On Saturday, Oct. 28, at 10 a.m., the Frisco Historic Park and Museum will present a historic walking tour through Bill's Ranch. According to Sandra Mather's book, "Frisco and the Ten Mile Canyon," Bill's Ranch became Frisco's first subdivision and second-home development when William (Bill) Thomas wrote a letter to 100 Denver residents offering free land if they would build cabins there within one year.
Bill Thomas only had five takers initially, but the idea soon took off. Walking tour participants will find out why Bill Thomas made the offer of free land to Denver residents and about the history of Bill's Ranch and the neighborhood's historic structures.
"This iconic Frisco neighborhood certainly has a story to tell about how Frisco became what it is today. This tour usually fills quickly because the story of this area is so compelling," stated Simone Belz, Frisco Museum director.
Space in the tour is limited to 30 people and advance registration is required. The tour will be approximately two hours long. Participants should be prepared for unpredictable fall weather and wear sturdy walking shoes. Dogs are not allowed on this tour.
For more information on all of the Frisco Historic Park and Museum programs, call 970-668-3428 or go to FriscoHistoricPark.com.
Verizon Wireless customers should soon experience improved service in northern Silverthorne with a new 4G LTE cellphone tower in the Eagles Nest neighborhood coming online as early as the end of this month.
The Eagles Nest Property Homeowners Association has worked to conceal the tower, and it's difficult to distinguish the 35-foot antenna from the surrounding trees, especially at a distance.
Much like a fake Christmas tree, the tower's protruding arms have been made to resemble the branches and needles of an evergreen, and its base is wrapped in a bark-like covering.
In the same vein, the HOA planted living trees around the tower and in front of a nearby maintenance building that was cut into the hillside and houses all the electrical equipment.
Once operational, the tower will extend Verizon's network in northern Silverthorne, as well as along pieces of Colorado 9 and into the Lower Blue River Valley. Additionally, it should improve reliability in the area surrounding the Eagles Nest neighborhood — especially on the weekends when heavy traffic demands a high volume of data — and reduce the strenuous workload falling on an existing tower near Old Dillon Reservoir.
Verizon and the Eagles Nest HOA have agreed to a 25-year lease for the wireless provider to operate the tower on a hill not far from the Eagles Nest Community Center at 2700 Golden Eagle Road, west of the highway.
Xcel Energy performed its final inspection earlier this week, and all that's left to do is install the electric meter, said Paul Camillo, co-chair of the Eagles Nest Design Review Committee.
"As soon as they get that, they'll start powering it up trying to bring it online," he said. "Yeah, we're ready to go … we're hoping by the end of the month to get it running."
The new tower comes as great news for first-responders with Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, who rely on Verizon's technology to save lives. As Verizon was seeking the necessary approvals from Silverthorne Town Council, assistant chief Bruce Farrell submitted a letter of support for the new tower, in which he says he speaks on behalf of the district.
"Our organization is fully supportive of the proposed site and tower," Farrell concluded.
In addition to Verizon smartphones, The Lake Dillon Fire Protection District also utilizes the company's modems to power its emergency crews' mobile-data computers.
The project began in February 2015 when Verizon approached the Eagles Nest HOA after vetting four possible sites and landing on this location. Tower discussions stalled shortly thereafter when an employee with the tower-installation company left the position. However, talks quickly resumed once the position was filled.
The design committee then approved the project and issued a notice to proceed, and town council gave Verizon the go-ahead in September 2016. Verizon obtained the necessary permitting last spring, and construction began in July.
At this point, the tower is all but ready, said George Resseguie, president of the Eagles Nest HOA board, and the remaining work is only cosmetic.
Eagles Nest has about 750 homeowners in the association, he said in estimating that about half have get their wireless services through Verizon.
Still, the project didn't come without a couple early concerns, Resseguie said, most notably that the tower's signals or radio waves could affect nearby residents' health or that it would be obtrusive in the Eagles Nest neighborhood, where luxury homes can sell for as much as $2.5 million.
To get the word out, the HOA hosted two open houses, sent out a handful of email blasts to its members and offered up detailed information at its annual HOA meeting.
The project also had to go through all the town's standard requirements, and with those efforts, Resseguie said they were able to ally most everyone's concerns with factual information.
"We made a great effort to be sure everybody knew everything," the board president said. "And if they had issues, they brought the issues to us, and we all discussed it … people just want to know what's going on. If you keep them in the dark, they get suspicious."
Resseguie said the new tower won't erase every deadspot across Lower Blue River Valley, which is infamous for poor service, dropped calls and dead zones, but it will help.
The noise would start at 7 every morning and wouldn't stop until the evening, turning a rural neighborhood near Fairplay into an industrial zone, residents said.
The culprit: a reality-TV gold mining operation that they say wrecked a hillside landscape, ran afoul of its permits and shattered the quiet of their neighborhood all summer. In May, tensions boiled over into some alleged gunplay and the arrest of a local man for felony menacing.
Mining stopped last week for the popular Discovery Channel show “Gold Rush,” on the eve of its season eight premier on Oct. 13. But a legal challenge mounted by a group of 30 residents continues, aiming to keep the show from returning for another summer of mining.
Last month, Save South Park filed a lawsuit against the Board of County Commissioners of Park County, accusing it of "abusing its discretion" by granting a favorable rezoning for the miners against the recommendation of its own planning commission.
"This is not an appropriate land use decision," said Danny Teodoru, the plaintiff's attorney. "Here's a circumstance where there are people directly next to this mine and the impacts are felt by them in a very dramatic fashion."
County manager Tom Eisenman was out of town Wednesday and couldn't be reached for comment. Messages left for his assistant and the commissioners were not returned. Teodoru said the county had two weeks to file its response.
The lawsuit also names two companies tied to the show, High Speed Mining, LLC and High Speed Aggregate, Inc.
The Gold Rush crew first started mining an old dredge site below Colorado Highway 9 in 2016. Not all of the neighbors share Save South Park's complaints.
"As far as the relationship they've had with the town, it's all been five-star," said Fairplay Mayor Gabby Lane. "Nice gentlemen, they come into town, they spend a lot of money, they don't cause any trouble. What more could you ask?"
The show itself, however, paints a different picture, at least for its TV viewers. The season's second episode, "Blizzards and Bullets," set to premier Oct. 20, promises a "rogue gunman" who "fires shots" at the crew.
That drama presumably refers to 35-year-old resident Aaron Borth, charged with felony menacing and reckless endangerment.
He was arrested on May 18 after three crewmembers went to the Park County Sheriff's Office in Fairplay to report that Borth accosted them and fired a handgun into the ground as they sped away in trucks, court documents say.
Borth denied using a handgun but expressed his "frustration" over the mining near Fairplay, according to the documents.
"They're not mining for gold, they're mining for ratings," is a common refrain among the unhappy locals. Either way, it was loud, and this summer it encroached on residential-zoned areas.
"All I've ever wanted to do all summer long is sit on my deck and have some quiet, and I couldn't do that this year because there was so much noise — it was unbelievable," said resident Ann Lukacs.
Gold Rush's supporters are quick to point out that Park County has always been a mining area, and that its crew is working a site that has been in operation for years.
But the difference, some say, is that the show's deep pockets have turned a once-sleepy gravel mine into an industrial-scale gold mining operation with dozens of pieces of heavy machinery.
"We think that a normal miner who is not subsidized could probably not really afford to do the kind of mining they were doing," said resident Krissy Barrett.
The ridge immediately across the highway from the mine is surprisingly dense with homes. Residents there say the sound of dump trucks and trundling boulders have registered more than 20 decibels higher than the permitted level at their homes.
"As far as what I can see and what I've been told, they've tried to make as many concessions to the close-by neighbors as they can, but it's still business," Lane said. "It's still mining, and mining is noisy."
Those residents also have the best view of what the mining has done to the land, ripping up stands of cottonwood trees and lopping off a chunk of the hillside.
"They've certainly changed the landscape," Lane acknowledged, although he added that the miners agreed to reclaim and restore the site once they were finished.
In the spring, the expansion of the mine site into tree-lined, residentially zoned land prompted the county to order a cease-and-desist against the Gold Rush crew.
But the trucks and excavators were soon humming again after the county commissioners unanimously approved a rezoning of 28 acres of residential land for mining uses in August.
The lawsuit alleges that the decision was pushed through with inadequate public comment and against the recommendation of the Park County Planning Commission, an advisory body whose recommendations are not binding.
"The proximity of residentially zoned properties has already resulted in complaints regarding noise and other environmental impacts," the planning commission wrote, according to the suit. "The proposed expansion of the operation would result in mining activity within 100 yards of residences on nearby lots, and no buffer or setback is proposed in the application."
Public comments poured in while the rezoning was being considered, falling along predictable lines of mining heritage versus environmental stewardship.
"These people have demonstrated no concern for the citizens and laws of Park County by casually violating our zoning regulations," one resident wrote. "Are we a bedroom community, a recreational community or a gravel pit?"
The U.S. Forest Service also weighed in against the rezoning, saying in a letter that the show had "increased dramatically" the number of people living on National Forest land and mining without proper permits.
More than 150 form letters in support of the rezoning signed by Park County residents were also submitted, although their brevity was a sharp contrast from the page-length letters of protest submitted by nearby residents.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, and that certainly seemed to be one of those applicant-generated form letters," Teodoru said. "I don't think there were 150 people at the meetings advocating for mining in a neighborhood."
If the residents win their suit, essentially an appeal of the rezoning decision, the county could still restart the process and approve it again.
It's also not clear whether or not “Gold Rush” will return either way. That likely depends on how season eight wraps up, tying the residents' peace and quiet to the ratings.
"I walk around like, are you kidding me?" Lukacs said, chuckling. "A TV show is causing all of this pain in my life?"
Loveland Ski Area will open for the 2017-18 season on Friday, Oct. 20.
"We have been waiting all summer for this and are excited to announce that opening day is finally here," said COO Rob Goodell, in a statement. "The snow we received in early October has been a tremendous help and our snowmakers have put in a lot of hard work to ensure the first turns of the season are good ones. We invite everyone to come celebrate the start of another season with us on Friday."
Lift 1 will run from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Friday and will offer skiers and riders access to one top-to-bottom run covered from tree-to-tree with an 18-inch base. The trails Catwalk, Mambo and Home Run make up this opening day run which is over a mile in length and nearly 1,000 vertical feet.
"We have great coverage on the upper portion of the mountain," Goodell said. "We will continue to make snow on Home Run and around the base of Lift 1 this week and then move on to opening additional terrain as quickly as we can."
Last year, Loveland Ski Area opened on Nov. 10.
Loveland Ski Area will be open seven days a week until closing day in early May. Lift operating hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and designated holidays. Early season lift tickets are $61 for adults and $29 for children 6-14.
Avalanche mitigation workers with the Colorado Department of Transportation are gearing up for the coming winter onslaught.
Workers from CDOT and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) over the last few weeks have been working to prepare avalanche control equipment located on Berthoud Pass and Loveland Pass for the coming winter.
The state has several different options for mitigating — basically intentionally setting off — avalanches in the Rockies, including artillery pieces and pneumatic cannons called avalaunchers. But at two locations in Colorado, Berthoud Pass and Loveland Pass, the state also utilizes a system called Gazex.
Made by the French corporation, TAS, Gazex is an avalanche control system that uses specially constructed “exploder” sites and tubes built at key locations in avalanche territory to set off avalanches at controlled times. The exploders literally detonate a mixture of oxygen and propane from the tube structures. The explosive force expelled from the tubes triggers avalanches. The explosive bursts are fueled by gas canisters stored in tanks beneath the exploders on the mountain.
Three weeks ago, CDOT crews began working to remove old tanks left from last year’s avalanche control work. To accomplish their goal, a helicopter was used for most of the heavy lifting, ferrying the empty industrial gas canisters down to the Clear Creek Valley, far below the Gazex sites high on the Stanley Slide on Stanley Mountain.
CDOT was back at it last Friday, hauling helicopter loads of gas canisters back up the mountain, before they were loaded into the Gazex stations for mitigation work in coming months.
Highway 40 was intermittently closed Friday near Berthoud Falls to accommodate the work.
The state has five Gazex stations servicing Berthoud Pass and 11 for the Loveland Pass area.
As snow starts piling up later this winter, CDOT and the CAIC closely monitor passes throughout the state. Determining when to use a Gazex system, or other avalanche control devices such as howitzers, is a complicated process that relies heavily on input from the CAIC.
Monitoring avalanche prone areas involves multiple different strategies from on the ground snow surveys, to spotters looking for danger spots, to remote sensory equipment that provides data on how much snow has built up on specific mountain slopes.
Officials from CDOT say the state has plans to expand the Gazex avalanche mitigation system throughout the state to passes where the equipment will be beneficial, though they acknowledged not every pass in the state is conducive for a Gazex system. The state works closely with the CAIC to determine which passes are most suitable for a Gazex system.
Vail Resorts announced Monday it has agreed to buy three more stores in Breckenridge, adding The North Face, Columbia and Main Street Outlet to the ski giant's existing lineup of Main Street retail.
In the deal, the trio will join Vail Resorts Retail storefronts Marmot and Patagonia on Main Street. The company is purchasing them from long-time Breckenridge Ski Enterprise owners Steve and Susan Lapinsohn, according to a news release announcing the agreement. The release says resort officials anticipate closing the deal in the coming weeks and assuming operations at the same locations later this month.
"Steve and Susan Lapinsohn are highly respected members of the Breckenridge community and have been providing guests and locals with top-line outdoor clothing and equipment and exceptional service for more than 25 years," said Greg Sullivan, chief operating officer for Vail Resorts Retail, in a prepared statement.
"We are looking forward to continuing their legacy of providing both the service and retail experience that our Breckenridge guests value and appreciate," he added.
“It has been an amazing and gratifying experience to be part of the Breckenridge community for many years, working with such an enthusiastic staff, and growing these shops into exactly the kind of retail experience we would like to have when we’re shopping.”Steve LapinsohnFormer owner of The North Face, Columbia and Main Street Outlet in Breckenridge
Vail Resorts Retail currently operates 12 North Face stores in Colorado, Utah and California alone, as well as one Whistler Blackcomb, Canada. The company has numerous other storefronts, including more than a dozen on-mountain and off-site locations in just Summit County.
"It has been an amazing and gratifying experience to be part of the Breckenridge community for many years, working with such an enthusiastic staff, and growing these shops into exactly the kind of retail experience we would like to have when we're shopping," Steve Lapinsohn said in the news release.
"It will be bittersweet as we will miss our phenomenal staff and some of the day-to-day operations, from ordering new inventory to helping customers find just the right product. We are also excited to have our stores continue to evolve with a company and current retail leadership team that shares our vision and goals," Susan Lapinsohn added.
Over the phone, Sullivan said the company hopes to retain the Lapinsohns' existing workforce, which fluctuates seasonally but generally entails about 15 to 16 positions at the three locations.
The workers will have to go through a hiring process, Sullivan explained, but it will more about "getting them mapped over" and "seeing if they're interested in continuing their employment with Vail" than it will be about anyone having to reapply for his or her job.
"Our intention is that all of them would come over and work for Vail," he said.
Also, according to Sullivan, any workers who make the transition will retain seniority from their original hiring date, and they will be entitled to all the perks of working for Vail Resorts, such as a season ski pass.
In the release, Sullivan added that Vail Resorts will be proud to carry the Lapinsohn's legacy forward.
"The setting on a historic Main Street, in an iconic ski town and with established partners like The North Face and Columbia make it a perfect match," he noted.
It's the size of a football, brilliant cherry-red and nearly a perfect square. Gem hunter Bryan Lees pulled it from the Sweet Home Mine near Alma in 1992, but now it sits in a display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It's the finest specimen of rhodochrosite in the world.
In its time, the Sweet Home was a prolific source of high-quality rhodochrosite and of pride in the tiny town of Alma. It's also the reason why the gem was made Colorado's state mineral in 2002.
Sweet Home was sealed more than a decade ago. But now, the gem hunters are back, chasing a lead on a possible mother lode of rhodochrosite, and maybe, a specimen that could dethrone the Alma King.
"We just have a little bit more tunnel to build and then we'll be back on what we think is a very, very good target," Lees said. "We'll see what happens. It's kind of a 'poke and hope.' It's not like a gold mine where you drill it out and have a million-ounce reserve."
Lees, owner and president of gem company Collector's Edge, has been tunneling since April at a site about 100 feet uphill of where he found the Alma King.
"That was the event of a lifetime," he recalled. "It's not something you expect. We didn't know we were going to find something like that — nobody knew."
As it happened, a camera crew from the Denver Nature and Science Museum was at the mine that very day to shoot footage of the blasting work. Little did they know they would capture footage of the world's premier rhodochrosite specimen as it saw light for the first time.
"If you go down and see the Alma King at the museum you can watch a little clip of me pulling it out," Lees said. "It's 100 percent real. It's not staged."
"It's not the best in Colorado, or the best in the U.S. or the best in North America — it's the best in the world," said James Hagadorn, Ph.D, the museum's geology curator. "It's an amazing, unbelievable crystal. People look at it and they always ask, 'Is that real?' Yes, it is, and we have Bryan on film pulling it out of the cavity."
Hagadorn said that while there are larger rhodochrosite specimens in the world, none compare to the Alma King, which is remarkable for its clear, crimson coloring and neat geometry.
The other two that come close, the Alma Queen and the Alma Rose, both came out of Sweet Home, which was opened in the 1800s as a silver mine. Back then, miners found gems all over but simply threw them out — or traded the real "pretties" for drinks at the saloon in Alma.
The mine never did very well until Lees and his wife, Kathryn, leased the property as a specimen mine in 1991.
"I used to tell people, in the old days they mined for silver and threw the rhodo on the dump," he said. "Now we mine for rhodo and throw the silver on the dump."
Lees shudders thinking about the enormous quantities of rhodochrosite that must have been dumped back then. But there was still plenty to go around, at least until the early 2000s, when the Sweet Home dried up for the second time.
After it was sealed, the mine site was completely reclaimed. Lees said that today, you could walk right over it without realizing it used to be a mine.
But geologists continued to study the area for academic research, and a couple of years ago one of Lees' old partners told him he might have found another promising spot just up the hill.
"We did a 3-D model of the vein structures there and it opened up a new target area that we didn't know existed before," Lees said. "It was a brand new idea. If we had known about it back in '04 I may not have closed the mine."
Lees and his small crew started tunneling in April. It's a slow, low-key operation.
"We don't have 500 people up there creating a new hole like Climax (molybdenum mine) — we've got five people up there," Lees said.
Lees and his team hope to reach their target area some time next year. What they'll find is anyone's guess.
"Hopefully we get lucky again," Lees said. "It's like a big treasure hunt. You don't know if you're going to hit anything or not."
If a gem that could dethrone the Alma King really is down there, Hagadorn says he'd happily make a home for it at the museum.
"Who knows what they're going to find, but I'm excited to see it," Hagadorn said. "So I hope they give us a call if they find the new best specimen."
Either way, though, Lees will always have the memories of when Sweet Home churned out some of the highest quality rhodochrosite in the world. It was a great time for the town Alma and the wider gem-collecting world, he said.
"It brought a lot of people together," he said. "Hopefully it continues to do that, and hopefully we get lucky again. The second story of Sweet Home is just starting."