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Regional Roundup

Brief by Ed Quillen

Local News – June 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

New neighbors

For starters, let’s be clear here. There’s the regular Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, based in Salt Lake City and popularly known as the Mormon Church. It forbade polygamy in 1890, and it is grounds for excommunication from the church.

Then there are sects which still practice polygamy, among them the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or FLDS. It has been much in the news lately after Texas authorities raided an FLDS ranch and put 462 children into foster care. Texas authorities allege that the FLDS indoctrinates teen-aged girls to enter into polygamous marriages and bear children at a young age.

The FLDS isn’t just in Texas. The group dominates two remote towns — Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah — which sit across the state border from each other. And now some FLDS members might be moving into Central Colorado.

Lee A. Steed has purchased at least three parcels in Custer County, and two in Fremont County. Steed, a member of the FLDS, was an aide to Warren S. Jeffs, who was sent to prison in 2007 for his part in arranging plural marriages for under-aged girls.

One of the properties, near Westcliffe, is a 6,000-square-foot nine-bedroom house on 35 acres. Neighbors said that a group of women and men moved in shortly after the sale, in November 2006, and began working day and night.

Last December, Steed bought 80 acres of grazing land in Custer County, and in April, he bought 80 acres with a ranch house and outbuildings about six miles south of Silver Cliff. In Fremont County, he bought a log home near Cotopaxi in July of 2007, and in December, 40 acres with a ranch house about 10 miles south of Florence.

Some neighbors are worried about the buyer and activity they see. Others figure there are plenty of other religious conclaves hereabouts, and they haven’t caused anyone any harm, so why get upset about the FLDS.

Custer County Sheriff Fred Jobe observed that “We are definitely aware that they are here,” but unless “they break some laws, there isn’t much we can do.”

Enduring Winter

Normally, many mountain roads that are not plowed in the winter do get plowed out by Memorial Day. But thanks to heavy winter snows and snowfall that continued into May, some roads will be closed well into June this year.

Cottonwood Pass, which rises to 12,126 feet between Buena Vista and Taylor Park, is normally cleared by Gunnison County on the west side and Chaffee on the east. But the road lay under up to 18 feet of snow in its higher stretches, according to Chaffee County road supervisor Joe Nelson, who made a snowmobile inspection in mid-May. Not only is that beyond the capability of local equipment, but several avalanche hazards remain.

A mid-June opening is the earliest possibility, he said. On the Gunnison side, county public works director Marlene Crosby joked that the safe bet for opening Kebler and Cottonwood passes was Labor Day.

The campgrounds at Turquoise Lake west of Leadville were all reserved for Memorial Day weekend, but there were doubts as to whether the road could be opened in time, with county plowing crews facing 12-foot drifts in early May.

Independence Pass tops out at 12,095 feet between Twin Lakes and Aspen. Colorado Department of Transportation crews hoped to have it open by Memorial Day, but again, there was a lot of snow — 15 feet deep in some stretches — as well as avalanche danger.

As we went to press, spring runoff had not started in earnest, but area river flows were generally above average, as reservoir managers released water downstream to make room to store some of this year’s run-off. Flooding danger seemed low, but Buena Vista is ready with a stockpile of sandbags just in case Cottonwood Creek gets frisky.

Winds of Spring

On some windy days you have to hold on to your hat. And then there are those days when the wind makes it impossible to keep a semi-trailer on the road. That happened May 2 on Red Hill Pass, when a trailer was blown over. One South Park gust clocked at 109 mph that day.

In much of Central Colorado, valley floors remained dry even though deep snow lingered on the peaks, which made wildfires a real possibility. In Saguache, the town board banned burning of leaves and brush, “due to the dry, high-wind conditions.”

Mark Jacobi, deputy fire chief in Crestone, reported five “Red Flag Warnings” in April — dry windy days when “a small fire” can grow “very large, very fast.” In those conditions, the firefighters focus on evacuation for safety, rather than extinguishing the fire. “You have to be prepared, stay calm, and act for your own safety in case that happens.”

The national economy visits

In much of America, there’s a “foreclosure crisis” as people are unable to make their house payments — perhaps because the house price has declined so that it’s worth less than the amount borrowed against it.

Chaffee County had 66 foreclosures in all of 2007, but there were 22 in the first quarter of 2008, which put the county on track for 88 this year. In Gunnison County, there were 13 in the first quarter, compared to 26 in all of last year, which means a doubling of the rate. In other counties in Central Colorado, the 2008 rate is about the same as 2007’s.

Good Journalism

State law requires that public bodies publish how they spend public money. That way the public can keep an eye on local government, even if people seldom take the trouble to read those fine-print legal notices in the back of the local newspaper.

There’s no law that requires an explanation of the spending, but such explaining can make for good reading, and we commend the Leadville Herald-Democrat for its new front-page feature: a brief explanation or expansion of one of that week’s legal notices, as with:

“In April, the city spent $11.50 for three Blue Kongs, which are hollow dog chew toys. At the animal shelter, the human places a dog treat inside the toy for the dog to play with while the dog tries to retrieve the treat. The dogs seem to destroy the stuffed animals and tennis balls quickly, but this toy is nearly indestructible, said Steph Dwyer of the animal shelter.”

We hope other papers will do something similar.

Querquicentennial or Quasquicentennial

The Wet Mountain Tribune in Westcliffe just turned 125, or perhaps a little older. As publisher Jim Little explained, the way that volumes and editions are numbered makes it hard to determine just when the first one was published, and “since we’ve never seen one of those very earliest issues, we may never know.”

Jim used “quasquicentennial” for the 125th; there doesn’t appear to be a dictionary term analogous to centennial or sesquicentennial (150 years, as with Fort Garland), so it’s roll-your-own Latin to come up with a term.

We also note that the Trib used the longest word we’ve seen lately in a regular headline in its April 24 edition: “Phlebotomists.” It was about the Health Fair, and phlebobotomy is the practice of drawing blood.

Climax return

Once the snow is out of the way atop Fremont Pass, presumably sometime in June, concrete work will begin at the Climax molybdenum mine, which employed 3,000 people in 1980 before the market collapsed and the mine closed.

It was the largest underground mine in the world back then; this time around, it will be an open-pit operation and is scheduled to resume production in 2010. During this construction season, the mill building shell should be completed. About 500 construction workers are expected to be employed this summer.

On the other side of the Mosquito Range, mines are at the other end of the cycle; about 20 old adits and shafts on Mt. Sherman and Horseshoe Mountain will be sealed this summer as a safety measure by the state’s mine reclamation agency.


“Someone has spotted one or two Lake County sheriff’s cars parked near the Granite store on a regular basis. Why? According to Sheriff Ed Holte, a deputy sheriff is friends with the owner of the store and is living there and keeping an eye on the place. That’s one car. Sometimes another deputy stops by. That’s the other car. You read it here first.”

Marcia Martinek in the Leadville Herald-Democrat, April 10.

“I realize that Aurora, Brighton, Westminster, Golden, Broomfield, Littleton, etc. are all considered ‘Denver’ by some. However, I do not want my relatives in the Westcliffe area to think I am working for an organization that is planning to take more water out of the valley.”

Dave Little of Denver Water in the Wet Mountain Tribune, April 17.

As for the water in Gunnison County’s Antelope Hills subdivision with its high radium levels, “I won’t drink it. My family won’t drink it. I won’t even give it to my cats.”

Dale Briels, in the Gunnison Country Times, May 1

“The issue of Baca annexation by the town of Crestone remains dead in the water until old timers die — such is my projection. For those who don’t know, there’s long-standing historical resentment against the Baca from the ‘Townies’ side.”

Doug Larsen in the Crestone Eagle, May 2008

“Some say that Gunnison could be as great as Moab and touted the concept [a bicycle trail from Crested Butte to Gunnison] as an economic boon. I have to wonder, have you ever been to Moab? It is a zoo with bicycles, motorcycle, and four-wheeler everywhere.”

Polly Oberosler of Gunnison. letter in the Gunnison Country Times, May 8.

“Amid a host of deficiencies including missing street signs, hidden stop signs, diagonal parking on East Main Street, potholes and lax traffic enforcement, looms ominously the constant danger of the inability to safely walk across Highway 24 for the entire length of town [Buena Vista] except at the stoplight.”

Mike Bullock in the Chaffee County Times, May 8.

“There’s a great deal to be optimistic about in 2008.”

Dick Wadhams, Colorado Republican state chairman, in the Wet Mountain Tribune, May 1.

“Yet, these undoubtedly ‘dumb developments’ — by today’s standards — literally make up the fabric of our community…. The very thing that makes a modern resort community like Crested Butte possible — a ski area — would never, ever be approved from scratch today. Can you imagine the protests? The lawsuits?”

Chris Dickey in the Gunnison Country Times, April 10.