Ballot Initiative 1A will be one of the top priorities for Summit voters in November. The ballot question asks voters to approve a temporary, decade-long mill levy on property taxes, raising commercial and residential taxes for county residents annually by $33.96 for every $100,000 of property value. The levy would raise $8.8 million a year for the next 10 years, depending on property value fluctuations.
Among the areas funded by the initiative are public infrastructure, which will be allotted $1.6 million a year, and wildfire mitigation, allotted $1 million a year. The county has a laundry list of projects for both that need funding.
For wildfire mitigation, the Summit County Wildfire Council has a "Get it done" list of high priority projects.
"They've put together a list based on areas of need in areas identified as highest-risk from wildfire," said county manager Scott Vargo.
Among the items for wildfire projects are items related to road access, fire lines and cistern projects to provide firefighters with water in remote areas. Other items include thinning and fuel break projects in the Boulder Creek, Ruby Ranch, Golden Horseshoe, Peak 7, Blue River, Lewis Ranch, Iron Springs and Bill's Ranch areas. Thinning also needs to be done in the Mesa Cortina area, where the Buffalo Mountain fire almost devoured two neighborhoods.
"All told, all the projects came out to a grand total of $10 million," Vargo said. "For the $1 million a year from the levy, that total will be raised over the life of the ballot initiative."
As far as public infrastructure, the county said it has a number of building repairs and maintenance projects that need to be done, along with the renovation and expansion of several county facilities.
High on that list is the need for a new emergency services building. Summit County Ambulance Service will be vacating their current building in the County Commons and moving to a joint administrative facility with Summit Fire. The vacant building will be refitted to be the new county emergency services building.
"Our intention is to turn much, if not all, of that space into a much more robust emergency operations center than we have currently, which is just a conference room," Vargo said.
Vargo also said that the county has had conversations with Summit County Seniors, Inc. to partner on an expansion of the county's Community and Senior Center for more meeting space.
Summit County Search and Rescue Group has also shown interest in part of the County Commons for a new building.
"That project is a ways out, and SCRG plans to do some fundraising on its own for their share of the project," Vargo said.
Vargo noted that once SCRG vacate their existing facility, the county plans to remodel it and move Road and Bridge staff to that facility.
Vargo says the county is also looking at a small expansion of the main Summit County Library branch in Breckenridge.
Residents in Dillon are sure to notice a gaping hole along Lake Dillon Drive where Adriano's Bistro once stood. Only rubble and a suddenly out-of-place sign remain of the long-standing restaurant, bringing bittersweet emotions to the forefront for the Ottoborgo family, who has owned the property since the late 1980s.
But as one business falls, another emerges. Soon visitors to downtown Dillon will begin seeing the skeleton of a new structure rise from the debris, signaling the emergence of Uptown 240, a new luxury condominium complex meant to provide a more modern living experience and to help address the area's workforce housing concerns.
"It's bittersweet," said Danilo Ottoborgo, who will help run operations for Uptown 240. "There are a lot of connections we made with people who would come into the restaurant. It was great to grow up in a community like this, but at the same time there's this burning desire to do something great for the community."
Uptown 240 is an upcoming 80-unit luxury condo complex set in the heart of Dillon, next to the coming Hilton Homewood Suites. The structure will be complete with a 5,000 square foot restaurant, yet to be named, in addition to a 6,000 square foot amenities deck featuring hot tubs, fire pits, a community room and covered lounging areas. The complex will also include a full 2,500 square foot gym.
The complex will offer studio units along with one, two and three bedroom units with prices ranging from as little as $275,000 to more than $1 million. The facility also has an underground parking lot equipped to host 100 percent of residential parking on site, as well as 95 percent of parking for commercial visitors.
On the outside the building will feature an upscale "mountain modern" design developed by Studio PBA out of Denver, looking to subtlety break the mold of more traditional mountain architecture.
"We have a lot of people tired of 'mountainy' houses," said Landon Greve, Uptown 240's real estate agent. "People want to see more modern angles, finishes and amenities. That's why people are flocking to the project. They're excited about having options that aren't the same shades of brown."
Though units are yet to hit the market for pre-sale, Greve noted that more than 70 individuals have already shown interest in making purchases, and more are calling in every day. But the first dibs will go to members of the workforce.
As part of the project, Uptown 240 will be offering nine units of affordable workforce housing for permanent residents who work for at least 30 hours a week in Summit County. But unlike most workforce housing units for purchase in the area there are no area median income restrictions, or any appreciation caps.
"The only restriction is they just have to show they live and work in the county 30 hours a week," said Greve. "We're also not allowing people to purchase these units as investment properties for short-term rentals. Housing is the hardest thing out here. We don't want to restrict young people from buying a house, and not seeing any financial gains from that."
"It may be a catalyst to how the town looks at workforce housing," added Ivano Ottoborgo, Uptown 240's owner. "We're trying to come up with different solutions to real problems in the county."
Greve and the Ottoborgos are already receiving offers for the nine workforce housing units. Greve said that pre-sale options for those already on the waiting list will likely open this weekend, and for the general public the following week.
Construction on the complex will begin this fall, and is expected to be complete by mid-summer 2020.
The Ottoborgos moved to Dillon in 1987, where Ivano and his father Alex opened the Ristorante Al Lago, later reopened under the name Adriano's Bistro & Deli in late 2010. But the property is more than a restaurant for the family. For years it was their home, where Ivano and his wife Gina raised their children in an apartment beneath the restaurant. So when designing the new complex, family was on the top of the list.
Uptown 240 will embrace that philosophy, heavily involving the entire family — Gina, Danilo, Adriano and Chantelle — in different roles in the business.
"We've always worked together," said Ivano. "It was my father and I that opened the first restaurant, and my son and I opening the other restaurant. My wife worked there, my other son worked there as well. It's been a multi-generational family project."
The 24th annual Summit County Parade of Homes continues Saturday and Sunday after awards were distributed at the annual reception last week at the Silverthorne Pavilion. Nine properties made the tour this year, and the homes will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. this weekend.
For the awards, the single-family homes were divided into categories by square foot and then judged on eight criteria, including best exterior design and elevation, best kitchen, best master bedroom, best interior finishes, best interior furnishings, best landscaping and outdoor living space, best builder concept and workmanship and best overall home.
Category 1 included a home under 4,000 square feet, and winning for all criteria for the category was the Moorefield residence at 173 Campion Trail, Breckenridge.
Category 2 included homes 4,000-5,000 square feet. Winning for all criteria in that category was 180 Two Cabins Drive in Silverthorne, built by McCrerey Fine Homes.
Category 3 included homes 5,000-6,000 square feet. The four homes represented in this category are:
• 1280 Golden Eagle Road, Silverthorne, built by Pinnacle Mountain Homes
• 964 Discovery Hill Drive, Breckenridge, built by Pinnacle Mountain Homes
• 31 Sunrise Point Drive, Breckenridge, built by Raptor Construction
• 35 Hermit Drive, Breckenridge, built by Double Diamond Property & Construction Services
Winners for the following criteria were:
• Exterior design and elevation — 1280 Golden Eagle Road
• Kitchen — 35 Hermit Drive
• Master bedroom — 964 Discovery Hill Drive
• Interior finishes — 964 Discovery Hill Drive
• Interior furnishings — 31 Sunrise Point Drive
• Landscaping and outdoor living space — 1280 Golden Eagle
• Builder concept and workmanship — 35 Hermit Drive
• Best Overall – 964 Discovery Hill Drive
Additionally, the home at 247 Timber Trail Road in Breckenridge, which is over 5,000 square feet, was the winner in the remodel category. This home was remodeled by Lipari Construction with help from Aspen Grove Kitchen & Bath and Harmony Interiors.
The overall winner in the 8,000 square foot and over category, was a one-of-a-kind home at 460 Timber Trail Road, built by Mathison Custom Builders.
Special awards were given in the following categories: Bank of the West "Best Bunk Room Award" went to the home at 964 Discovery Hill Drive, Breckenridge, while the Mountain Living "Peak Award" was given to the residence at 460 Timber Trail Road, Breckenridge.
It's just about time to dig those boots out of the closet. There is a fair chance that Summit County and other mountain communities see some snowfall next week, according to climate model versions analyzed by local weather expert Joel Gratz.
Gratz, creator of OpenSnow.com, used an average of 51 different climate model versions in Crested Butte, as well as a 10-day forecast for temperatures over Copper Mountain. The models indicate that there might be "something interesting" coming up next week — hopefully the right combination of precipitation and dropping temperatures needed to produce the fluffy stuff.
"For a storm (or storms) that are 7+ days away, having 50% of the model versions show something significant is actually respectable, so this bears watching," Gratz wrote in his latest blog post.
However, those models aren't terribly reliable seven or more days out, and Gratz estimated there is a 20 percent chance of snow based on the current data. The predictions will get better as we get closer to Sunday, when temperatures are set to drop alongside a patch of moisture predicted to sit over the central and northern mountains next week.
If it does snow next week, the first snow would be in line with past years, with first snowfall seen at the end of September or early October. Last year, the first visible snow came down mid-September with a light dusting on Summit's peaks and valleys.
However, the earlier snow last year did not wind up being a sign of a good season. The 2017-18 winter was the third driest on record in Summit, followed by a drier summer and a vicious wildfire season across the West.
Most of the state is also experiencing drought, with most of Summit experiencing "extreme drought," the second most severe stage. The state continues to hope for an average or better-than-average precipitation period this winter season, with most average yearly precipitation collected with snowfall in the mountains. A second dry winter could lead to a "compact call" and water cuts across the West, and an even more prolonged drought could lead to border battles over water not seen since in the West since the 19th century.
With that in mind, ski country and the Front Range should be thankful for every snowflake that falls from now until next spring. But before you get your hopes up, Gratz stressed that the models he ran indicate a trend toward snow, but not a prediction.
"We should NOT use these 7+ day forecasts to say exactly what's going to happen," Gratz wrote. "In fact, even though we're looking at 51 model versions, past research has found that the actual weather in the future is many times outside of the range of these 51 models versions."
Gratz ended on a hopeful note, encouraging his readers to check for updates throughout the week.
"The bottom line is that we could have some fun weather later next week, and I'll keep an eye on it," he wrote.
Wherever you are next Wednesday, you're likely to experience a quick moment of shock as your phone begins buzzing and a loud and unfamiliar tone starts ringing from your pocket. But don't panic, it's only a test.
On Oct. 3 the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission, will be conducting a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System and the Wireless Emergency Alert System. At around 12:18 p.m., a test "Presidential Alert" will be sent out to phones around the nation with a message that reads, "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed." About two minutes later, the Emergency Alert System will be distributed through radio and television broadcasts, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers.
The tests are meant to assess the nation's readiness to distribute emergency alerts nationwide, and to determine if improvements are needed. The messages will be sent using FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, also known as IPAWS, the nation's preeminent alert and warning infrastructure.
"(IPAWS) is kind of the benchmark in mass notification," said Brian Bovaird, director of the Summit County Office of Emergency Management. "It's the one certain way that we have to know that information is getting out in an emergency."
While IPAWS was designed as a national alert system, local governments have taken to using the system in recent years. That includes Summit County, which integrated Wireless Emergency Alerts into its emergency management procedures last April. Some members of the Summit community have already experienced the alert first hand, as the system got its first use this June to send alerts regarding the Buffalo Fire evacuations in Silverthorne.
Despite the county already having its own emergency warning system in SC Alerts, Bovaird said that the integration of IPAWS would provide the county with a more efficient means of emergency notification.
"In Summit County, ultimately, I think this makes us more resilient," said Bovaird. "If we can get information that's timely and accurate out to the majority of the population, whether it's limiting the affects of the disaster or assisting in dealing with it, that's a huge advantage over not having that. In times of emergency, public information is huge. For our community it creates a level of resilience and safety that previously wasn't there."
IPAWS differs in a few key ways from SC Alerts. The biggest and most important difference is that while users have to sign up for SC Alerts, IPAWS alerts are automatically sent to every phone within a pre-determined area. This means that if an emergency breaks out in the area, officials are able to trace a perimeter around that spot and send alerts specifically to those affected. It also means that individuals who haven't signed up for SC Alerts, often including large tourist populations, will also be notified.
"You don't have to sign up for it," continued Bovaird. "So if I initiate a Wireless Emergency Alert it's going to go to every phone in a designated area that I choose. So if there are 20,000 people in Breckenridge, and none of them are local or signed up for SC Alerts, we can still initiate that WEA if there's an emergency and everybody gets pinged. It's really useful, especially in a community like Summit with tons of visitors."
In addition, IPAWS isn't reliant on normal cell service that is often an issue in the mountains. This means that even if you're unable to receive a text or phone call, you'll still receive the IPAWS alert if you're within range of an active cell tower.
Since its integration last April, the county has issued four IPAWS alerts. The first three included evacuation notices for Mesa Cortina and Wildernest residents during the Buffalo Mountain Fire. The fourth was sent in July on the night of The String Cheese Incident's performance in Dillon, warning visitors camping near trailheads of the fire restrictions in town.
In general IPAWS will be used when there is a time sensitive and critical issue that requires public action like evacuations. The system will be used in conjunction with SC Alerts, which will send out ancillary information about the situation. Bovaird used the example of a flash flood in the area. IPAWS would inform individuals in the area of evacuations and shelters, and SC Alerts would provide information about upcoming weather forecasts and things of that nature.
But the system is far from perfect. IPAWS is currently limited to English language messaging; meaning any alerts that gets sent out may need to be supplemented by SC Alerts which can send messages in Spanish, French and Russian. Additionally, IPAWS messages often have a "bleed over" phenomenon, wherein messages will be sent outside of the predetermined area.
While bleed over often covers about 1-2 miles, Bovaird said that due to the mountainous terrain, messages in Summit have bled over up to 10 miles outside of the target range. He noted that cutting down on false alarms for unaffected people is one focus for the county, especially given the sometimes-traumatic nature of receiving a real life alert.
"We're sensitive to the fact that members of our community have been affected by life safety situations," said Bovaird. "We don't want to bring up memories of people fleeing their homes. There's a psychological component to it for those who have gotten those messages for real, and that's something we consider."
But everyone, regardless of location, will be receiving an alert next week. The upcoming test comes as a result of the IPAWS Modernization Act that became law in April 2016, and requires that FEMA test the system once every three years to ensure that under all conditions the president, federal agencies and state, local and tribal governments can alert the public in areas endangered by acts of terrorism, natural disasters and other threats to public safety.
Most modern cellphones are compatible with the system. Check your phone's user manual or contact your mobile provider to find out.
Regardless of new technologies and upgrades to emergency notification systems, Bovaird emphasized that the community needs to be ready to respond in the rare circumstances alerts are issued. He recommended that residents create an emergency plan for themselves and their families, including a "go-kit" with food and necessary medication in case of an emergency evacuation.
"It's great we have these tools and systems," said Bovaird. "But a big part of this is having a prepared community so when we do encounter a situation where the public has to take emergency action they're ready."
A strong economy plowed through another summer month with Summit County's four largest towns all experiencing growth in July's sales tax receipts, though just barely in Silverthorne.
Propelled by dramatic spikes in its high-dollar grocery (40.66 percent), restaurants (20.46 percent) and general retail (11.52 percent) categories, Frisco led the way across the county with July's net taxable sales up 13.54 percent over July 2017.
Dillon wasn't far behind with 12.46 percent growth, while Breckenridge, which has logged over $377 million in taxable sales through the first seven months of the year, was up 5.82 percent compared to July 2017.
Across Breckenridge, every single sector was up in July. The towns taxable sales are tracking 8.93 percent ahead of last year through the first seven months of this year, buoyed by double-digit increases in its high-dollar categories — general retail (up 10.42 percent), restaurants and bars (up 11.16 percent), and lodging (up 13.61 percent)
Breckenridge saw the most notable month-over-month increases in its restaurants and bars (8.05 percent), marijuana (10.89 percent) and construction (14.81 percent) sectors.
Up a meager 0.64 percent over July 2017, Silverthorne was largely flat for the month and recorded the most modest growth rate across Summit County.
Even though Silverthorne experienced its slowest rate of month-over-month growth since October, the town remains a healthy 6.11 percent ahead of 2017 in a year-to-date comparison.
"Overall, the town's revenue and expenditures are tracking well to budget," revenue administrator Kathy Marshall noted in the town's latest financial report.
That's good news for Silverthorne because, according to the same report, sales taxes have generated roughly 52 percent of the town's general fund revenue through the first seven months of the year.
The most significant change over July 2017 came in Silverthorne's building retail category, which was up 11.20 percent in July, attributed to a spike in sales accompanied by a small increase in equipment rentals.
At the same time, Silverthorne saw the most significant decrease in its service sector, down 15.26 percent in July compared to July 2017. However, that category remains up a whopping 47.69 percent year, and because July's decline can be explained outside of regular market forces, there's little reason to worry about the one-month slide.
According to Marshall, most large service providers' sales were actually flat or even up slightly in July, and the dip can actually be blamed on a one-time county payment in July 2017 that pushed the category down this July.
After posting 7.96 percent growth in June, Dillon returned to double-digit figures in July, which helped the town remain up a wild 12.65 percent year to date.
Just how long the towns can continue posting this kind of growth is anyone's guess. But for tourist-rich Summit County, occupancy rates can be one indicator of economic activity.
According to the most recent occupancy report released by Inntopia's monthly DestiMetrics Market Briefing, which complies data from participating western destinations, including Summit County, the outlook is good.
That's because the DestiMetrics report shows occupancy rates for the summer season at western destinations are up 2.9 percent from May through October of this year compared to the same time last year.
Although wildfires and smoke have plagued many western states this summer, as of Aug. 31, there has been very little negative impact on western mountain destinations, according to the firm, which saw a 3.9 percent jump in August's occupancy rates compared to August 2017.
Jeremy Dreiling, production manager for the Business Intelligence division of Inntopia, explains that the growth in destination lodging isn't universal across the West, but he also sees many key economic indicators that influence discretionary consumer spending, including recreational travel, suggesting good things to come.
For example, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 2.4 percent in August, which also marked the longest bull market streak without a major correction in 60 years. Additionally, the Consumer Confidence Index gained six points to reach its highest level since October 2000.
"These historically high confidence levels have analysts predicting that consumer spending will continue its healthy upward trend through 2018 and will continue to foster stable economic growth," Dreiling said.
The expected developer of the former Hudson Auto Source property in Silverthorne has abandoned the project after an informal work session with Silverthorne Town Council was less than cordial, he said.
Developer Steve McKeever, who lives in Edwards, and his partners at Resort Concepts have worked with dozens of governmental bodies over the course of their careers, but this is the first time he's felt like one of them tried to cast him as "a greedy developer."
Last week's work session over the Hudson Park Lofts was "just condescending and not helpful," McKeever offered, saying that town council "ridiculed" the development team after they put significant time and money into crafting a plan they thought would be a good starting point.
With that, McKeever is sure they won't be pursuing the project any further.
"We're just not those guys," he said. "We're done. Yes, sir … It was a life-is-too-short decision to try to fight upstream against that mentality."
Work sessions are optional, nonbinding meetings that Silverthorne offers developers as an opportunity to let the town feel out a project and offer feedback before more formal proceedings can take place. In this instance, the amount of commercial space, or lack thereof, was a major issue.
Detailed in a memo from assistant town manager Mark Leidal to town council, developers of the Hudson Park Lofts were seeking to raise the maximum allowable density from 16 residential units per acre to 37 units an acre on the 3.85-acre parcel between Fourth and Fifth streets, directly west of the Blue River Parkway, in downtown Silverthorne.
Altogether, initial plans detailed 142 residential units across six three- and four-story buildings with 7,400 square feet of commercial storefronts in two buildings fronting the highway.
An additional 5,950 square feet of live-work space for artists would line the buildings along Adams Avenue, giving the project a combined total of 13,350 square feet of commercial space.
Other variances developers could have sought would have been to exceed the town's limits on building heights and parking requirements, in addition to allowing first-floor residences in the town core. Residential units are currently allowed in Silverthorne's downtown core, but only as "accessory uses in mixed-use structures" and not on the ground floor, per town code.
"Keep in mind this was a work session, and we were expecting suggestions," McKeever said. "All they did was tell us how bad our plan was and that we shouldn't have brought it in front of the town. We really left the meeting scratching our heads, not knowing what to think about it."
No one disputes town officials demanded the developers add more commercial space into their plans during the work session. However, McKeever said he doesn't believe a market exists to support so much commercial and that the project council wants him to do simply isn't feasible.
"They wanted tons of commercial," he said, claiming that town officials have acknowledged to him commercial sites are going unfilled in Silverthorne and even offered tax incentives to help make the project work as the town wanted it.
McKeever said the development team didn't want to use tax incentives because they think the development "should work without taxpayers' money." He also suggested the town's push for more commercial space stems from Silverthorne's heavy reliance on sales taxes, which are its primary source of funding.
That's not how town staff or council members described the matter, though. With the town in good financial health, Councilman Kevin McDonald said, "the taxes themselves were not really an issue."
Responding to McKeever's accusations that council members, specifically McDonald, painted the developers as "greedy," McDonald said he doesn't remember saying that, only expressing his extreme disappointment with the preliminary plan McKeever presented.
"We wanted commercial on the first floor, but they didn't want to do that," McDonald said, explaining that requirement is clearly spelled out in the town's comprehensive master plan, approved in May 2014, and not some underhanded scheme to grow tax revenue.
Town council members might have been willing to approve a small variance for the project, McDonald added, but they weren't about to increase the allowable density, agree to building heights drastically exceeding limitations and forgo the mandate all buildings in the town core must come with first-floor commercial.
McDonald and Leidal both maintained the push for more commercial space was directly from the comprehensive plan, which promotes first-floor retail, office space, restaurants and other commercial uses across the town core.
The development team had been operating under contract to buy the land after the Hudson Auto Source car dealership closed in May. With the developers abandoning the project, that sale won't go though, McKeever said.
It seems probable the property would be put back on the market, but efforts to reach the owner of the now-closed dealership for comment were unsuccessful on Thursday.
Snowmaking has commenced here in Summit County, with visions of fresh turns on the horizon. High atop the Continental Divide, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area fired up eight snowmaking guns early Friday morning.
A-Basin's snowmaking team blanketed an area around mid-mountain at the top of the High Noon trail with snow. It's the earliest the ski area has started its snowmaking in 10 seasons, as the average start of snowmaking occurs in the first few days of October.
"We fired up last night," A-Basin chief operating officer Alan Henceroth wrote on his blog. "The wet bulb temperature got down to 25 (degrees Fahrenheit) for about six hours. The snowmakers have been training and testing for the last week. They put a little bit of snow on the ground.
"It wasn't a big night," the COO continued, "but it was a very productive and important night. We will probably have a few more nights like this. It is good to run the system and work out any kinks. A snowmaking system has miles and miles of machines and equipment. Most of that gear lives outside and is exposed to weather and wildlife. Testing is good, running the system under real conditions is even better. The objective is to be fully ready when we get that 36-hour period of temperatures in the teens.
"We will be ready."
Though A-Basin has approximately 25 total snow guns in its fleet, the ski area only runs the ones located where the temperatures are optimal.
Also this season at the ski area, 100 percent of the energy used for A-Basin's snowmaking system is coming from renewable solar energy.
Applications are being taken for four open positions on the Breckenridge Planning Commission, each slated for a four-year term running from Nov. 6 to Oct. 31, 2022.
The town's planning commission meets at 5:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Candidates will be interviewed Oct. 8-12 before appointees are selected on Oct. 23.
Anyone interested in applying for the planning commission should submit a letter of interest no later than 4 p.m. Oct. 1. Candidates must be residents of the town and registered to vote to serve on the commission.
According to an announcement from town staff, experience with historic preservation, history, architecture, landscaping, architectural history, prehistoric or historic archaeology, planning, building trades, cultural or urban geography, cultural anthropology, real estate or law is desired.
Commissioners receive minor compensation, recreational benefits and training opportunities. For more, contact the town's planning department at 970-453-3160.
One of the key components of fire mitigation is fuel reduction – thinning out areas of dense, overgrown and often unhealthy forest to reduce the amount of fuel available for wildfires. While most folks in the High Country now understand the importance of fuel breaks, the location for the breaks is often a contentious issue. Residents may, understandably, be worried about the impact thinning can have on their own property's market and aesthetic value.
During September's meeting of the Forest Health Task Force, deputy Dillon district ranger Adam Bianchi explained the criteria the Forest Service uses to choose areas for thinning, which may be useful to understand why certain areas are cleared and others are left untouched.
Bianchi began the presentation with a photo of the Buffalo Mountain Fire, which was stopped in its tracks by fuel breaks dug in by the service years ago. The $11 million investment saved billions in property value and priceless scenery.
Bianchi then gave a historical overview of thinning in Summit County, starting from the mid-'90s when the mountain pine beetle epidemic began and affected 143,000 acres of forestland in Summit, killing half the trees in the county. During that time, Summit County's population more than doubled, from around 13,000 to 28,000 residents.
Ninty-nine percent of those residents are in the Wildland-Urban Interface, areas designated as close enough to wilderness to require protection from fires and other natural forest hazards. Local, regional and federal officials got together back in 2006 to start developing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan to avoid an impending catastrophe as trees got sick, withered and died all over the county.
Fire breaks were deemed a critical tool in the arsenal against wildfires. These clear-cut areas serve several purposes. First, to reduce the threat of wildfires to homes and other essential structures. The breaks also make it possible for firefighters to take a defensive stand while fighting fires.
Ecologically, they also serve to speed up nature's work by thinning dead brush and clearing the tree canopies so more sunlight can hit the ground, giving a new generation of trees and forest floor vegetation a chance to thrive. That in effect helps make watersheds and wildlife habitats healthier and more diverse.
That diversity also applies to the trees themselves. Areas the forest service target tend to have a "monoculture" of lodgepole pine, meaning they lack diversity of other trees like Aspen, which are not affected by the beetle.
"Those areas become giant feasting grounds for mountain pine beetles," Bianchi said. Thus, aside from the thinning, the Forest Service also seeks to introduce a variety of seedlings from other tree species into the area to give the forest a kind of "herd immunity," slowing down the progress of future tree diseases that affect only one type of tree.
Due to limited resources, the Forest Service has to prioritize some areas for thinning more than others. Forestland closest to homes and other human structures are always prioritized. Other factors come into play such as type of vegetation, accessibility to the area by logging trucks, relative flatness of the land and difficulty for loggers to do their work, as well as consideration of how close the forest is to private property boundaries.
Aside from tangible factors, the forest service also heavily weighs community support for the thinning. If a community seems ardently against a thinning project, the forest service takes the input into consideration and may very well abandon the thinning until there is more local support for the project.
"We're not going to push certain things if the public is not interested in doing it," Bianchi said. "We try to listen to communities best we can, and try to come up with a compromise. The location of fuel breaks are driven by where there's support for it."
Bianchi ended the presentation with the state of forestland in Summit. While the mountain pine beetle epidemic is effectively over, with the voracious little critters last seen in the county back in 2015, there are new threats heading this way — the spruce pine beetle and a parasitic fungus known as dwarf mistletoe. Both sicken and weaken trees. Combined with high temperatures and low water levels, a new forest epidemic may be on the horizon.
Bianchi said that it is imperative that fuel reduction efforts continue to be supported by the public and that the issue continues to be visible.
"If we don't have a fire in the next 5 years, people might not necessarily see a need for the thinning," Bianchi said. "Ultimately the Forest Service will do its best to educate the public about the need for fuel reduction and continue work to keep these forests healthy."
Coming off recent successes, the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance is looking to the future with separate plans to expand both the presentation and the scope of local history.
Detailing those recent successes, president of the heritage alliance's board of directors Jerry Dziedzic noted that Barney Ford, a former slave who achieved great wealth during Colorado's gold rush, was inducted into the Colorado Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Also this year, the alliance got a working sawmillhumming at the Sawmill Museum and finished reinforcing the old Reiling Dredge, which Dziedzic characterized as "the most ambitious project BHA has ever attempted."
Now attention at the alliance has turned to history's future with the group's 2019 budget request before Breckenridge Town Council providing a peek into what's in store. Most notably, the alliance is seeking $480,000 next year with roughly three-fourths of that earmarked for two major undertakings: Time is a River and Modern Breckenridge.
Time is a River is multi-phase project calling for a series of improvements to the Breckenridge Welcome Center, which attracts roughly 400,000 visitors annually. Describing Time is a River to council, Dziedzic said it would "complete" the center.
Some of the work at the welcome center is already done, he noted, including new digital signage, some minor remodeling efforts and the addition of self-service kiosks that allow visitors to plan a day in Breckenridge with an itinerary sent to their smartphones.
Using the Blue River as a metaphor, the alliance is looking to create an interactive timeline on an array of flat-panel touch screens, flowing visitors from 1859 to modern day Breckenridge like water running downriver. The panels would be fixed inside the welcome center, positioned vertically in a portrait format and placed side by side so it looks like one continuous display. As many as five people could interact with the display at a time with one person per panel.
The alliance is working with the firm Riggs Ward, which designed a similar set of panels for the Black History Museum & Cultural Center in Richmond, Virginia. Describing how the display works, Dziedzic said static images pan across the screens to lure people to the panels. A motion sensor detects when someone approaches, and the panels shift to encourage that person to interact with them.
The alliance is anticipating spending $275,000 on the interactive five-panel display with $175,000 going to Riggs Ward for developing the display, including creating the enclosure, handling programming and hardware, and securing delivery and installation. The alliance expects to spend another $25,000 on content development and $50,000 on theater upgrades and minor renovations to get the welcome center ready for the panels. Another $25,000 would be reserved for contingency costs.
"If you go to anybody else's visitors center, they're all going in this direction with this kind of technology," Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said, theorizing how nice it would be to have the ability to change up the display and add to it as needed.
The second project, Modern Breckenridge, is the heritage alliance's effort to expand the scope of local history into modern times, Dziedzic explained, adding that it goes hand in hand with Time is a River but remains a separate undertaking.
"Both of them represent significant improvements to the welcome center," he said. "They're each freestanding, but you put the two together and there's a lot of synergies that they feed off one another."
That's because exhibits culled through the Modern Breckenridge are expected be housed on the center's second floor gallery, where a number of exhibits last updated in 2006 currently reside. For this effort, the alliance is looking for $100,000 next year.
The heritage alliance is hoping to focus on the town's "modern pioneers," people like the hippies and ski bums who helped save Breckenridge from becoming a ghost town in the 1960s. Much of the content for Modern Breckenridge already exists, and the heritage alliance is in the process of interviewing a good number of locals who lived it to further bolster the archives.
"Breckenridge has seen adventurers for years," Dziedzic said.
The miners of the mid-1800s get much of the attention, he continued, "but there's another story there … and that story needs to be told too."
Other major developments that helped shape Breckenridge would be the National Historic District designation that came in 1980, the Blue River restoration effort of the 1990s and the 1996 sales tax that produced almost 60 miles of trails along with 5,000 acres of protected open space in and around town.
"These are the kinds of things that people perceive have made Breckenridge the community that it is today," he said, adding that the town is still being shaped today, with millennials now making their mark.
As volunteers with the heritage alliance outlined the group's upcoming budget request, council members inquired about the display's operations, maintenance and expected lifespan, though none expressed any opposition to providing the funding.