After years of diminishing returns and frustrated tenants, Main Street Station at the base of Peak 9 has a new owner with a new vision for retail on the south edge of Breckenridge.
The property, home to 20 commercial units totaling 34,400 square feet, sold on April 24 for $5.6 million to an investor group led by Brent Martin, an Austin-based real estate manager who lives part time in Breckenridge. It’s the second-largest sale in Summit County this year behind a$9.2 million affordable housing complex in Silverthorne sold in March.
Main Street Station’s previous owner was First Allied Corporation, a New York-based management firm that purchased the complex from original developer Jack Wolfe in 2004. The firm owns shopping complexes in 22 states across the country, primarily in large, bustling metro areas like Denver and Chicago.
By 2014, First Allied lost the property to foreclosure, due in large part to haphazard management and tensions between the landlord and tenants, Wolfe said. The firm wouldn’t return phone calls for weeks at a time, and when tenants struggled through the thick of the 2008 recession, they saw little support from the East Coast landlord.
“You have to treat your tenants like they’re customers,” said Wolfe, who also owns a commercial real estate firm, Wolfe and Company in Breckenridge. “They aren’t just here to give you rent money. When you’re a remote landlord with very little presence, you don’t have weekly meetings or walk the property once a day, really become their advocate.”
Main Street Station is currently home to 10 retailers and restaurants, or roughly half of its original capacity. That makes it one of the quietest properties in town, despite a prime location near Maggie Pond with constant foot traffic, even during the lean shoulder seasons. The complex has five buildings total, with a sixth building under construction on the far south end.
Above street level, the entire property also holds 190 residential units, split between private condos and vacation rentals like Water House on Main Street, a Wyndham property.
For Wolfe, who has partnered with Martin as the property’s managing member — Wolfe will take the lead on attracting tenants — Main Street Station has the potential to become a thriving retail hub. New ownership can tap that potential, particularly when commercial real estate vacancy in town is at a near-record low of 2.25 percent.
“Most investors like to buy real estate that will go up in value,” Wolfe said. “Main Street Station makes up a large parentage of the vacancy rate in Breckenridge, so it stands out. But Brent is not swayed by short-term decisions. He’s the right owner for the property — it really matters to him how tenants are doing.”
BRECK’S FAMILY HUB
When Main Street Station welcomed its first tenants in late 2001, Wolfe wanted to attract businesses with a common theme: family. It was a natural concept for a property that sits below nearly 200 residential units, and the first tenants were built for families: a spa and jewelry store for mom, rental shops for kids, Quandary Grille for après dining.
Yet First Allied did little to maintain family-friendly tenants, Wolfe says, and by 2009 he started actively searching for new developers.
“Over 10 years, it lost its original version,” Wolfe said. “It was pretty horrible — we did a good original job with the design and build and leasing, but it wasn’t sustained.”
Shortly after the 2014 foreclosure, Martin approached Wolfe to manage the property. He entered the real estate market in 2006 after nearly 30 years as bond trader and owner of a money management firm. In the past decade, he’s overseen remodels at several multi-family and commercial office properties, including apartment complexes in Houston and a medical office building in Austin.
Main Street Station is Martin’s first foray into resort town retail. He was shocked to see half of the commercial units empty and saw it as an opportunity to rehab a promising property.
“I found out it really wasn’t a situation of bad real estate — it’s prime real estate, in fact,” Martin said. “The previous owner was a national firm, with shopping centers in places where you can be an absentee owner and still be successful. Before, the attitude was, ‘Either pay your rent or get out,’ and when things start going down a bad path it’s hard to get back out.”
Martin predicts the complete rehab will take about two years. Along with a new tenant philosophy, he also wants to take advantage of the properties sprawling plaza and stage.
“This property didn’t get into the ditch overnight, so we realize this is something you have to be committed to in the long haul,” Martin said. “It’s important to have the right tenant mix, to be involved in the community, to really take advantage of that plaza space.”
While Martin finalizes details on the sale, he and Wolfe are searching for new tenants. And they’ve already found two: Lolo Juice, a brand-new natural juice and healthy food store, and Hub Breckenridge, a technology store currently located on the north end of Main Street.
James Lee, owner of Hub Breckenridge, moved into his current location two years ago. Main Street Station seemed like a perfect fit for his business — a major portion of business comes from travelers who forget electronics at home — but after hearing horror stories from other tenants, he opted for a second-level storefront.
When Hub Breckenridge relocates to Main Street Station, Lee will be on the first floor near Coffee Depot.
“This is an excellent opportunity for us to be on the sidewalk level,” Lee said. “This is really what Main Street Station needed, and even the south end of town in general. The new owners are really taking this seriously — they have a mission to make it work, and we want to be part of that revitalization of Main Street Station.”
It’s Summit’s year to shine on the pro cycling circuit.
Officials with the 2015 USA Pro Challengeyesterday announced routes for the fifth year of the international cycle race, Colorado’s largest professional sporting event and easily one of the world’s most demanding road races due to four mountain passes above 9,300 feet. That’s a good 100 feet higher than the nastiest summit in Tour de France history.
And Summit County is largely to thank for this year’s lung-burning altitudes. Towns and resorts across the county play host to four of seven Pro Challenge stages this August, including the first-ever finish along the vaunted Loveland Pass route and a brand-new starting line at Copper Mountain.
Cyclists from top-tier teams like BMC Racing and Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling will cover nearly 560 total miles during the race. Before dropping to the relative low of Loveland (4,982 feet) for the start of Stage 6, competitors tackle Rabbit Ears Pass, Hoosier Pass, Fremont Pass and Independence Pass. And they won’t just huff over Independence once — they’ll hit the heart of the Copper Triangle twice, first during Stage 3, then again for Stage 4.
“The distance, the elevation climbs, everything foster the best in competition,” Pro Challenge Chief Executive Officer Shawn Hunter said. “They aren’t too long — they’re short enough that the racing takes place from start to finish each day. The athletes race hard from the first minute after the start to the moment the first racer crosses the finish line.”
STAGE 2: STEAMBOAT SPRINGS TO ARAPAHOE BASIN
After the opening circuit stage through the Steamboat Springs area, cyclists tackle the first lengthy leg of the Pro Challenge with a 103-mile route from Steamboat to Arapahoe Basin.
While competitors won’t quite finish at the top of Loveland Pass — a signature route for just about every cyclist who visits Colorado — they’ll end roughly four miles short at the Arapahoe Basin base area. It’s not as though they’re getting off easy: The stage begins with a climb up Rabbit Ears Pass before slowly, slowly gaining elevation until racing reaches a fever pitch on U.S. Highway 6 between Keystone and A-Basin.
“After 90 miles of intense racing, it will be a great finish to introduce that last grueling, demanding climb up Loveland Pass,” Hunter said.
STAGE 3: COPPER MOUNTAIN RESORT TO ASPEN
Copper enters the Pro Challenge lineup with a bang, making its debut as the starting line for Stage 3. After leaving the resort village, athletes are thrown into the gauntlet on State Highway 91, with a 2,000-foot climb up and over Freemont Pass before leisurely winding down to Leadville.
Following Freemont, past champions like Levi Leipheimer will recognize the back half of the stage. The route takes cyclists to the top of Independence Pass before dropping into Aspen, which shares honors with Breckenridge as the only town to host a Pro Challenge stage every year since the race’s debut.
STAGE 4: ASPEN TO BRECKENRIDGE
Just a day after pedaling south from Summit to Pitkin, cyclists will about-face to make a return journey for Stage 4. The route is slightly different — this stage passes through Buena Vista and Fairplay along, with a second-half push over Hoosier Pass — but it requires yet another trip over Independence Pass.
While the middle routes seem suspiciously similar on paper, Hunter says officials planned the routes based on feedback from international teams. The verdict: Cyclists wanted faster routes, with more mountain passes and shorter distances between stages.
“Summit County deserves a big piece of the race, a big piece of the excitement, but that also comes from the natural construction of the course,” Hunter said. “It fit well competitively and logistically, but the bottom line is that Summit County has done an incredible job supporting the race.”
STAGE 5: BRECKENRIDGE INDIVIDUAL TIME TRIAL
Before teams head to the Front Range, cyclists get a final taste of thin mountain air with an individual time trial in and around Breckenridge. It replaces the vaunted Vail Pass time trial, a time-honored route that traces back to the Coors Classic and Red Zinger days in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
With an average elevation of about 9,800 feet — it tops out at 10,088 feet and never drops below 9,600 feet — the 8.5-mile Breckenridge course promises to be unpredictable, beginning with a jagged climb up Moonstone Road on the way to Boreas Pass before a lightning-fast descent to the Main Street finish.
“The fans will be treated to something very special,” Hunter said. “From day one, I think that stage will become a classic, not just in terms of the Pro Challenge but in the history of Colorado racing.”
KATHMANDU, Nepal — While the death toll of Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal climbed above 1,865 across the Himalayan region, the Vail Valley breathed a collective sigh of relief that a local mountaineer and adventurer is not among the dead.
Jon Kedrowski was at a Mount Everest base camp when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on Saturday, kicking off a killer avalanche. He says he’s “safe.”
“On descent, headed back to lower camp or base camp. I’m safe,” Jon Kedrowski said on Twitter.
Jon Kedrowski has now been part of two of Mount Everest’s deadliest days. He was near the summit in 2012 when a storm blew in and killed seven people.
Bob Kedrowski, Jon’s dad, doesn’t know much more than anyone else. But his son is safe and that’s enough for now.
“He’s just fine. That’s about all I can tell you,” Bob Kedrowski said. “We’ll wait and see the next few days.”
Bob Kedrowski is also clear that Jon Kedrowski has been on Everest during two of its worst days.
“That’s what he wants to do, and you have to support him in that,” he said.
ONE OF THREE COLORADANS
Jon Kedrowski is one of three Colorado climbers caught in Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which hit around noon Kathmandu time. He, Alan Arnette and Jim Davidson, both of Fort Collins, were hiking Mount Everest with the quake hit.
They’re all safe, they said.
Jon Kedrowski’s girlfriend, Tara Nichols, told Denver’s 9News he said it sounded like a “sonic boom.”
“He could feel it,” Nichols said. “It was like a sonic boom. He felt the tremors.”
Davidson has also said on social media that he’s safe.
“We’re safe at camp 1. Apparent earthquake. We had avi nearby, powder blast and glacier moved. Injuries in base camp. Staying put,” Davidson said on Twitter.
FOX31 Denver’s Meteorologist Chris Tomer has been close friends with Jon Kedrowski, Arnette and Davidson, and climbed with Jon Kedrowski for 15 years. They played college basketball together at Valparaiso University in Indiana, and collaborated on two books.
Tomer said on the Fox31 website that he talked with Jon Kedrowski on a satellite phone right after the earthquake shook Everest.
“I could tell immediately in Jon’s voice that something was wrong,” Tomer said. “I’ve heard it before. “Jon said the mountain shook, the entire glacier shook and cracked. People ran from their tents. A sonic blast swept across base camp as a giant piece of ice and rock sheared off Pumori landing right in the Khumbu Icefall.”
AT LEAST 10 DEAD ON EVEREST
A mountaineering guide, Ang Tshering, told the Associated Press that an avalanche swept the face of Mount Everest after the earthquake. Nepal government officials said at least 10 climbers were killed and 30 injured.
This is Jon Kedrowski’s second Everest ascent. This time trying to climb it without oxygen. It’s also his second Everest tragedy.
Jon Kedrowski was caught in that 2012 storm that killed seven people near the summit, to that point Everest’s second deadliest day. Jon Kedrowski saved at least four other climbers that day.
Jon Kedrowski summited Everest later that week after a speed ascent.
A Mount Everest avalanche last April killed 16 Nepali sherpa guides. The 1996 tragedy that inspired Jon Krakauer’s book, “Into Thin Air” was Everest’s deadliest day prior to that.
The Nepal quake also shook a wide swath of northern India and Tibet, triggering avalanches in the Himalayas.
The quake hit 50 miles from Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. Nepalese police said at least 1,805 people are confirmed dead in Nepal alone, and that number is expected to climb.
A 6.6 magnitude aftershock hit about an hour later, and smaller aftershocks rippled through the region for hours.
Frisco’s Recreation Department is kicking off its summer race series with the 39th annual Run the Rockies 10K and Half Marathon on Saturday, June 6. The season-starter, a downhill run from Copper to Frisco’s Main Street, is just one of four races offered by the town from June through August.
“We have developed a great mix of race opportunities in Frisco which are meant to challenge the hardcore racers and provide a perfect entry into the sport for new racers,” Frisco Recreation Programs manager Linsey Kach said in a statement. “It is a tough balance to reach, but we’ve shown that it is possible … with incredibly scenic courses to boot.”
Bacon lovers can start off their day at the Colorado BBQ Challenge with the Kaiser Permanente Bacon Burner 6K on Saturday, June 20. The out-and-back race follows the Frisco Recreational Path with bacon aid stations along the way. Runners 21 and older will also get a free beer ticket for the BBQ Challenge.
The second annual Frisco Triathlon on Saturday, July 19, brings a new twist to the event. Starting off with a 3K stretch of paddleboarding across Lake Dillon, the race then takes participants through a 15K mountain bike course and a 5K trial run.
“There is an incredible buzz around this new format triathlon which includes a stand-up paddleboard leg,” Kach said. “It feels to me like folks have been yearning for a tri without swimming and Frisco is delivering.”
Frisco will bring the series to a close with its Run the Rockies 10K and Half Marathon on Saturday, Aug. 15. The race, which stretches across the Frisco Peninsula, is a good start for both first-time marathoners and seasoned runners.
The tax revenue figures for 2015 are slowly rolling in and Summit County is well on the road to economic recovery — and nearly back on par with the banner year of 2007.
Across Summit, towns have reported sales increases for nearly every industry, led by traditional high performers like lodging and dining, along with the brand-new marijuana sector and a noticeable uptick in construction activity.
“We certainly had one of our strongest winters ever, if not the strongest ever in terms of sales and lodging tax revenue,” said Chad Most, revenue specialist for the Town of Frisco. “That’s great for the town, but we try to keep it in perspective. It’s a credit to our business community and how they’ve taken advantage of the opportunities they have.”
Healthy tax revenues in Frisco and neighboring towns come despite a strange winter. Of 17 tax categories in Frisco, Most says only arts and crafts retailers showed a decline over the past year. The remaining categories enjoyed impressive gains, including tourism indicators like restaurants (up 20.6 percent) and vacation rentals (up nearly 16.8 percent).
“Tourism in particular was incredibly strong this winter,” Most said. “We occasionally tend to overestimate tourism and the impact it can have, but we had more people in town, staying for multiple days, and that tends to trickle down across town.”
The picture isn’t quite complete. With the exception of Breckenridge marijuana sales, towns have only collected tax data through the end of February this year. March data will be available by mid-May.
Yet for some industries — think general retail like clothing and sporting goods — booming returns were actually bolstered by meager snowfall and balmy temperatures in January and February. The Outlets at Silverthorne saw revenue increase by 6.3 percent from 2014 to 2015 — not jaw dropping, but enough to generate roughly 25 percent of the town’s overall tax revenue.
“If the ski season is really good, people are skiing, not shopping,” said Donna Braun, finance director for the town of Silverthorne. “Last year’s ski season was really good and this year wasn’t quite on the same level, so the Outlets saw a year-to-date increase. It can be a major draw for tourists when they go on vacation.”
GROCERIES AND HEATING BILLS
Across Summit, general retail this winter managed to outpace every industry except the big dogs of lodging and dining. Frisco and Breckenridge both benefitted from a lack of inventory, with nearly every available space taken along Main Street in both towns. Frisco saw a modest increase of 2 percent, while Breck jumped by 7 percent.
Beyond the Frisco town core, a handful of industries saw wildly impressive gains, even without the blanket influence of a recovering national economy. The 1-year-old Whole Foods skewed numbers slightly in the grocery category: It generated nearly $164,000 in tax revenue last July alone, with revenues dipping below the $100,000 mark only twice since then. Still, a low of $79,000 in October 2014 is double the town’s grocery revenue from 2013 — an impressive all-time high in a traditionally lean month.
Down the interstate from Whole Foods, consumer retail in Silverthorne also saw a dramatic increase, with standalone stores like Target boosting revenues 14 percent from 2014 to 2015. Only lodging fared better at 21 percent.
And then there was construction. Nearly across the board, the construction and building retail industries are finally returning to normal, due in part to major projects like the Hampton Inn in Silverthorne and renewed interest in residential plots throughout the county.
“The construction activity you have around real estate always impacts other industries, your restaurants and everything else,” Most said. “When you combine that with a strong economy, we’ve been able to tap into a strong construction market in a strong year.”
While Frisco has very little room remaining for development, the booming vacation rental market (up 16.8 percent) led to year-over-year increases in the home improvement category (up 11.7 percent) and the furnishings category (up 45 percent).
In Silverthorne, building retail was right in line with consumer retail, jumping about 13 percent since 2014. Despite the gains, the town saw noticeable dips in the automotive and service industries, with auto sales dropping by about 1 percent, while service revenues from utilities fees dropped 10 percent.
Braun believes the auto decrease is the side effect of an industry still leveling out after a recession. As for the utilities, funky weather again played a role.
“That one is kind of an oddball category because it includes a lot of things, but the biggest one is Xcel, paying a sales tax on gas and electricity,” Braun said. “But we had a warm winter, and utilities tend to trend with the weather, just like shopping.”
And then there was weed. With a full year under its belt, the Summit marijuana industry is looking healthy, although officials are quick to note that under two years of data is hardly enough to gauge long-term impacts.
“We didn’t really have expectations of the marijuana industry because it just hasn’t happened elsewhere in the United States,” said Brian Waldes, finance services manager for the town of Breckenridge. “Our estimates were honestly a little high for 2014, but not off by much. Those real numbers helped us look ahead to 2015 and the council has been very conservative in the way they budgeted the marijuana revenue.”
In Breck, total marijuana sales — dubbed “weedtail” by town staff — continue to trend upwards, jumping 8 percent from 2014 to 2015. It’s a blip compared to the 77 percent increase from 2013 to 2014, but like Whole Foods, the numbers are slightly skewed by the fact retail weed didn’t exist until last year. And marijuana still only accounts for a modest 1.65 percent of total sales activity in the town, the lowest of eight tax categories.
In Frisco, home to three of the county’s nine dispensaries — Silverthorne and Dillon can’t release data since each town has just one dispensary — weedtail tax revenues (not total sales) were up a whopping 135 percent this February over last February. The town saw nearly $20,000 in revenue, compared to about $8,500 the previous year.
A month after dozens of Silverthorne residents spoke out against the South Maryland Creek Ranch proposal, the developer on Wednesday held an open house to show concerned neighbors why 240 units on 416 acres is a sterling opportunity for a town on the rise.
More than 50 residents attended the open house, one of four informational events held in the wake of public backlash at a March town council meeting. Developers and property owner Tom Everist have spent the past month connecting with county officials and community members to revise the development plan. The open house addressed just about every hot-button topic, from concerns over traffic delays and wildlife migration to impacts on nearby property values and the threat of urban sprawl.
The new plan still calls for triple the original number of units, which jumped from 83 in 2007 to 240 in 2014, when the developer found the demand for large, estate-style homes had declined after the 2008 economic crisis.
“The world has changed in 10 years,” said Everist, owner of The Everist Company and operator of an industrial gravel pit on the SMCR property. “We went through a recession and hope we’re coming out on the other side, but the market has changed. This isn’t a bait and switch — it’s a response to the reality of the current marketplace.”
Based on community outreach, Everist and the development team found the majority of residents weren’t concerned about the density itself at SMCR, but rather the impacts of higher density. The open house presenters compared it to other residential developments on the north end of town, including Smith Ranch with 309 units on 62 acres and Ox Bow Ranch with 130 units on 87 acres.
For neighbors at Ox Bow and Three Peaks, traffic is a major concern. SMCR will have two entrances, one off State Highway 9 and another on Game Trail Road, which also leads to Three Peaks. Developers relocated the highway entrance 1.4 miles closer to the town core. They will also install a security camera at the Game Trail Road entrance to control contractor traffic, although an entry gate is not off the table, despite backlash from the town.
Neighbors are also worried about the effect a major development will have on property values. Thanks to a recovering economy, along with an increasingly tight housing market, Everist says the development could boost property values.
“Development 101 says that when a new development is marketing their homes, they draw people and buyers to the area,” Everist said. At the moment, marketing studies show roughly 50 percent of SMCR homeowners will come from the Front Range, with the rest split nearly evenly between out-of-state buyers and relocating Summit County homeowners. The majority of units range from $550,000 to $625,000, with a select number of estate plots available for homes over $1 million.
For Summit County officials, the most pressing concern isn’t the property itself, but an adjacent parcel of 640 acres to the north. Everist says his team has already drafted a covenant to protect the parcel from future development.
“I think the changes we’ve made based on getting out to the community have enhanced the project,” Everist said. “We’re excited. We think this will be the lowest density development in the town, and we’ve really met a lot of the concerns people had.”
Researchers hiked up French Gulch to survey the rotting remains of the Reiling Gold Dredge, a historical site declared endangered by Colorado Preservation Inc. last February. The wooden skeleton came to rest in 1922, now sitting in a small pond surrounded by mountains of tailings, the result of the hunt for all that glitters in Breckenridge’s “Golden Horseshoe.”
In an effort to slow the dredge’s decay, leaders in Breckenridge and the county started a hydrology study last Thursday to look at the possibility of raising the pond’s water levels by a few inches. As summer approaches, Environmental Resource Consultants plans to observe rising and falling water levels to see how water flows through the pond.
“The goal is to have less wood exposed to the elements by putting it underwater,” said Brian Lorch, Summit County Open Space and Trail director. “We’re looking at if it is feasible, and getting a general cost estimate of raising the water level.”
In March, Summit County agreed to match a $30,000 grant offered by the town of Breckenridge to cover the cost of the hydrology study, as well as the clearing of debris and stabilization of the structure.
“If we do nothing, then eventually it will all collapse,” said Larissa O’Neil, executive director of Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, anticipating that the dredge might go under in less than 20 years if left unchanged.
“The question is, how important is this that we try to preserve this for 50 years, or 30 years?”Larissa O’Neilexecutive director of Breckenridge Heritage Alliance
Researchers put up a temporary gauge to measure water levels while snow still surrounds the pond, located at 10,000 feet in French Gulch, off a trail just north of Breckenridge. But after the thaw, the team plans to return with a more permanent fixture, and look at the possibility of placing a few wells in the area.
Once the study is complete, the town will then be tasked with deciding how to best preserve the dredge.
“Certainly, we want to have all of this done by the end of this year,” Breckenridge Open Space and Trails planner Scott Reid said. “We’re looking at how to budget the next steps. Really the goal in this whole thing is to stabilize the Reiling Dredge, and slow decay, so it can be interpreted in the long term.”
PUTTING A PRICE ON HISTORY
The issue of the site’s interpretation has been the most debated aspect of the project up to this point. Both town and county leaders discussed the possibility of moving tailings to restore the valley, which was turned upside down by dredging several years ago.
As the large, barge-like structure chugged along the riverbeds, it moved 2,000 yards of earth each day, seven days per week, spitting out large rocks on a conveyor belt as a rotating cylinder separated the finer sediment — including gold — into a sluice box. Between the Reiling Dredge and the Reliance, the French Gulch Dredging Company mined $7 million in gold in a matter of years. The damage to the surrounding ecosystem remains as hills of upheaved rock surround the site.
Some would see French Creek restored, with tailings moved to uncover the alpine stream that once flowed through the gulch. However, as the recipients of a grant from the State Historical Fund of the Colorado Historical Society, the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance must be cautious to preserve the historical accuracy of the site — tailings included.
For now, town and county officials are putting the discussion on hold, until a plan for the structure itself is completed.
“I think everyone agrees that the dredge itself and its immediate surroundings should be preserved,” Reid said. “We don’t have a plan for revitalizing French Creek yet … we felt that discussion was premature.” Officials still have to decide to what extent the dredge should be restored. While the simplest of procedures, such as changing standing water levels, may increase the dredge’s lifespan by a matter of years, the added cost of further restoration brings the issue into perspective.
“The question is, how important is this that we try to preserve this for 50 years, or 30 years?” O’Neil asked.
A surprise blaze that burned a tenth of an acre Wednesday evening served as a reminder that wildfire season is approaching Summit County. While crews have already transitioned into the season by training and preparing equipment, county officials are taking a few extra preventative steps for the summer.
While it’s too early to estimate this season’s fire danger, the National Resources Convention Service reported Colorado snowpack levels were just 64 percent of average, as of April 1.
“We’re having longer, drier summers, or fire seasons,” said Dan Schroder, Summit County CSU extension director. “We are sitting in the hot seat. That’s why we are doing so much mitigation and cutting of trees.”
In response to these concerns, Summit County Wildfire Council created a full-time position for a wildfire mitigation specialist, which was filled by Doug Cupp in early March. Under his leadership, the county is looking at expanding last year’s wood chipping program, and continuing discussions on wildfire preparedness.
Cupp is no stranger to wildfires. While working for 20 years with various fire departments across Colorado, he served with several early mitigation efforts, starting with the Boulder Fire-Rescue Department’s first wildfire mitigation crew. Then, he moved to Fort Collins, working as a wildfire coordinator for Poudre Fire Authority for six years. After moving to the mountains and working as division chief in training for Summit County’s High Country Training Center, Cupp is quite familiar with the county.
“A lot of departments are seeing how important it is,” Cupp said, looking back at his experiences fighting wildfires. “Not only do you have the property loss, homes lost, and risk of floods over the next 10 years, but it really puts the entire community at risk.”
Cupp remembered fighting the Hayman fire in 2002, the most destructive fire at the time. That record was broken by Boulder’s Fourmile Fire, and then Fort Collin’s High Park Fire, both of which he fought during his time on the Front Range.
“These are not records that you want to break,” Cupp said.
Serving as a taskforce leader, Cupp led several engine companies to save one neighborhood at a time.
“We were looking for homes that have created a defensible space. Then you have a safe haven for firefighters to stand their ground,” Cupp said. “Other times you may not have that level of safety, so we may have to go in ahead of time for preparation.”
Cupp and his team would fell trees or move piles of lumber to prevent the oncoming fire from catching each house. Now, he plans to apply these experiences to help Summit County homeowners defend their homes, by looking at factors such as forest health, community development and structures that are easy to save.
One of Cupp’s goals is to expand on last year’s chipping program, which was an unforeseen success across the county. More than 40 oversized semi loads carried 923 tons of chipped wood from 1,486 Summit County homes.
“It was so successful that it was difficult to keep up with all of the homeowners who were putting out fuels,” Cupp said.
To address the high demand for the program, this year’s program will run a little differently. Two different teams will make their way across the county at once, giving the groups more time to pick up kindling from each neighborhood. The program will run from June 28 to Oct. 2.
Residents should look to specifically remove brush or low-lying limbs that might allow a fire to climb close to their homes.
“We’re trying to figure out what are the best practices that we can continually promote,” Cupp said.
Courtesy of the Colorado Department of Transportation
Starting in July, Summit County locals can look forward to a new way of traveling to Denver, no car required.
The Colorado Department of Transportation’s new express bus service, Bustang, will link transit centers stretching from Glenwood Springs to Denver’s Union Station. The three routes link the I-70 mountain corridor to I-25 both northbound and southbound, with destinations in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. One bus will run each weekday along I-70.
“The goal of the system itself is to meet the needs of the community and the clear need in connecting state’s transit systems, while offsetting traffic in the two most congested corridors in the state,” said CDOT communications director Amy Ford.
The buses, scheduled specifically for weekday commuters, are slated to depart from Glenwood Springs each morning around 7 a.m., and return by 10 p.m. For example, a Summit County resident with a meeting in Denver could leave Frisco just before 9 a.m., and catch a bus back from Union Station at 6:15 p.m.
Ticket prices are inexpensive, with a one-way from Frisco to Denver coming in at $12. Or, commuters could catch a ride from Frisco to Vail for just $5. Tickets can also be purchased in packs of 10, 20 or 40 for each route, with a 25 percent discount for walk-up rates for handicapped residents and seniors.
“It’s really designed more for locals at this point,” Ford said. “You could take the bus down if you had a doctor’s appointment in Denver. Or, maybe you wanted to go to a show.”
Of course, with a stop at Union Station, Bustang connects travelers to Denver’s light rail, giving both locals and tourists better access to the airport.
Each bus comes equipped with restrooms, bike racks, WiFi, power outlets and USB ports. The buses, which are handicap accessible, are capable of carrying up to 50 people. Ford said she expects to see 35 to 40 people using the bus at once.
CDOT is spending $10 million to start the program, with a cost of $3 million for operations. To cover the cost, CDOT will use funds set aside after a bill passed in 2009, slightly raising the cost of vehicle registration.
The Bustang will start running Monday, July 13, with a three- to five-year evaluation period to assess its effectiveness. If it is a success, CDOT may look at expanding the route west to Grand Junction.
“We will definitely be looking at this in the future,” Ford said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”