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Regional Roundup

Brief by Ed Quillen

Local News – August 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

Dry and High

The rivers are running well and the reservoirs are filling, thanks to a heavy snowpack. But not much water has fallen out of the sky recently. The Salida Mountain Mail pointed out that by July 1 in an average year, the city has received about 4 inches of moisture, whereas this year, the total is less than 2 inches.

We notice the aridity when out walking the dog. Last summer there was an abundance of weeds and brush inspired by moisture, while this summer there’s a lot of dust. The August monsoons may change that, but in July, the dryness added to the excitement of Independence Day fireworks.

In Salida, falling embers from aerial fireworks started several small fires on Tenderfoot Hill. Since fire fighters were in charge of the display, they were on hand to extinguish them quickly.

Maysville Schoolhouse exterior, Regional Roundup heading
Maysville Schoolhouse exterior, Regional Roundup heading

Leadville put two brush trucks to work handling 16 spot fires that ignited along U.S. 24 on account of the city’s fireworks show. All were put out quickly, and Fire Chief Bob Harvey said no fire was bigger than 1/10 of an acre.

Westcliffe generally avoids such problems by shooting the fireworks over Lake DeWeese, but the show was delayed this year because firefighters had to check out a report of a fire on Forest Service land. Also, one of the launching mortars exploded, knocking two firefighters off their feet, but they were not injured.

The Orient Land Trust decided to cancel its annual fireworks show at Valley View Hot Springs on account of “windy, hot, and dry conditions.”

Ursine attractions

Dry weather means fewer wild plants. That has a good side, in that it also means fewer mice and thus fewer rattlesnakes out there. But it also means that bears have a harder time finding food in the wild, which means they’re more likely to wander into town.

Not just our small towns, either. A 250-pound bear broke through the glass doors at Circuit City in Colorado Springs on July 15. It left quickly, as it apparently had no appetite for cell phones or flat-screen TVs.

In Salida, a bear raided trash cans along Sackett Avenue early in the morning on June 30. Authorities searched for it without success, but Ron Dobson, local wildlife manager, predicted it would return and advised people not to put food trash out until pickup day.

Buena Vistans spotted a year-old bear out looking for trash on July 3. There was another sighting of a bear in a Buena Vista yard on June 28. Although there were photos of both, we couldn’t tell if they were the same bear or two different critters.

And on the Baca Grande near Crestone, a woman reported that on June 26, a bear attempted to break into her house even after she tried to scare it away with loud noises and bright lights. “This bear was aggressive and dangerous as it didn’t seem afraid of humans.”

A Fairplay resident stored his trash in his garage, and a bear tried to get into the garage on July 1. The resident fired two rounds from a .38 to scare the bear away. It wandered off slowly, then returned, so the resident called the sheriff’s department. By the time deputies arrived, the bear had wandered off again.

We didn’t see any bear reports from frequent hot spots like Westcliffe and Poncha Springs. Either they’re doing a good job with their trash, or bears have become so common that no one bothers reporting them any more.

Conservation Ranchers

Coleman Ranches, Inc., based in Saguache County, won the 2008 Leopold Conservation Award for Colorado from the Sand County Foundation. It’s named for Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac, one of the pioneering works on conservation in America.

The family ranch covers about 1,500 acres, and is owned and operated by Jim and Frances Coleman, their son, Tim, and his wife, Chessa.

As the Foundation explained, “The Colemans have made numerous efforts to preserve the natural integrity of their ranch. They were the first family ranch in the Saguache Creek area to protect their land with a conservation easement. Their property supports a diversity of wildlife, including several bird species, elk, mule deer, and cottontails. Saguache Creek, which flows through their ranch, provides habitat for Rio Grande chub and cutthroat trout. The Colemans permit limited hunting and fishing on their land to manage these populations. They utilize rotational grazing, cross-fencing and water facilities to prevent over-grazing and improve ranch forage.”

FLDS violations

Custer County has issued citations for zoning and building-code violations on a 35-acre parcel occupied by members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints Church.

The FLDS has been much in the news of late after a raid in Texas, and its leaders promote polygamy.

Jackie Hobby, the Custer County zoning director, had inspected the property before, but this time around, she asked for an escort from the sheriff because she had felt uncomfortable going alone. The FLDS attorney said she was welcome, but the sheriff was not, so Sheriff Fred Jobe got a search warrant so he could accompany her.

Hobby said the parcel’s current septic system was designed for no more than four people, and there were more than four people living there. Also, there were buildings that had been erected without a permit.

So the county ordered that a new septic system be designed and built, and that the FLDS apply for permits with the penalty of triple fees.

However, the Wet Mountain Tribune reported, Sheriff Fred Jobe said that otherwise, “We saw no criminal activity.” Even so, at a public meeting Jobe said, “We don’t want them here. I just don’t want them to think they’re gonna move in and take over the county.”

The FLDS owns several other parcels in Custer County and nearby in Fremont County.

Open Trails

Since 2005, it’s been technically illegal to climb three 14ers in Park County: Lincoln, Democrat, and Bross. That’s because the trails cross privately owned mining claims, some of them with old mine shafts and tunnels, and the property owners were worried about liability.

We say “technically illegal” because climbing has continued, and we haven’t heard of any arrests. The Park County sheriff seems to have plenty to keep him busy without putting a deputy on duty above timberline.

Since 2005, state law has changed to help insulate property owners from possible climber lawsuits, and various mountain-minded groups have been working with the town of Alma to construct trails and signage. Landowners have agreed to cooperate on Lincoln and Democrat, which could open this fall. As for Bross, some landowners can’t be contacted, and others don’t want to allow public access.

Water Colors

There might be a red or yellow-green tint to the water flowing into Chalk Creek in the St. Elmo area, but it’s not pollution. Instead, it’s part of an effort to fight pollution.

The pollution, in this case, is heavy metal water that seeps out of the old Mary Murphy Mine and into Chalk Creek. The colors are from non-toxic dyes that are being added to five collapsed stopes. If the colored water emerges on the surface, then researchers will know the course taken by water containing metallic ions, and may be able to devise a way to divert surface water away from the source of contamination.

In that case, less water would have to be treated, and that would save considerable money. The study involves about 20 specialists from state and federal agencies.

Wild Weird West?

The South Park City museum complex on the edge of Fairplay became the town of Eden’s End for a 10-minute pilot filmed there on June 21 and 22.

The pilot was for a proposed TV show called “The Weird West,” which would combine supernatural and Western themes, and the filming included a shoot-out and a hanging.

South Park City is about as authentic as a Western set can get, although most of its buildings once sat elsewhere in Park County, and were moved to the museum to preserve them. More filming is planned in December, and if the pilot sells and a network buys the series, South Park could be famous for something besides the cartoon on Comedy Central.

Public Transportation

After one plan for a bus from Gunnison to Denver, with stops in Chaffee and Park counties, fell through, another one is under consideration by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The last bus through this area, other than charters, ran on Aug. 17, 2005. The company, a subsidiary of Greyhound, dropped its Grand Junction-Denver service on account of lack of ridership.

CDOT hoped to get service restored last year, but did not accept the proposal from Alpine Express. This time around, there’s a proposal from Arrow Stage Lines for five-day-a-week service. If the proposal is accepted, service could start in September.

Slowing construction

In the first half of 2008, building permits in Chaffee County showed a slight decline from the first half of 2007, with 250 permits issued this year, compared to 257 last year. The valuation was slightly higher this year, $28.7 million, with last year’s at $28.3 million.

“There’s been continued growth in the valley, and I don’t think it’s going to slow down,” said Dave Chelf at Poncha Lumber.

But it’s a different story on the other side of the Great Divide. As of June 23, Gunnison County had issued just 71 building permits, compared to 118 during the same interval in 2007. City building permits suffered a similar decline.

Builders there blamed several factors. A hard winter meant a late start, but mostly they blamed financial markets which make it harder for buyers to get financing to build new homes. “It’s very difficult to get money to build right now,” said builder Jamie Watt.

Permits in Mesa County were down by 31 percent in the first four months of 2008 compared to 2007, and down 57 percent in Montrose County this year.


“Featured speakers [at the 2008 UFOlympics] will be Mary Munoz who is a generational experience; Joe Fex who will discuss chronological Sasquatch history for the past 1000 years and guided psychic self-protection and grounding with Mother Earth, connecting with your higher self.”

— Article in the Crestone Eagle, July 2008

“As far as camping, partying and running amok, I think all of that was going on way before anyone built their house on top of Lake DeWeese. It seems there are a lot of things that come with change that we might not like. I think that like the antelope, rattlesnake, and coyote, we will have to adapt or move out.”

Rick Camper, letter in the June 19 Wet Mountain Tribune

“If something doesn’t reverse the decline, eventually we would be left with a peculiar community dynamic. We’d be populated with people who didn’t care about money at all, and those who had already made or been given theirs.”

John Norton in the July 3 Gunnison Country Times

“It is indeed sad that the good citizens of Leadville and Lake County are forced to deal with such highly politicized and bloated governmental entities that couldn’t tell the difference between cribs on West Second Street and those on the 240 and 260 X-Cut at Climax.”

Patrick Harvey, letter in the July 10 Leadville Herald-Democrat.

Referring to the success of the winter deer-feeding program during a hard winter in the Gunnison Country, “We may not have kept them wild by feeding them, but we kept them alive so they could be wild another day.”

Tom Spezze of CDOW in the June 19 Gunnison Country Times.

In reference to an article about motorists having to slow down for dogs on Alma streets, “Well, I’ll be hanged. You mean something makes the tourists slow down? In that case, please send some dogs up County Road 12 … The ATVs and dirt bikes … continue to speed after you stop them.”

Kay McLaughlin in the June 27 Fairplay Flume.