post featured a picture taken near Fairplay, of a road plow totally dwarfed by a huge mountain of snow.

This surfeit of snow and cold has been somewhat surprising, given that forecasters predicted a dry, La Nina season for 2007-2008. And thus few weathermen are predicting what to expect this spring (except, of course, flooding)

Businesses Come and Go

The restaurant at the historic Fairplay Hotel closed in late December, partially due to litigation between the owner, David Meredith, and his former partner, Julia Devillaz, according to the January 18 Fairplay Flume.

Ten restaurant employees lost their jobs because of the closure, but the Fairplay Hotel’s bar and hotel remain open, and the bar continues to serve some food supplied by local restaurants (sandwiches, soup salad, pie and ice cream) in order to comply with state liquor laws. Meredith told the local paper he didn’t have the expertise to run a restaurant, and the impending lawsuit will likely discourage potential partners and/or investors for the time being. Therefore, he didn’t expect to reopen the restaurant any time soon.

In Guffey, Peaceful Henry’s Mountain Inn also closed — after seven years of serving food and music. According to the Fairplay Flume, that left only two places “to grab a bite to eat in Guffey,” Rita’s Place and the Freshwater Saloon.

To Feed Or Not to Feed the Deer

In January, the Colorado Division of Wildlife solicited money and volunteers to feed 8,000 mule deer threatened by this winter’s fierce weather. But even though the CDOW has taken measures to feed starving deer herds, the division is trying to stop private citizens from feeding the scrawny looking deer in our towns and fields.

The CDOW has strict criteria for feeding animals during harsh conditions. Although deer may look thin and some vulnerable animals are dying, not all herds should be fed, the agency maintains, because it’s considered best not to accustom wild animals to human food sources, thereby interfering with natural selection and encouraging overpopulation in artificial feeding areas.

Also, according to the Division, deer require a specific diet and cannot digest hay or pet food. If you want to share the sagebrush and shrubs on your property, go ahead and knock off the snow so deer will have access. “But please don’t put out food for big game animals.”

Fish Tales

Hofer/Rainbow cross fingerlings were used to stock some Colorado waterways in the last few years because they appear to be resistant to whirling disease. But they didn’t seem to be reproducing well in the wild. Now, however, some Hofer rainbow trout have been found to be breeding naturally in the Gunnison River.

“They were plump, colorful fish,” and “looked good,” according to Barry Nehring a DOW researcher interviewed by the Gunnison Country Times.

Fish frailty also concerned DOW officials at Antero Reservoir recently — due to huge crusted snowdrifts covering the ice there. The sunlight necessary for oxygen production doesn’t penetrate thick drifts, so the DOW decided to plow portions of the ice, and temporarily recommended that anglers keep rather than release fish caught there — since fish stressed by limited oxygen conditions were unlikely to survive the usual catch and release tactics.

Health Care Concerns Continue

A state commission looking into creating a better health care system presented a comprehensive report in late January. It recommended mandating that all Coloradans have health insurance, with the state providing subsidies for those who can’t afford it. The commission also recommended requiring that insurance companies cover anyone regardless of health status; expanding eligibility to Medicaid programs; and increasing Medicaid fees to doctors and hospitals.

But according to the Denver Post, Colorado’s health care plans will probably be shelved during 2008. Sen. Bob Hagedorn (D, Aurora) told the Post that some of the commission’s recommendations violate federal law, and it was unclear where the money for the plan would come from. Gov. Bill Ritter called the commission’s report important, but admitted that changing the system would not be easy. A Post editorial suggested that a federal/state partnership is probably the best bet for health care reform. Thus, 2008 is not the year to expect any sweeping changes.

Meanwhile, over in Gunnison County, the League of Women Voters urged the Gunnison County Commissioners to endorse a single-payer system. Meetings with businessmen, local citizens, and the medical community convinced the organization that it’s “the only credible system that has the potential to provide coverage for all citizens and, at the same time, greatly reduce costs.”

The Gunnison County Times quoted Dr. John Tarr, whose wife was diagnosed with cancer three years ago. Tarr said he spoke from the perspective of a small town businessman and health care consumer: “I think this is a no brainer. I see the headlines all the time of these health care conglomerates’ CEOs getting their 43 million dollar bonuses and their 115 million dollar stock options. Think of how much health care could be provided for this — quote — executive compensation.


* Crested Butte was named as one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2008.” So if you haven’t been there, this year might be the perfect time to check out that picturesque old town which the Trust says “oozes with charm.”

* Turnout was high at Colorado caucuses on February 5th — especially Democratic caucuses. In Colorado, Obama and Romney prevailed, and so it was in most of Central Colorado — although McCain edged out Romney for a slight lead in Custer County.

* Mary Burt praised her lucky cowgirl boots for saving her when a Rottweiler tied to a bench in downtown Gunnison got loose, approached her from behind and clamped down on her ankle. Although the bite broke Burt’s skin and left a lump, her heavy boots almost certainly mitigated the damage. The dog’s owner was fined $775 and the dog got five years probation.

* The unknown civil war era soldier, who was found alongside parts of his wooden coffin on the banks of the Arkansas after flooding last year, was buried with pomp, circumstance and an Honor Guard and bagpiper in attendance at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado in Grand Junction. The man’s remains and several buttons found with the bones were identified by CSU anthropologists as belonging to a 35- to 45-year-old Caucasian male connected with civil war era dragoon/calvary units in Kansas.

* Shaylynn McGowan, a seven-year old Salidan, turned hero when her home went up in smoke. A fire started in the front bedroom at about 7:45 a.m., rapidly spreading and filling the house with heavy smoke. Whereupon Shaylynn, crawling on her hands and knees, led her 4-year-old brother Raymond to the bathroom, shut the door and got them into the bathtub for safety. Their father subsequently managed to gather his family together, including the two children and two dogs, and get them out of the house. The fire was apparently started by an overloaded extension cord.

* Rebecca Hutcheson, wife of the Hartsel Fire Protection District Chief Jay Hutcheson who was charged with and then cleared of financial improprieties, filed a wrongful termination suit against District Attorney Molly Chilson in late January. Hutcheson, who was employed in the Fairplay office of the district attorney for a year before her husband was charged with seven counts of theft, alleges that Chilson fired her from her job because of her husband’s legal difficulties. Hutcheson seeks compensatory and punitive damages and compensation for lost wages.

* Marilea J. Rans, a former Salida lending officer, pled guilty to charges of embezzlement in January, because she took out $404,741 in unauthorized loans to make improvements on her home. With the help of family, she was able to make partial restitution of $160,338, but still owed plenty. The plea agreement stipulated that Rans would be prohibited from holding the position of bank loan officer in future, and could face loss of civil rights including the right to possess firearms, vote, serve on a jury, or hold elected office. Statutory maximum penalties for her offense could mean 30 years in prison and a one million dollar fine, but actual penalties were not decided at that time.

* Local and Denver news outlets reported that thirty-five horses were removed from the Flying Ah Ranch near Jefferson after Park County officials investigated allegations of neglect. Some of the horses were in horrific condition and a necropsy conducted on four dead horses showed the animals had died of starvation. But that didn’t mean the ranch operators were “bad, evil people,” a sheriff’s spokesman said; they may merely have lacked the resources to care for so many animals. The ranch conducted rescue operations, and ranch President Carol Martin said many of the horses had come to her in terrible condition. Martin voluntarily surrendered the animals and she and her husband were charged with seven counts of animal cruelty — with further charges possible, pending investigation.

* David Frain, the new Salida Steam Plant Theater Director, came and went like the wind, resigning on January 23, after less than two weeks on the job; he cited personal considerations and problems commuting from his home in Kansas as reasons for his departure. But Michael Varnum was quickly hired to replace Frain and began work in February.


“When it comes down to dedication the volunteer firefighters of Platte Canyon Fire Protection District rose to the occasion as, with one minute left in the Super Bowl game Sunday, their beepers went off to respond to a fire. . . .”

Tom Locke, editor, Flume, February 8, 2008

“I read the article concerning cleaning the sidewalks in front of our homes or we will get a ticket. I have a problem with this. . . .

“. . . I have no more room to put my snow without putting it in my house. When the city pushes the snow off the street into my cars and sidewalk, what am I to do with it I ask?”

Letter-writer Greg Douglas, Leadville Herald Democrat, Jan. 24

“Cell phones can be hazardous”

Headline over picture of an upside down Toyota 4Runner, Herald Democrat, Feb. 7

“We live without television, but we most certainly watch too many DVDs on the computer. . . .

“It has not escaped our notice that we gave up TV so as to have more time to read, but as our brave new world has played out, we have substituted one vice for another. Two series in particular, Six Feet Under and Deadwood sucked us into a fourth dimension where we watched two episodes every night!”

Columnist Doris Dembosky, Wet Mountain Tribune, Feb. 7

“It made her sad she told me one afternoon, to know the rain would wash into the ants’ houses and drown them. I told her ants were very smart and would surely remember to shut the door behind them when they smelled the rain coming.”

Columnist Kathy Lovato, The Saguache Crescent, Jan. 17

“Although we supposedly live in the most densely populated province in the world’s most populous country, paradoxically, I don’t feel any population pressure until I go to a national park.”

From “Adventures in China,” by Victoria Woodard in The Saguache Crescent, Feb. 7

“Winning is still everything and all is fair in love and politics (yeah, I know it’s love and war, but the German strategist Von Clauswitz in his treatise On War states that war is politics carried out by other means).”

Columnist David Nicholas, The Crestone Eagle, Feb. 2008.