Lyle Lovett grew up listening to his parents’ record collection, sitting at home alone while Mom and Dad were at work, spinning LPs of everything from Ray Price to Ray Charles. Guitar lessons and choir led to a spot in a cousin’s band, performing pop, rock and outlaw country covers at school and church functions.
By the time Lovett was 18 and playing gigs around Austin, Texas, he’d collected a repertoire spanning many of the great Texas singer-songwriters, rattling off a list of names that included Guy Clark, B.W. Stevenson and Willie Nelson.
“When I started learning those songs and learning how to play them, I started taking my idea of what a song could be and should be from those songwriters,” he said. “In terms of writing and shaping my idea of what a song is, those writers were very important to me.”
As he continued playing, Lovett discovered other great songwriters, from John Prine to pop legends Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dillon to James Taylor and Jackson Browne. The list of influences grew into the realm of blues, peppered with names such as Muddy Waters and Lead Belly and Texas greats Lightnin’ Hopkins, Johnny Winter, ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill, and his brother, Rocky, who played every week in Houston, a town Lovett said was a melting pot for music.
Thinking back on all of the songs that he holds dear, Lovett said they’re representative of a variety of styles and themes. Any kind of good music, regardless of genre, was woven into the fabric of his experience.
“When you learn songs, you don’t care about the genre,” Lovett said, explaining his wide-ranging catalog of musical muses. “Genres aren’t like a club affiliation.”
This collection of motley musical influences contributed to the evolution of Lovett’s craft, but despite a career spanning more than three decades, accumulating four Grammy awards and recording more than a dozen albums, no matter how successful he became, he said it was never about competing with other musicians.
“This whole culture of competition that we’ve put forward through TV, with all the music contests,” he said. “There have always been contests, but it seems so pervasive at this point. The thing about art of any kind, it’s not a sport, but it’s treated like a sport.”
Lovett remembered a particular Songwriters in the Round show, where he was on stage performing with Guy Clark. Someone from the audience shouted out a challenge, encouraging one artist to upstage the other.
“(Guy Clark) stopped and said, ‘Songwriting is not a competitive sport,’” Lovett said. “The thing about art is you can appreciate something without having to compare it something else. You can look at two pieces of art and not have to declare a winner, and music is like that.
“You don’t have to pick one song over another song, one singer-songwriter over another singer-songwriter. You can enjoy what each one has to offer. It isn’t like a game, where somebody outscores somebody else.”
WAY OUT WEST
From cutting his teeth in the Texas music scene to jaunts through Hollywood in support of his acting career, Lovett’s said he always feels great when he’s out West and in the mountains. His eight-stop winter tour has taken him from Modesto, California, to his final show at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge on Sunday, March 1.
“There’s something that’s just really nice about being out West,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed it, just the expanse of it, just the big scale of everything. … I woke up this morning — we drove just to Glenwood — woke up here in Glenwood, looked out the window, and it looks like Christmas. That is always inspiring.”
Lovett last made the trek to Breckenridge in 2011 for an intimate show with fellow songwriter John Hiatt and returns this time around with his acoustic group. He said he’s has a soft spot in his heart for Breck since the first time he skied here in 1983.
“My dad and I had never skied ever,” he said. “It was just the two of us, so we went to Breckenridge and had a great time. Since coming back to Breck the last few years a couple of times, I wouldn’t have recognized the place, from the way it looked in 1983. It was very small and really charming. It’s really nice now, and still charming, but not so small.
“It was one street, one road, when I was there in ’83, and everything was just on the main street, just a few shops and a few restaurants, and you could walk from one end to the other. It’s really grown into something now.”
There won’t be opportunities for skiing on this trip, as Lovett flies straight home from Denver to work on new projects, writing songs that germinated on the road and getting ready for his next record.
He said he feels lucky that every day of his life he gets to do what he lives to do, something he never aspired to when he was first starting out.
“I get to play music with really talented people, and that always makes it really fun,” Lovett said. “I have fun every night I step on stage with the guys I play with. Whenever you work with people who are really great at what they do and love what they do, it’s inspiring. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to live my life this way and make a living this way.”
Come March, folks in Breckenridge will pay more for water than ever before and, oddly enough, no one is complaining.
The town in January announced a 5 percent rate increase for all residential and commercial users connected to the municipal water system, which currently relies almost solely on a 44-year-old plant located 2 miles south of town.
The rate increase is the steepest in recent memory, according to town officials. In the past, usage rates have risen at a steady clip of 1 percent annually.
Along with higher usage rates, the town will also charge a higher plant investment fee, jumping from a historical average of 5 percent to roughly 10 percent for in-town customers. Only new users tapping into the water system pay PIFs.
Yet across Breckenridge, residents and business owners were either unaware of the shifting rates or, in a rare turn of events for a municipal rate increase, ready and willing to pay more.
“I know the town is growing and we need the water, so if that’s what it takes, we’re willing to eat the cost,” said Rhonda Profaizer, general manager for The Lodge at Breckenridge, a 45-unit hotel on Overlook Drive. She did not know the specific amount of the rate increase, but she predicted it wouldn’t affect guest rates at the hotel into the foreseeable future.
Water has factored heavily into the council’s policy decisions over the past decade, leading in2011 to a feasibility study for a new water plant to replace the aging, nearly at-capacity Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant, located near the Goose Pasture Tarn reservoir 2 miles south of town.
The current plant is rated at 4 million gallons per day (MGD), although the true operating capacity is limited to 3.46 MGD based on water rights. The system is currently at 90 percent capacity — and town officials only expect it to rise as the population grows.
“The West has been in a drought for the last 10 or 15 years,” Breckenridge Councilman Gary Gallagher said. “There’s no substitute for water, and quite frankly, any municipality in the West will agree water has always been very expensive. Water is a business with a full cycle, from sourcing to delivering, and Breckenridge at the moment has a very senior water system.”
Even by the most conservative estimates — population growth of just 1.2 percent annually — the current plant will be overtaxed by 2030, the study found. If the town’s population grows by 2.5 percent annually, the plant will likely reach capacity in 2021.
With demand rising during summer months, the council approved the new water plant shortly before implementing the new usage rates.
“I really think most people get it, that water is a valuable commodity that has always been priced too cheaply,” Gallagher said. “When you talk about pushing rates 5 percent a year for water, there’s not much angst. When I talk to people I know, it’s almost like a yawn in terms of the rates.”
PRICING A NEW PLANT
This year’s rate increases will lay the groundwork for the new water plant’s funding. The $30 million estimate includes planning, design and construction. As it stands, the town’s revenue from water usage in 2015 is estimated at $3 million. The new usage rates could pump an additional $440,000 into the fund, according to Brian Waldes, the town’s financial services manager.
“Yes, it’s a rate increase, but it’s needed, it’s necessary, and I think the council is together on this,” Waldes said. “We think this narrative is common sense — rates have to go up because we can’t be in a situation where our lone water plant is 50 years old.”
Although construction on a new plant might not begin for several years, Waldes says the town wanted to begin hiking rates at a relatively comfortable rate now. This avoids a steep rate hike in 2017, when the town plans to borrow $20 million for design and construction. Repaying the loan will cost $1.2 million per year, and the current plan calls for a 5 percent annual increase until 2018. The $440,000 collected in 2015 — along with additional revenues as the rates increase each year — will be used solely to eat away at the loan payment.
“It’s best to start building the fund balance now, rather than building it at a faster rate closer to the project,” said Waldes, who notes the new water rate revenues won’t be applied for the next two or three years. “We’ll need the same amount of money no matter what, but it’s much healthier to introduce these rates now.”
Like several business owners across the town, Profaizer, with The Lodge, didn’t know the details of the rate increase. The town’s water department bills the hotel based on a metric known as single-family equivalent, or SFE, which is the average amount used daily by a single-family home. The current SFE for Breckenridge is 270 gallons.
The math gets a bit complicated, but the majority of hotels are billed at a rate of 0.4 SFE per unit, or roughly 108 gallons. In comparison, restaurants are billed at 4.5 SFE per 1,000 square feet — easily the most water-hungry enterprises in town.
As Breckenridge continues to grow, the SFE will likely remain the same, but the demand will increase. The 2011 feasibility study shows that a new plant made operational in 2020 will offset the demand for the next 20 years. It will also provide a much-needed backup when the current plant fails.
“The Breck water system is a discreet system: If our system goes down, we’re forced to use trucks immediately,” Waldes said. “That’s not the way it works elsewhere across the county, but here, we’re alone on our own system. Things could get ghoulish overnight.”
Yet at the same time, Gallagher and the town council see the new plant — and even the new rates — as an avenue to highlight conservation.
“One thing that is really driving the rate increase is the fact that Breck has always been at the forefront of sustainability and conservation,” Gallagher said. “Hopefully, changing these rates a bit will help people focus on how valuable water is as a resource.”
Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post | THE DENVER POST
Kate Barney fielded a call from a local property manager a few years ago: Would she rent her family’s home in downtown Crested Butte to vacationers for the summer?
The offer was huge — almost eight months of mortgage payments.
“These people are paying top dollar,” said Barney, who manages properties with her general contractor husband, allowing them to move their family to different houses.
Now, their home is typically booked for the entire summer by mid-March, as are many of the more than 250 vacation rental homes available in the Crested Butte area listed on websites such asVRBO.com,HomeAway.com,Airbnb.com andflipkey.com.
Crested Butte is one of the 10 fastest-growing markets in the nation for short-term rentals, according to HomeAway, the online Goliath in the vacation rental market.
But nearly every other High-Country town in the West is contending for that title, as a surge of property owners convert their homes into vacation destinations for the growing number of tourists seeking something more than a hotel room.
Read the full story on The Denver Post website, click here.
Backcountry snowpack conditions and avalanche risk are on the brink of drastic change after a long period of general stability because of a dry spell.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued a special avalanche advisory Friday afternoon for much of the Colorado High Country in anticipation of the first prolonged storm in about six weeks.
“The avalanche danger will increase rapidly through the weekend as the storm snow accumulates,” the avalanche center said on its website. “Human-triggered avalanches will become likely on Saturday, and naturally occurring avalanches will be a concern by Sunday.
“Many slopes that have been safe to travel on for weeks will quickly become dangerous as the storm progresses,” the advisory continued. “You will need to adapt your travel behavior accordingly.”
Prior to this storm, backcountry adventurers had been treated to a rare period of mid-season stability and generally low avalanche risk. In the Aspen and Marble areas, adventurers had been able to explore bowls, couloirs and other terrain that would typically be off-limits because of avalanche risk at this time during an average winter. The lack of snowfall starting early in January created relatively stable conditions and soft snow could still be found, said Blase Reardon, Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s forecaster for the Aspen zone.
Backcountry travelers must “snap back into high alert after weeks of generally good stability. Do not let powder fever lure you into making dangerous terrain choices.” Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Some backcountry enthusiasts had grown tired of the lack of powder and were sticking to the ski areas.
“They’ve sort of lost heart,” Reardon said.
Others took advantage of the stability to ski or snowboard aspects that normally wouldn’t be settled until spring, he said.
Basalt resident George Trantow and friends skied a north-facing area called The Frig at the top of Mud Gulch on Marble Peak on Feb. 12 and 13. The terrain was as steep as anything in Highland Bowl, he said, so he and his partners were surprised to find such favorable and safe conditions. Usually, that area would only be considered for skiing in spring after the snowpack stabilizes. The gulch slid in January and the small amount of snow that has fallen since then had stabilized in the cold, shaded terrain, Trantow said.
Trantow is a regular visitor to the Marble area and noticed a drastic difference in snow stability since early January. While it seems a distant memory now, late December brought above average snowfall and high avalanche danger. Mother Nature turned off the spigot in early January.
“The stability improved over time. I was up there (above Marble) Jan. 1 and I was scared,” Trantow said.
He said it is impossible to tell if more people than normal skied the backcountry in late January and early February, but it’s clear to him that people were venturing across broader terrain more than normal for that point in the season.
“Stuff that’s not normally tracked up was tracked up,” Trantow said.
As Reardon put it, the extended dry spell made people comfortable on terrain that “would normally raise hair on the back of their neck.”
If he had to guess, he would say fewer people were venturing into the backcountry this winter compared with last year’s powder-packed campaign. However, the popularity of backcountry skiing has surged so much in recent years that the number of people out is regularly higher than just a few winters ago, Reardon said.
Dick Jackson, owner of Aspen Expeditions mountain guide service, said it’s been a challenging season because of the perceptions of local skiers. Many believed there wasn’t much opportunity in the backcountry because of the lack of snowfall. His team knows where to find snow because it’s part of their job as professional guides, he said.
Aspen Expeditions conveyed in a Feb. 10 statement that the backcountry was still worth visiting this season.
“We have a little secret to share with you. There is silver lining to the low snow: For those that enjoy a good hike on super lightweight Dynafit alpine touring skis (or your own), the Aspen-Snowmass backcountry has been supplying cruisy and fun powder. Coupled with low avalanche-danger ratings, myriad ski touring options have indeed been a notable bright spot of our winter thus far,” the statement said.
Jackson said that the stable conditions opened up some opportunities that normally wouldn’t exist in late January and February.
“There was a feeding frenzy for a couple of weeks there,” he said.
Others ridges haven’t been as attractive so far.
And that could rapidly change. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning this weekend for an area that includes Aspen.
“We’re in the third week of February. There’s a lot of winter left,” Jackson said.
Once the snow arrives, it will likely bring a quick and drastic change to avalanche conditions. “The snow pack is stable right now but it isn’t actually strong,” Reardon said Thursday. New snow won’t adhere well to the old snowpack, increasing the changes for slides.
“If we get some good snow, conditions are really going to change,” Reardon said.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said backcountry travelers must “snap back into high alert after weeks of generally good stability. Do not let powder fever lure you into making dangerous terrain choices.”
Summit County channeled its inner Big Easy this week with Mardi Gras celebrations in Frisco, Keystone and Breckenridge. From costumed characters to a doggie “yappy” hour and more award-winning gumbo than you could possibly eat, locals and visitors dressed up in their best purple, green and gold and ushered in Fat Tuesday in style.
Lapping up the fun in Frisco
More than 70 dogs and their two-legged friends registered for this year’s Mardi Paws Barkus parade in Frisco on Saturday, Feb. 14, benefitting League for Animals and People of the Summit (LAPS). Sally Beerup, LAPS president, said even more “off the street” people bought tokens for gumbo, liquor and the Doggie Brew Yappy Hour.
“We bottled our own Doggie Brew, chicken/beef broth, this year, complete with custom labels showing a few of the doggie participants from last year, and it almost sold out,” she said.
The parade has become the No. 2 biggest annual fundraiser for LAPS, Beerup said, behind the K94K, which this year will be held on Saturday, Aug. 1, and the No. 3 moneymaker, Let’s Go Boating, taking place Saturday, June 13, and Sunday, June 14.
“Part of the reason LAPS does all these events is so families can have some safe fun with their furry best friends and, in the process, help the deserving, but less fortunate, local pets and families,” Beerup said. “LAPS is an all-volunteer nonprofit with very little overhead, no office or equipment, so almost every penny we take in goes directly back to our community.”
This year, those pennies from the Barkus parade added up to about $3,500, which will help fund the LAPS spay/neuter and medical/surgical financial-aid programs for low-income families. The organization gives back to the community about $60,0000 per year, with the help of memberships, businesses, grants, donations and fundraisers, Beerup said.
Mardi Paws wouldn’t be possible without the support of sponsors such as The Lost Cajun restaurants in Frisco and Breckenridge, which donated a large cash sum plus all the gumbo and beignets, beer sponsor New Belgium and the town of Frisco, Beerup said, adding that the unique, fun event is one she looks forward to.
“From the planning to just being part of the event day — watching all the happy dogs and owners with the crazy costumes and the astounded looks on the faces of the people driving or walking by, many of whom wander over to watch all the fun,” she said. “Did I mention the delicious Lost Cajun gumbo/beignets?”
Keystone names gumbo champs
In the Keystone Neighbourhood Co. conference room, aromas of chicken, sausage and seafood wafted through the air as three local celebrity judges tucked into their first samples in the Professional category of Keystone’s Mardi Gras gumbo competition.
Mike Giri, executive chef at Sevens in Breckenridge; Bill Sodetz, district sales manager for Shamrock Foods; and Miranda Crawford, sales manager for NRC Broadcasting, took turns commenting on the thickness of the rue and the balance of the protein and spices in entries for the two contest categories, seafood/exotic and chicken/sausage.
After more than a dozen tastes, the judges gave Mountain House Dining, under the direction of chef Dave Scott, top honors in the seafood/exotic category, and Zuma Roadhouse was named best of the field for chicken/sausage.
Out in River Run Village, Summit County band Funky Johnson filled the plaza with Cajun-inspired funk for Fat Tuesday, as locals and visitors threw down their own votes for the People’s Choice prize, honoring Hyatt Place Denver with the gold for the team’s two varieties of gumbo featuring handmade Andouille and blood sausages.
New street fest in Breckenridge
The Mardi Gras parade was retired in Breckenridge this year, in favor of a new Fat Tuesday Street Party on Main Street and the Blue River Plaza.
Swing music from Chris Daniels & the Kings filled the streets, while towering puppets and a troupe of fire dancers set the scene. Revelers drank cocktails and danced in all of their Fat Tuesday finery, and the after party continued late into the evening a local bars and restaurants, which offered up New Orleans-themed food and drink specials.
Visit this story at www.summitdaily.com for more photos from Frisco, Keystone and Breckenridge.
On Wednesday, Bill Jackson eyed the box that held his stand-up desk. It was just like the one he had used for two years as a Forest Service district ranger in Vermont. And now it sat in his Silverthorne office, waiting to be assembled.
Jackson was one month into his new role as head of the Dillon Ranger District, which manages the three-quarters of Summit County’s land that is part of the White River National Forest.
Jackson said he disliked sitting for long periods, but he hadn’t prioritized his desk because he’s been busy connecting with his staff, meeting with government and ski area officials and learning about Summit County’s landscape. In the little time he’d spent in his office, he’d sat in a heavy leather chair.
“What is this?” he said, pushing the chair with a bemused smile. He half-joked that it was a relic from the era of Rick Newton, who held Jackson’s title until 2008.
Jackson, 43, replaced Jan Cutts as district ranger when she retired in January after six years in the role.
Jackson became interested in public land management through his time in the Peace Corps in Central America and has spent most of his career in western Colorado.
Now 15 years after his first Forest Service job, he arrived in Summit with experience managing recreation facilities, wildfires, motorized and non-motorized user conflicts and ski area permitting — all sometimes sensitive issues familiar to local residents.
FROM PEACE CORPS TO PUBLIC LANDS
Originally from North Carolina, Jackson studied natural resource management and economics at North Carolina State University.
He then went straight into the Peace Corps in the mid-1990s and spent two years in Honduras working in the early years of the country’s national parks. He became fluent in Spanish while promoting ecotourism, constructing park infrastructure and teaching environmental stewardship.
At the end of his service, he gave the Honduran government the results of his eight-month survey of park visitors with his recommendations.
“I was really excited about this whole ecotourism concept and community-based tourism,” he said.
That passion led him to a master’s program in natural resource management, recreation and tourism at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
As part of his degree, Jackson spent a summer studying how to improve the recreation experience at a popular boating reservoir in California, which opened Jackson’s eyes to how his work in Honduras could be applied in the U.S. and what it was like to work for a federal land management agency.
He moved to Craig, Colorado, after grad school for a job with the Bureau of Land Management. On his first day, his boss handed Jackson a stack of maps and the keys for his work truck and sent him off to learn about the area’s roads, trails and people.
For the next two years he worked with the campgrounds and outfitter guides there, and for a year he commuted from Steamboat, where he fell in love with skiing, mountain biking and river canoeing.
In less than 20 years, Jackson has worked on the White River, Pike, San Isabel, Grand Mesa Uncompahgre, Gunnison and Green Mountain national forests and the Cimarron and Comanche national grasslands in various capacities, mostly as a recreation specialist.
He’s also completed short stints in Alaska, New Mexico and Washington, D.C.
Jackson met his wife, a fellow Peace Corps veteran and then a Forest Service employee, in the nation’s capital, and the couple married in Breckenridge in 2003.
Jackson’s ties to Summit County come from skiing at Breckenridge, Copper and other resorts in the early 2000s when he was based in Leadville and Colorado Springs.
In 2005, Jackson moved to Basalt to become a National Environmental Policy Act coordinator for the White River National Forest. There he came to appreciate how that law drives the agency’s decisions on oil and gas industry proposals, ski resort expansions and timber, range and recreation projects.
He considered pursing a doctorate and was accepted into an urban planning program in Wisconsin, but he decided to stay in Colorado and moved his family to Gunnison for another Forest Service recreation job.
“We really enjoyed Gunnison,” Jackson said, describing the tiny town close to Crested Butte.
The family lived there for five years, the longest Jackson has stayed anywhere since college, and soon Jackson took advantage of opportunities to serve as acting district ranger. He enjoyed the more holistic perspective the upper-level position provided, and that led to another move, this time across the country, for a district ranger job in Vermont.
After 15 years in Colorado, living in New England brought a culture shock not unlike what felt in the Peace Corps, he said, laughing.
His district was home to two-dozen town governments, and residents regularly packed town hall meetings. The Forest Service often brought issues of concern to the meetings without any defined plans and asked people what they thought the agency should do.
“Everybody had a chance to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what would stick or not,” he said. “It was really open, really transparent.”
Though he worried over decisions on a large timber project and a road reconstruction, he worked with vocal minorities until everyone felt their concerns had been addressed. People in the eastern U.S. are generally more supportive of the Forest Service’s work than in the West, he said.
After two years in Vermont, Jackson craved the overwhelming scenery, famous powder, mountain biking trails and people of Colorado.
“If you don’t have a passion or an ethic for the landscape, it makes your job even harder,” he said. “We were missing the Rockies.”
INFLUENCE IN SUMMIT
Jackson found time to hang up some photos in his last few weeks in Summit.
In a picture on the wall behind his desk, he smiles with a bunch of coworkers in ski gear on top of a mountain near Crested Butte. One of the men in the photo died in an avalanche not long after it was taken. Jackson said the picture reminds him of what’s important, like spending time with his two young daughters and prioritizing his birding, skiing, running and biking hobbies.
One of his goals as district ranger will be helping his employees stay sane.
After a sharp decrease in funding in recent years, the White River has been told not to fill many vacancies. For Summit, that means the Forest Service will be saying no to more projects and sharing resources, including employees, with other districts.
“One person can’t do two jobs sustainably and be healthy,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to kill people.”
He has met one-on-one with each of his staff members, talking about their projects, challenges and aspirations.
“He’s doing a really good job in getting to know the district and the people,” said Cynthia Peech Keller, deputy district ranger. “I really like having a ranger who’s a family man and hopefully is going to be around for a while.”
Jackson also has been learning which aspects of Forest Service management in Summit could be improved, like the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area, and which to continue.
“I don’t plan to do anything different that’s working well,” he said.
Snowpack in the mountain valleys where the Colorado River originates was only a little below normal on Wednesday, marking one of the few bright spots in an increasingly grim drought gripping much of the West.
Measurement stations in western Colorado showed the snowpack at 90 percent of the long-term average.
By contrast, reporting stations in the Sierra Nevada range in drought-stricken California showed snowpack at 50 percent or less in early February, the most recent figures available. Some detected no snow at all.
Mountain snow in Colorado is closely monitored because a half-dozen Western waterways, including the 1,400-mile Colorado River, start in the area. The river and its tributaries supply water to millions of people in seven states and Mexico.
Much of the river comes from mountain snow that accumulates during winter and melts in the spring.
“It’s looking pretty dismal over much of the West, but there are some areas where we’re OK.”Mike Strobelmanager of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Snow Survey
“It’s looking pretty dismal over much of the West, but there are some areas where we’re OK,” said Mike Strobel, manager of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Snow Survey, which uses about 2,000 reporting stations in the western U.S. and some in Canada to measure snow.
Mountain snow depth usually peaks in early April across the West. However, it’s unlikely many of the hardest-hit mountains will get enough precipitation by then to recover, Strobel said.
In the Pacific Northwest, warm temperatures have brought rain instead of snow, so the mountains aren’t accumulating snowpack for the spring runoff, when farmers and water managers need water to irrigate crops and refill reservoirs.
Snow accumulation in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana has been relatively good. Snowpack in the Colorado valleys that feed the east-flowing South Platte River were at 102 percent of average.
“Not spectacular, but not miserable, either,” Strobel said.
Even in Colorado, the picture is mixed. Statewide, including the Colorado River, the South Platte and six other basins, the snowpack stands at 78 percent of normal, with the parched southwest corner at 56 percent.
It would take half again the normal amount of snowfall between now and April to bring the statewide snowpack up to average, said Brian Domonkos, who supervises the snow survey in Colorado.
The Colorado River Basin isn’t accumulating snow as quickly as it was earlier in the season, Domonkos said Wednesday at a meeting of the state Water Availability Task Force, which monitors drought conditions.
“It’s been pretty dry since about the beginning of February,” he said.
The Colorado update came after calls for increased multi-state cooperation in the Colorado River basin due to the prolonged drought. The basin is home to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland.
Lake Mead in Nevada is the key measuring point of water in the Colorado River system, which also includes the Green, San Juan and Gila rivers and some 55 dams and diversions. The lake dropped to historic levels last year after almost 15 years of regional drought.
Las Vegas, with 2 million residents and 40 million visitors a year, gets 90 percent of its drinking water from Lake Mead. The U.S. Agriculture Department has declared most of Nevada a natural disaster area due to the drought.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has called California “ground zero for the drought.”
A move by Summit County last year to seize private property using eminent domain became the catalyst for a Colorado Senate bill aimed at limiting local governments from using that authority in the future.
The bill was voted down Tuesday, Feb. 17, by a bipartisan group of senators on the local government committee, which means it won’t be presented on the Senate floor or continue to the House.
“We’re really pleased that it died an early death,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, chair of the Summit Board of County Commissioners. “It really was a groundswell of opposition from counties as well as municipalities.”
Colorado Counties Inc., a group that represents the state’s mostly small, rural and conservative county governments, strongly opposed the measure.
So did the Colorado Municipal League, which represents towns. Though the bill applied only to county governments, the league worried that if it passed another bill targeting town governments would follow.
Bill sponsor Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, said the bill would stop governments from seizing land for recreation, conservation or open space purposes and defend personal property rights.
‘RARELY EVER USED’
“People like to think of eminent domain as a terrible government action, but it’s rarely, rarely ever used,” Stiegelmeier said.
She called the authority an important tool that helps counties and towns create and protect parks, trails, scenery and recreation areas, especially in places like Summit that are home to old, private mining claims established before national forest land was designated around them.
County Commissioners Dan Gibbs and Thomas Davidson visited state legislators in Denver last week to talk about the benefits of eminent domain and government-managed open space.
In the few instances in which governments use eminent domain, Stiegelmeier said, they often choose that route because the property owner would rather have the property condemned than sold.
It’s normally a friendly condemnation, she said.
The 2014 case in which the county used eminent domain to seize the Hunter Mine, a 10-acre parcel of land south of Breckenridge and surrounded by national forest, is not a good example, Stiegelmeier said.
“We were pushed into a corner, and that was really the one tool that we had left,” she said.
After a bitter legal battle, the county bought the land from Barrie for about four times its appraised value, she said. “He kept saying his property was stolen from him, and he actually made out well financially.”
The Barries received $115,000 from the county as well as $50,000 from his title company, Andy Barrie said, which was involved in the litigation and appraised his property value as much higher than the county appraisal.
“The county’s was garbage,” said Barrie, 56.
Barrie said he was disappointed the Senate bill wouldn’t become law.
Stiegelmeier said Barrie’s property was biologically sensitive and heavily used for recreation. It was also designated in the county’s master plan as an area the public wanted to protect.
“We felt like we were doing what the community wanted us to do,” she said, and the couple of local residents who expressed concern to county officials quickly changed their minds once they understood the county’s position.
Besides the Hunter Mine land, the county has used eminent domain to acquire property one other time in the last 25 years.
County attorney Jeff Huntley said in 1994 the county was in the process of buying eight small lots north of Breckenridge between Highway 9 and the Tiger Run Resort RV park.
Right before the county finalized the purchase, someone bought the last of the eight lots, he said, so the county used eminent domain to acquire it. The move kept the lots from becoming houses and prevented widening of the road, Huntley said. People now park and fish there.