With the warmer months on their way, the town of Dillon is looking to add extra polish to its summer events centerpiece, the Dillon Amphitheatre. The 25-year-old venue hosts a bevy of outdoor performances during the summer evenings, including free concerts, movie nights, dances and civic ceremonies.
The town intends to renovate the amphitheater within the next five years, starting with a master plan completed by Denver-based architecture firm Sink Combs Dethlefs.
“The amphitheater is just one of those beloved community amenities that is much greater than our town of Dillon,” Marketing and communications director Kerstin Anderson said. “We tried to hold on to qualities that made amphitheater so special but allow for more flexibility and expansion.”
Town council recently gave a preliminary approval to move forward with construction-level drawings of the amphitheater and secure financing for improvements through cash, loans, grants and capital campaigns.
“There are plenty of things we need to do,” Dillon town manager Tom Breslin said. “It needs a facelift, it needs to get ADA compliant, we need restrooms there and we need backstage facilities.”
To start, the master plan include improved restroom facilities, with about seven restrooms total, better ADA accessibility, a less steep grass seating area, wider stairways and increased walkway lighting. In total, the updated amphitheater will be able to host about 3,254 guests — slightly more than before. Every year, the venue draws upwards of 30,000 spectators, Anderson said.
“It’s just a lot of things that need to be updated,” town engineer Dan Burroughs said. “The stage is pretty small; the orchestra barely fits on it. We want a bigger stage to facilitate the orchestra every year.”
The new stage would measure 40 feet by 60 feet, allowing for a larger range of performance acts, and pushed back toward Lake Dillon, to allow for improved sightlines. New facilities, including a permanent box office, concession stand, restrooms and a first aid room will be located between the parking lot and seating bowl. The proposed update would also include better backstage facilities, including two green rooms, a loading area, staging areas and added storage.
“We think it will definitely improve the quality of our concerts,” Breslin said. “A better green room will probably bring in better acts.”
In addition, a decorative enclosure fence is proposed to help control visitor access, allowing for ticketed events. The sound system won’t be changed immediately, as it was recently updated, but may be part of the plan in the long term.
“The overall design is specifically intended to be more contemporary in order to project a progressive image for this essential town asset,” the master plan noted.
Burroughs said while the plan was still in the preliminary stages, construction drawings would help bring in a better estimate of the final price tag.
“Once we get a better handle on the cost, we’ll see what we can afford and where we can build that over next five years,” he said.
The amphitheater renovations are just a piece of Dillon’s capital improvements plan for the next 10 years, Breslin said. Looking at the past nine years, the town spent about $27 million on capital and is budgeting about $28 million for the next 10 years.
Along with the amphitheater, Dillon will also spend significant time and funds on improving Town Park. Breslin said they planned to address the amphitheater over the next three years, and Town Park in 2019 and 2020.
“The investment in the amphitheater is part of a long term plan to invest in public amenities in order to support and encourage redevelopment opportunities in the Town Center,” Mayor Kevin Burns said in a statement. “As part of the 2015 annual retreat, (council) looked at our goal of driving economic redevelopment and determined that the best action we can take currently is to invest in aging public amenities that have a proven track record of providing enjoyment for residents and guests, and that also contribute to the success and sustainability of our town by driving awareness, foot traffic and spending in Dillon.”
For the Dillon Amphitheatre, Breslin said the town would look at a phased approach to construction, ideally conducting work in the fall after the end of the summer concert series and in the spring, before the festivities start for the season.
“We’ll see how that works when we start working with the people who are going to build it,” he said. “We’re just excited to begin this undertaking. The staff’s worked quite hard to put this all together.”
Not too long down the road now, bicycling and walking around Summit Cove near Keystone will get a major boost.
The Colorado Department of Transportation, known better as just CDOT, announced its annual Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant awards last week, and Summit County is a beneficiary in a big way. CDOT ranked the Summit Cove Elementary bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements as its top overall proposal in the state for the 2016 funding cycle, providing $350,000 to complete the project.
“This is the kind of project that this grant is really made for, to make it easier for kids to decide to take a bike or walk to school” said Thad Noll, assistant county manager. “It has been really difficult for some of the Western, more rural school districts to get these grants in the past, so this was a big deal.”
The SRTS program was created specifically to help communities throughout Colorado make school passages safer and more accessible by funding education and safe infrastructure, as well as encourage healthy options for arriving to school. The county first began discussing the idea of improving those area byways about four years ago but partnered closely with the Summit School District to attract CDOT to the pedestrian and bicycle land connections portion of its larger Summit Cove Loop Project late last year.
County senior planner Kate Berg and Crystal Miller, Summit Cove Elementary’s longtime principal, then got together during the school’s Christmas break and, using successful SRTS petitions from the past as their framework, hammered out all of the details for their grant application. Four and half months later, their pleas were heard.
“We want to see more kids out on bikes and walking to school, and maybe parents being more comfortable walking with their kids to school. I just think it’s a real positive thing for the school and county, and it makes these choices easy to make.”Thad Nollassistant county manager
“CDOT saw our site and condition,” said Miller, “and they ranked this one No. 1. We were pretty excited about that, to see that and have it realized so quickly. We’re thrilled to have received it, and now it’s time to dig up some concrete.”
Total estimated cost of the improvement plan is roughly $468,000 and the grant will cover approximately 75 percent of that, with construction scheduled to begin in summer 2017. The county will foot the remainder of the bill, on top of the costs associated with the Summit Cove enhancements outside of the school zone.
In particular, the school upgrades will include a raised and colored 4-foot wide pedestrian-bicycle lane on Cove Boulevard and construction of parallel-parking spots for student drop-off and pick-up, as well as better sidewalk accessibility to the present sites of ADA ramps and elevators into the elementary. Some of the new funding will also go toward some in-school programming to encourage students and parents to walk and bike to school.
“On nice days, our bike racks here are pretty full,” said Miller, “but with maybe four-to-five kids with no helmet, so we talk to them. But we have a curriculum on bike safety and helmet safety, as well as healthy lifestyles units of inquiry. We’ll integrate this great bike path into that and, hopefully, be able to make an impact.”
County approximations list Summit Cove, one of the more residential, family-dense neighborhoods — as opposed to second homes — as possessing 1,330 dwellings with a total of 1,600 residents. About 75 percent of the elementary school’s students live within a single mile, but, because of existing road conditions, biking or walking to school can be both difficult and dangerous, especially during the winter months. In turn, Summit Cove is the only elementary in the district that offers bussing to students less than a half-mile from the school.
“Given the winter environment and the way the road is structured as a loop that goes around — think about how a loop is plowed and with no sidewalk — it’s not really safe for students to walk on the road,” explained Miller. “Parents feel pressed to drive students because there’s not a way to access the school when there’s snow. With a sidewalk, I just think if we can keep it clear — and it’s my expectation that we can — kids can walk here in the morning, and there will be less traffic and less pollution around the school, all those sorts of things.”
She also noted the increased warm-weather recreation for all from the completion of this project — be it for parents teaching their young children how to ride a bike, to those multi-tasking by pushing a stroller in addition to walking the dog.
“The summer recreational opportunities are just phenomenal,” she said.
The multi-year Summit Cove Loop Project is currently in its second of several stages of phased construction. The overarching enterprise entails drainage refurbishments and resurfacing along five side roads, in addition to building a 2.4-mile bicycle-pedestrian loop of roadway through the neighborhood.
The second phase of the construction began during the second week of May and is expected to last through mid-October. This year’s construction includes a widening of Soda Creek causeway on Cove Boulevard approaching the intersection with Royal Coachman to create more room for bikes and foot traffic. The expansion of the causeway this year will help prepare the area for the bicycle-pedestrian lanes on Cove Boulevard the following summer.
“The causeway is really one of the most dangerous spots for pedestrians and bikes,” said Noll. “It’s the narrowest piece of roadway, and there’s no place to bail out if something’s happening. We really want to get that bridge feeling safer and add some bike lanes there.”
From there, it’s on to the school-focused project. The hope is that all said and done, the SRTS project will help provide more chances for nearby children to get themselves to school.
“This is ideal,” said Noll. “We want to see more kids out on bikes and walking to school, and maybe parents being more comfortable walking with their kids to school. I just think it’s a real positive thing for the school and county, and it makes these choices easy to make.”
Gregg Rippy spent three hours in a Copper Mountain parking lot last month waiting for Interstate 70 to reopen during a snowstorm. It was one of the Glenwood Springs civic leader’s longest delays in years among his frequent trips to Denver.
Through the winter, Carbondale’s Bob and Joyce Rankin, state lawmaker and State Board of Education member, respectively, decided against coming home from Denver some weekends “because we didn’t want to have to sit,” Joyce said.
Traversing mountain passes on I-70 is a quintessential Colorado experience for business and play — and, as these longtime Roaring Fork Valley residents know, can be a crapshoot.
This is especially true for people driving on the Western Slope, which accounted for 69 percent of I-70 closures between Denver and the Utah border during the last four years, according to a Post Independent analysis of data from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Where Rippy was stopped is in the bull’s-eye — I-70 was closed 280 times in one direction or the other between Vail and the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel from Jan. 1, 2012, through the end of 2015. During the four years, that was 47 percent of the closures, which happened an average of every 2.4 days.
To reduce closures, CDOT is employing new technology to monitor weather and road conditions in real time, enabling it to deploy snow removal equipment and order precautionary closures when weather turns bad quickly.
Among the findings of the PI data analysis:
• Nearly 600 incidents closed I-70 in at least one direction for a total of 1,076 hours and 32 minutes. Nearly 12 percent of that time, 125 hours, the freeway was closed completely.
• Unsurprisingly, Vail Pass was the No. 1 location, with 91 incidents accounting for 123 hours closed.
• Glenwood Canyon was next, with 43 incidents and 92 and a half hours of closure. Glenwood Springs was listed as the closure location for an additional 10 incidents totaling 22.5 hours, which was 10th on the list.
• Rounding out the top five closure locations were the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel, 68 closures and 92 hours, 7 minutes; Silverthorne, 43 and 87 hours, 25 minutes; and the Vail area, with 48 closures lasting a total of 86 hours.
• Georgetown was the top Eastern Slope spot, coming in sixth with 28 incidents and a total of 41 hours, 15 minutes closed.
• The stretch of I-70 from the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel to Denver accounted for 22 percent of the closure time, while the tunnel itself was listed as the closure location for 11 percent of the incidents and 8.4 percent of the hours closed.
• The longest stretch without a closure over the four years was 25 days, from Aug. 1-26, 2014. Then the road had closures five of the next six days.
• I-70 experienced closures each of the 48 months examined.
• The longest shutdown was nearly 13 hours at Palisade because of a wildfire in June 2012.
• That closure was before Glenwood Canyon was closed for almost a week in February, but rockslides and rockfall mitigation accounted for surprisingly little of the closure time, 38 incidents totaling 48 hours and 30 minutes for 2012-15.
• Vehicle fires accounted for 29 closures totaling 35 hours and 21 minutes.
• Floyd Hill eastbound is a hazardous spot at about 8:30 on January mornings. Sun glare caused an accident that closed I-70’s eastbound lanes in January 2015, and as a precaution for 48 minutes in January 2014.
• Livestock got on the freeway at the Lookout Mountain exit last November, closing the eastbound lanes for half an hour.
LENGTH OF CLOSURES
The median closure time was 1 hour, 6 minutes. While clearing a closure in Glenwood Canyon takes longer, with a median time of slightly more than 90 minutes — Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel closures are cleared in 50 minutes, the numbers show.
Clearing closures in an hour is not good enough in CDOT’s view.
“Given some of the conditions, that’s not bad, but we’re totally unsatisfied with that as an agency,” said Ryan Rice, CDOT director of transportation systems management and operations. “Our goal is to keep the road open.”
That task, he said, “is like trying to conduct a ballet, orchestra and football team at the same time.”
The Eisenhower Tunnel, Rice said, “is the linchpin of the corridor.”
It holds one of three CDOT command centers on I-70 west of Denver, with the others being above the Hanging Lake Tunnels and the third in Golden.
Increasingly, CDOT is leveraging technology to monitor road conditions in real time.
This spring, for example, the agency is adding 30 friction sensors to the 15 that were in place over the winter. These sensors assess the grit of the roadway, allowing the agency to send equipment or take other steps when the surface is becoming slick.
In addition, Colorado is the first spot in the United States to test what Rice termed automated crowdsourcing of road conditions.
Through a partnership with Here, a company co-owned by German automakers Audi, BMW and Daimler, CDOT is leveraging smartphone technology to improve safety. It has put sensors on 200 vehicles — some in its fleet and some others that frequently travel I-70’s mountain corridor.
Cars equipped with these sensors, according to a CDOT website, detect traffic incidents and road conditions and sends data via cellular networks to the Here Location Cloud, which validates the information. “The results can then distributed to nearby vehicles, warning drivers immediately,” the CDOT site says. “Simultaneously, the results can be sent to a traffic management center, which can react to upcoming situations in real time.”
The stakes are high. Closures cost money for commerce and in delaying or discouraging people from visiting mountain resorts, but more importantly, 70 people died in I-70 crashes between Denver and Utah in the past four years, according the CDOT figures.
In that time, “things have changed a lot” for the better, said Stan Zemler, Vail’s city manager who also is part of the I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit organization representing 28 local governments and businesses along the mountain corridor.
He credited immediate past CDOT chief Don Hunt with improving the agency’s operating plan, “putting massive tow trucks on Vail Pass,” and moving other heavy equipment and making a financial commitment to the Western Slope.
CDOT has improved its internet and text updates and management of electronic message boards warning people about trouble spots ahead, he said. He also noted that truckers can stop at the large parking area created at Dotsero, and chain stations around Vail have been improved.
That’s important, Rice noted, because 40 to 60 percent of closure time involves commercial vehicles. The 2012-15 data specified 60 incidents, from rollovers and jackknifes, involving semi rigs, but other accidents likely involved trucks that weren’t noted in the report prepared for the PI.
The frequency of incidents involving trucks, coupled with the difficult terrain, likely explains the preponderance of closures on the west side of the Continental Divide compared with the east side.
“The Western Slope is more of a challenge,” Rice said, “because of weather, terrain and configuration of the road.” An accident that might not lead to a closure on another part of the road might require it on a steep, curvy stretch west of the divide to avoid a secondary crash, Rice said.
Rippy and Bob Rankin, among others, believe a big part of the problem is cavalier drivers.
“People were more prepared when it was two lanes,” said Rippy, a former state legislator and current member of the Statewide Internet Portal Authority. “Now, the expectation is we have an interstate, so people think we should just be able to go.”
Rankin, who serves in the Colorado House of Representatives, has tried two years in a row to require drivers to carry traction equipment or be running on snow tires, but has been blocked in the Senate.
“Closures are not always predictable, and people head up the mountains and are not prepared,” he said.
Veteran Carbondale trucker Keith Olson agrees.
“These guys come into Colorado and don’t know how to chain up a truck,” he said.
He wishes CDOT would be more proactive, though he agrees with Zemler that management has improved in the past couple of years, particularly near the Eisenhower Tunnel.
“We’ve known for years where the trouble spots are,” Olson said — the eastbound approach to Vail Pass Summit is the worst in his view — but “the snow starts coming, then the mess, then the deep snow, then CDOT shows up.”
Zemler, though, said closures are inevitable — “sometimes at Vail Pass, the weather is extreme,” he said.
Added Rice, at the high elevations, “in 5 to 20 minutes, conditions can really go south.”
Which makes it hard to go east and west across Colorado.
The Tenmile Canyon portion of the Summit County Recreational Pathway System is plowed and open for the 2016 season.
The Tenmile Canyon Recpath typically opens significantly later than other stretches of the pathway system because of active avalanche threats in numerous locations throughout the canyon. Earlier this year, Summit County entered into a three-year agreement with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) to provide weekly on-site snow-safety evaluations. The county uses CAIC’s analysis to help determine when the canyon is safe for maintenance workers and the public. This week, the two reached a consensus: the route is safe for travel.
“Avalanche paths above the Tenmile Recpath continue to lose snow volume and show a continuing trend toward an unlikely threat of an avalanche reaching the bike path,” CAIC reported in its most recent weekly assessment, issued on May 15.
Summit County plowed the path and removed warning signs on May 16, just in time for summer recreation to ramp up before Memorial Day Weekend.
“Public safety is always our paramount concern in determining when to open each section of the recpath,” Summit County Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch said. “We appreciate how patient everyone has been by staying off the path in Tenmile Canyon until it was cleared.”
Although the path is open, there might still be wet and icy spots, and users might encounter workers and maintenance vehicles while on the path. Recpath users are urged to exercise caution and slow down when approaching work areas or vehicles.
SUMMIT COUNTY TAKES THE SILVER
The League of American Bicyclists recognized Summit County this week with a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) award, joining 372 such communities from across the country. With the announcement of 34 new and renewing BFCs on May 18, Summit solidified its place among a group of leading communities in all 50 states that are transforming neighborhoods to be safer and more enjoyable places to ride.
The BFC program encourages communities to evaluate their quality of life, sustainability and transportation networks, while helping them benchmark progress toward improving bicycle-friendliness. The silver-level BFC award recognizes Summit County’s commitment to improving conditions for bicycling through investment in bicycling promotion, educational programs, infrastructure and pro-bicycling policies.
Summit County was awarded bronze-level BFC status in 2012. Improvements since that time, which helped move Summit to the silver level, include construction of the Dillon Valley bicycle/pedestrian lanes, Phase 1 of the Summit Cove Loop Project, Keystone recpath improvements and the Tenmile recpath extension.
Other key bicycle-friendly projects include the Hoosier Pass feasibility study, continued planning on Fremont Pass, installment of mileage markers and informational kiosks for the entire recpath system, and various natural-surface trail construction and improvement efforts.
“We’re excited and honored that our extensive efforts to improve bicycling in Summit County have been recognized,” Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “That said, we’re not resting on our laurels. We have other plans and projects in the works and we hope to achieve gold-level designation by 2020.”
It may have been slow season in Summit, but the county’s real estate market only continued to grow in April. Overall, Summit saw a slight increase from March’s figures, and even larger results over the past 22 months.
The Summit County Assessor’s office has nearly finished collecting results for the most recent data period, which will end June 30. As of April 2016, the county has seen a 19.2 percent increase in condo sales, a 14.5 percent increase in duplex sales, a 22.3 percent increase in townhome sales and a 14.8 percent in single-family home sales.
To paint a better picture, single-family home sales ranged from $135,000 for a small cabin north of Silverthorne, to the high point of $5.2 million for a slopeside home in Breckenridge.
“The Summit County real estate market continues to improve,” said Dennis Clauer, owner and broker with Real Estate of the Summit, and Director of the Colorado Association of Realtors.
When he first moved to Summit 33 years ago, there were about 2 million Colorado residents. Now, there are about 5.3 million. In addition, Clauer noted that with 82 percent of Summit County land owned by the National Forest or Bureau of Land Management, “….the appetite for mountain resort real estate has and will continue to outstrip the supply of housing and development opportunities within Summit County, pushing values higher over the long term.”
At the time of this article, there were just five single-family homes for sale in Frisco, with prices ranging from $888,000 to $3.695 million.
TOP SPOTS FOR REAL ESTATE
Clauer made the top sale for April, a $5.250 million home near the base of Peak 8. The seven-bedroom home was built in 2008, with a total of 7,638 square feet.
Clauer described the home as a “true Colorado log lodge,” designed by architect Mark Hogan.
He added the home, located in “Breckenridge’s most exclusive neighborhood, Timber Trail,” has ski-in access from Trygve’s Run. It also features four separate living areas, six fireplaces, a movie theatre, a billiards room with a wet bar, an elevator, a separate children’s wing and a three-car garage.
Another of April’s top sales was a 17,289 commercial building that sold for $3.175 million. The building is currently home to U.S. Bank, Tetra Tech and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, just across from the gondola in downtown Breckenridge.
Summit County Assessor Beverly Breakstone said the building was divided into about 12 units.
“You get some more tenants in there, and you get a nice cash flow,” she added.
Eduardo Bello, of the Hawaii-based Bello Realty, said the building “was too good a property to pass up.”
“I always look at Breck,” he added. “This came up and we did our darndest to make sure we got the property.”
While Bello currently resides in Hawaii, he has owned commercial property in Breckenridge since 1988. He and his wife often visit Breckenridge for the mountains, as well as to keep up with the business.
“It’s fairly full. We’ve got a couple spaces in there,” he said. “We’re just trying to lease it up.”
Two summers ago, Joel Gratz was with his wife on a sunrise ascent of the ever-popular Summit County 14er Grays Peak.
Upon completing the picturesque trek, enjoying some time atop the ninth-highest mountain in the state and deciding to head down between 10 and 11 a.m., the couple settled on a mental diversion. They began counting the number of people still gaining ground toward the summit just as the usual afternoon storms began to form: 289.
“I chat with people a little bit,” said Gratz. “Nobody was talking about the clouds building. I’m not going to tell them not to hike, right? I don’t want to be a know-it-all, but there’s obviously an area for education.”
But actually, he is what one would call a bit of an expert. Not only is he a trained and certified meteorologist, but also the founder of the snow forecasting website OpenSnow. Often receiving the question about what he — principally a winter season predictor — does in the offseason, now he has the assets and team assembled to embark on a project he’s been hoping to do for some years: a phone application that forecasts lightning at high elevations.
Operating with a working title of TrailForecast, he hopes to release it for the iPhone early this summer to correspond with high time for 14er bagging, with an Android version most likely following down the road. While the majority of locals understand the general rule of thumb for hiking the state’s 14,000-foot peaks as returning below tree line before noon, beginners and out-of-towners are typically not as well versed.
“Most of the people hiking 14ers aren’t as experienced,” Gratz told a full conference room in Silverthorne earlier this month. “They might hear, ‘Oh, start early, so you avoid lightning,’ but they don’t really know.”
And, once you’re approaching the crest of an especially strenuous hike and suddenly you feel your hair stand up because of the static electricity in the atmosphere, it can be a terrifying experience. It’s one we can all joke about … while safely sitting in a conference center, but not quite so while in the circumstance ourselves.
“We laugh about it,” said Gratz, “but, obviously, you can die. A slight notch better than that is that you don’t get struck, but you’re really, really scared and don’t have a-whole-lot of information on how to exactly avoid that in the future, which is kind of where I am. Thankfully, I’ve not been struck by lightning. I don’t want to see that newspaper headline, that a meteorologist has been struck by lightning.”
Using present technologies and weather models, he aims to produce a personalized resource to help others avoid a potentially unlucky demise, too, offering data up to five days out for proper planning. The app will attempt to pinpoint when the risk of lightning on Colorado’s 14ers will begin, estimating based on route and hiking speed when one should head back to the trailhead before the flashes start flying. It will be most accurate 24- to 48-hours out and alert users of last-minute changes to the forecast.
Further tools to monitor and anticipate lightning, particularly with extreme exposure and altitude — where the frequency of strikes increases notably — are happily welcomed by those who commonly recreate outdoors. There are already a handful of reliable apps for the purpose such as WeatherBug’s free Spark component, but Rich Kithil, founder and CEO of the National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) based in Louisville, Colorado, warns that nothing beats good sense and preparedness.
“Out on the trail,” he explained, “there are only degrees of safety, from absolutely none to kind of safe. Check the weather before you leave the condo. And, if you do get caught in an indefensible location and you can’t get to the trailhead, a car, clumps of shrubs or heavy forests, avoid solitary trees, avoid wet areas and isolate yourself to reduce the likelihood of multiple injuries.”
Specifically, the recommendation is a minimum of 15 meters apart for dispersal if caught above tree line. The idea, of course, is to pay attention to the signs of weather ahead of time and avoid such a scenario in the first place. And, at the first crack of thunder, a direct product of lightning, hikers need to recognize lightning is only about 6- to 8-miles away.
“The attitude outdoor hikers have had for years is, ‘It can’t happen to me,’” said Kithil. “Well, it can. Safety levels are very poor in those circumstances. If you pray, that’s a good time to pray.”
Adding this extra piece of environmental gadgetry is something Gratz and his team intend to do by mid-June to hopefully balance out some of the need for such appeals to the heavens. While it won’t offer real-time shifts in the weather — he’s waiting for Google or some other technological behemoth to figure that one out, namely up that high where there’s little-to-no cell coverage — it will help app consumers choose the best day and time for plotting their climbs, acting almost like “a meteorologist in your pocket.”
Dodging what he has termed “Arnold clouds” — an informal title for the tall, hard-bodied cumulus clouds that are prone for bringing weather and named for the former Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger — is what he desires most with the new weather instrument. And, hopefully with that, a few more lives might be saved each summer.
“Not every cloud that pops up over a mountain in the summer is out to hurt you,” said Gratz. “But some are. So we’re trying to figure out 1) How can we forecast that in advance, and 2) How can we help you diagnose that when you’re above tree line? There is zero way to travel 100-percent safely in the backcountry during lightning, but you can reduce your risk.”
As winter’s grip on the mountains loosens and the snow on the ground finally melts, the region’s volunteer protectors of national forest lands move into action.
The Summit County Forest Health Task Force started as a nonprofit about a decade ago to help the U.S. Forest Service offset the destruction of the seasonal pine beetle. It has since spread to larger aims. Today, the organization works in establishing cooperative efforts among area stakeholders to educate about forest health and restoration, as well as assist the Forest Service, which has increasingly seen its budget stripped away each year.
Five years into the founding of this association, the task force formed its forest monitoring project, aiding in observing and reporting evolving conditions to the official managers of the landscape so many enjoy. Informing the proper parties of noxious weeds and invasive species remains a primary target.
“(We want) to be part of the process to determine what the forest will look like,” said Howard Hallman, the task force’s president. “Our dream is that the work that our ‘citizen scientists’ are doing will augment or supplement work that maybe the Forest Service doesn’t have the resources to do.”
This year, the number of permanent monitoring plots within the White River National Forest in Summit County will increase to more than 200 after work was done on 164 in 2015. In tune with U.S. Forest Service protocols, volunteers will produce data on both logged and unmanaged lands by compiling various figures from light digging to discover potential fire remnants, as well as taking tree core and ring measures.
“We want to learn more about our forest to put things into context,” said Hallman. “What we hope to be able to do is also to provide very meaningful information to U.S. Forest Service. If we’re producing a lot of data — and we’ve learned this along the way — and it’s not meaningful to the Forest Service, then we’ve not helped anybody out.”
As is reported on often, annual budgets continue to be trimmed among local, state and federal management agencies. All while the demands on each only widen, making the role these local volunteer groups play all the more important.
“It’s a challenge,” explained Marcus Selig, director of the Southern Rockies region of the National Forest Foundation (NFF). “Things are tough, and it’s getting harder and harder to get work done on the ground.”
Similar to these official organizations, the task force — with its lone assistance coming from the U.S. Forest Service, the Center of Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University, as well as a few other stakeholders — faces similar limitations, so pursues partnerships to bolster its community-based efforts. Establishing these relationships helps avoid duplicative or occasionally competing endeavors, and the task force has been working closely with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District (FDRD), which provides support for the nearby ranger station for the White River National Forest.
To emphasize the importance of cooperative work, the NFF, a Congressionally-chartered nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service founded in 1991, held a collaborative restoration workshop in Denver in April. The event’s registration was quickly at capacity so volunteer groups like the Forest Health Task Force and FDRD could obtain advice on how to best team up.
“There’s a lot that folks are working on and in the same spots where they can develop these networks and work better together,” said Selig. “We’ve come a long way in the last five years on how citizens work with the agency and how we work altogether on planning efforts.”
From there, once dual goals between various entities are determined and a strategy is put into place, the next step is actual collaborative implementation. It’s a challenge many organizations encounter as they attempt to fulfill their mutual ambitions, while also ensuring successful completion of individual motivations and initial purposes.
For its forest monitoring project, the task force, for instance, is confident the expanding program would not be where it is today without the association with FDRD. And both are all the better for it, now with seamless communication, shared resources, and common access to the information gathered from their work.
“I think that’s a good example of local partnerships,” said Hallman, “because by ourselves we couldn’t have done it. What we’re attempting to do … is work with everybody to understand what others are doing, to help inform each other and really come up with a single collective mission. Having said that, it’s easier to say that than it is to actually make that happen. But that’s one of the intents.”
Operating together in Summit County, the two hope to develop a participatory, community vision for forest management in support of the larger U.S. Forest Service objectives. Through volunteer hours on the local trail system and other recreational sites on the forest, as well as with helping to clean up slash-burn areas and the overarching forest monitoring work, they believe they’ll get there.
“Our entire economy here, pretty much, is dependent on our forest in one way or the other,” said Hallman. “Whether it’s recreation, whether it’s water, you name it, whether it’s real estate — people come here to build things and buy things because of the view. And if it all burns down, maybe not so likely. So the more information that we can gather about historical forest conditions, that really does inform us going forward.”