Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Ever-present threat of wildfire leads Breckenridge to rethink Fourth of July fireworks

Breckenridge Tourism Office

With wildfire concerns plaguing its summer firework shows, the town of Breckenridge is looking for another less worrisome way to celebrate Independence Day this year.
Planning is underway for Fourth of July celebrations across the country and state, but fireworks won't be a part of Breckenridge's plan. It's not that town officials are feeling unpatriotic. Rather, they're tired of scheduling a show that keeps getting canceled and, quite frankly, might be sending the wrong message.
"With the fragile state of our forest, council can no longer support hoping for a rainy year," said Mayor Eric Mamula during a recent discussion about the town's Fourth of July celebration. "I don't think it's prudent for us to even send that message that that kind of activity in this forest is OK."
Almost 500 homes between Frisco and Breckenridge had to be evacuated on July 5, 2017, due to the Peak 2 Fire. Last year, the Buffalo Mountain Fire torched over 80 acres on June 12, forcing the evacuation of a neighborhood outside of Silverthorne.
As a result, fireworks across the state fell like dominoes due to drought conditions and over fears of fire, including planned shows in Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain Resort and Keystone Resort.
Fireworks displays in the nearby mountain communities of Avon, Gypsum, Fairplay, Leadville and Vail were wiped out last summer as well. Many people applauded the towns' decisions not to shoot off fireworks.
A quick straw poll of Breckenridge Town Council last week revealed that everyone was in line with the mayor, afraid of summertime wildfires and quite willing to ditch the fireworks.
"I'm fine with not doing actual fireworks because that stress every year — 'Are we or aren't we?' And then messaging it out — I think we can remove ourselves from that," said Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence.
The conversation then turned to what the town might do instead. Lawrence suggested some kind of alternative and wondered out loud if money saved on fireworks could go to produce something like a more animated Fourth of July parade. At the same time, other council members wanted to explore what the town could do during the evening hours in lieu of fireworks.
"I think we should put aside some money and encourage the (Breckenridge Tourism Office) to see if they can explore ideas for something that would be cool that does not bring fire dangers," Councilman Dick Carleton said.
Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe was "wide open" about what that alternative could be, as she too expressed support for putting it on the BTO to come up with something other than rocket-powered pyrotechnics.
Also, it's important to set the tone for the town, Wolfe added, saying that council's decisions can influence individuals and set the tone for private business to act more responsibly.
In previous discussions, council has even talked about ways to get local businesses to stop selling firewood during fire bans.
And by deciding not to shoot off fireworks this summer, at least one council member thought that Breckenridge would avoid putting some unnecessary stress on local wildlife and people's pets, too.
Plus, with a robust lineup of Independence Day events — trail runs, the Firecracker 50 Mountain Bike Race and the town's Main Street parade — there's really no shortage of fun happenings in Breckenridge to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
"I think there's some advantage to offering something different," Councilwoman Erin Gigliello added, suggesting that Breckenridge has plenty of room to work on coming up with a unique offering for the Fourth of July with Frisco regularly doing fireworks over Lake Dillon — and doing them well.
Some ideas that could take the place of fireworks might be a drone show, like what Aspen had planned last year, while other towns and cities have found success with lasers, lighting displays or free concerts.
As for the leftover fireworks that didn't get set off July Fourth in Breckenridge, they'll be seen over the town starting at 6 p.m. Jan. 26, paired with a free concert by El Paso Lasso, during the International Snow Sculpture Championships from Jan. 21-30.
Courtesy Summit Daily.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Summit County feels impact of longest federal shutdown in U.S. history

Summit Daily

On Saturday, the partial federal government shutdown will enter its 22nd day, making it the longest federal shutdown in American history.
Over 800,000 federal employees nationwide have been furloughed or forced to work without pay. On Friday, 15,000 Coloradans who work for a living received no money on their paycheck.
Federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services remain mostly shuttered, meaning there's nobody monitoring our forests and routine inspections for much of the 80 percent of America's food supply are starting to lapse.
Seafood, fruits, vegetables, imported foods and other foods prone to contamination are not being properly screened for safety. Meat and dairy are still being inspected at the moment, but those inspectors are not being paid. In the past few months, there have been numerous food safety scares, such as the recent E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce. Without regular inspections, such outbreaks may not be contained.
Many Homeland Security workers, such as TSA agents at airports, are also working without pay, with about 5 percent of workers calling in sick in what is effectively a "sick-in" protest. Five federal employees from various federal agencies forced to work without pay recently filed suit against the federal government, invoking the 13th Amendment prohibition on slavery. Several businesses, including Silverthorne-based therapy practice Slopeside Counseling, have been offering furloughed federal workers free food and services to help them get by during the shutdown.
The situation is unprecedented. It remains to be seen what, if any, impacts the record-breaking shutdown will have for the country if it continues for a month or longer. Close to home, the Dillon Ranger District office in Silverthorne is closed and none of the two dozen employees stationed there are available or answering the phone. Forest rangers aren't making their rounds, and there's no way to tell if damage or loss is happening in the White River National Forest until they return.
National parks and forests have remained open to the public during the shutdown due to political pressure in previous shutdowns.
However, in the past few weeks there have already been reports of wide-ranging damage and pollution in federal public lands.
Rocky Mountain National Park in nearby Grand County has been forced to close several access roads due to a lack of plowing. The snow spells danger for winter travelers who recreate without supervision, as they run the risk of getting stuck in the forest with inaccessible roads.
President Trump has refused to sign budget bills passed by Democrats to reopen the government without a border wall — even though congressional Republicans previously approved them. Trump said that the shutdown may last months or even years.
In Summit County, one of the greatest dangers to the public is the potential loss of sentinels in the forest during wildfire season. Last year, with financial contributions from the county and towns, seasonal forest patrollers extinguished 10 abandoned campfires and seven unattended campfires. But this year, without supervision from the Forest Service, it's unclear if another seasonal patrol will be able to do the critical work that prevented fires last year.
Doozie Martin, program manager for volunteer organization Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, said that the Forest Service has been holding a strict line on media communication, and he is as in the dark as anyone else about what the shutdown will mean if it drags into the summer.
But he knows that there's little his organization will be able to do when it comes to trail work, stewardship and volunteer efforts in the forest if there is no Forest Service support.
"We will not proceed with any projects taking place in national forests without consent, supervision and the blessing of the Forest Service," Martin said. "Should the shutdown extend into summer, we will be following the Forest Service and its approach to it, but it's anybody's guess about what will happen."
Brian Lorch, director of Summit County's Open Space and Trails department, said that at the minimum, the shutdown is preventing collaboration with federal partners on forest projects planned for the summer. However, if the shutdown continues into the wildfire season, he has fears of the consequences.
"I think it would be a huge concern if the shutdown goes into the summer," Lorch said. "The Forest Service is already understaffed in national forests as it is. If they're not able to do their job, there's a higher likelihood of some sort of bad event, whether it be poor forest management, destruction of public property or a catastrophic event. All of those could be looming if the shutdown goes into the summer."
On its website, the Forest Service has tried to assure the public that fire safety will not lapse during the shutdown.
"Preparing fire responders for the nation's 2019 fire suppression is part of the USDA Forest Service shutdown plan," a statement on the site reads. "The agency is committed to supporting activities such as temporary and permanent fire hiring and some essential trainings that are critical to 2019 fire suppression."
However, the website does not go into specifics about how such fire suppression will be done without funds, nor when or if forest management projects will recommence or how fire suppression activities will be coordinated.
Colorado's four congressional House Democrats, including newly-elected 2nd District congressman Joe Neguse, signed a letter Friday morning demanding the U.S. Senate and White House end the shutdown.
"This shutdown puts our country's national security at risk and the livelihoods of hardworking men and women in jeopardy," the letter reads. "Enough is enough. We call on Senate Republicans to immediately act and join Democrats to fully reopen the government and end this senseless shutdown."
Courtesy Summit Daily.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

What does the 2019 housing market look like?

A year ago, several experts predicted the new tax law would cause a slowdown in the housing market. So far, the limitations on mortgage-interest and property-tax deductions haven’t had a negative impact. Instead, rising mortgage rates and home prices are doing more to put a damper on the market.
Economic uncertainty brought on by global trade tensionsstock market volatility and the government shutdown also isn’t helping. In this environment, potential home buyers can be reluctant to make a large purchase such as a house. The last sustained government shutdown in 2013 saw a slump in home sales.
It is too soon to tell whether the recent decline is a temporary lull or a major pullback.
In their forecasts for 2019, real estate experts anticipate the housing market slowing down, but not stalling, with prices and mortgage rates moderating.
“If mortgage rates trend sideways next year, as we anticipate, and home price appreciation continues to moderate, improving affordability should breathe some life into the housing market,” said Doug G. Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae.
The National Association of Realtors expects home sales to flatten and home prices to continue to increase, though at a slower pace.
The forecast for home sales will be very boring — meaning stable,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.
NAR expects sales to increase 1 percent to about 5.4 million and the median home price to rise 3.1 percent to around $266,800 in 2019, and $274,000 in 2020.
“Home-price appreciation will slow down,” Yun said. “The days of easy price gains are coming to an end, but prices will continue to rise.”
Courtesy  Kathy Orton, The Washington Post.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Surveys reveal support for Summit County field house

#Summit County
Vail Daily

More people in Summit County support a field house than oppose it, according to two recent surveys.
With prolonged winters leaving the high-elevation, alpine environment snow-locked much of the year, some locals have been calling for an indoor athletics facility — or a field house — to bolster recreational opportunities.
Summit High School recently completed construction of its own indoor athletics facility, but the one now being talked about in an intergovernmental partnership featuring three towns and the county would primarily be for club, youth and adult sports that are unaffiliated with the school.
A new field house would help keep up with population growth and remains essential for sports clubs trying to compete against teams from more temperate climates with longer practice seasons, said Juli Rathke, who believes the community is just now "uncovering the potential" of what it could do for the county. And she's not the only one.
In a scientifically valid survey done by mail, 48 percent of respondents reported they would support the development of a new indoor sports complex with the right amenities, opposed to only 31 percent against it. At the same time, 21 percent said they do not know.
Opponents have noted that 70 percent of residents who responded to the survey reported that their indoor recreational needs are currently being met most or all of the time.
On the other side, proponents might argue that only 11 percent of respondents said their needs were being met "all the time." Plus, even with 59 percent saying their needs are met most of the time, that still leaves almost one in three people feeling like their needs are not being met.
The second survey, which was done online and open to anyone who wanted to weigh in, found a higher degree of support for a field house at 71 percent of respondents, compared to only 14 percent against and 15 percent unsure.
But that wasn't everything the surveys said.
They found the most commonly used recreation facilities in the county are the Silverthorne and Breckenridge recreation centers, and the most oft-wanted amenities in a field house would be a full-size turf field, running track, climbing wall and limited space for hard courts.
"I gathered that we really don't need to be looking at the most grandiose facility that we can provide with all of the bells and whistles," said Summit County Community Development director Jim Curnutte, responding to a question about his takeaways from the surveys.
The surveys showed county residents have little taste to drive more than 30 minutes to an indoor athletics facility or fund such a project through a property tax initiative. Almost two-thirds of respondents said they would rather pay for it through a lodging tax, but Curnutte said he thinks that could be a tough sell within the business community. Paying for an indoor athletic facility through a public-private partnership also scored high in the survey, and almost half of respondents said they could support creating a special recreation district to fund such a complex. If such a facility is built, it's highly likely user fees will be one of the mechanisms to produce ongoing funding.
The surveys were part of the first phase of the overarching field house needs assessment study, and phase one also included a background review, stakeholder input and a market analysis.
In an intergovernmental partnership, Summit County, Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne have all agreed to pony up $9,500 each to pay for the second and third phases of the study.
Those two phases will run simultaneously and drill down into details on the design, construction and operating costs, along with potential locations and building programming.
The lone town out, Dillon, is still interested in the results of the needs assessment, said Kerstin Anderson, the town's marketing and communications director.
She explained that because Dillon is a smaller municipality with less money to spend, its elected officials have to make "tough choices" about what the town can support monetarily.
That doesn't mean Dillon is out of the conversation, Anderson added. The town will be keeping an eye on the field house discussion to gauge Dillon's involvement going forward and how such a facility might dovetail into other town initiatives focused on health and recreation.
There's no set timeline for when the entire feasibility study will be complete, but Curnutte said he expects the results in the next three or four months.
"Sometime by the spring, we should have all the information we need to decide if we're going to move forward or not," he said.
For Rathke, the sky is the limit for a field house in Summit County, and once phases two and three are complete, she said more potential user groups should come out in support of it.
"I look forward to the next stage, getting user groups and clubs more involved and having their voices heard," she said.
Courtesy of the Summit Daily

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ullr Fest really gets going today

Mark Fox

Son of the grain goddess Sif and stepson of the thunder god Thor, Ullr reigned as the ultimate archer, hunter, skier and skater in √Ědalir — as well as being a handsome and great warrior to boot. It is said that Ullr left the stars as his trails, streaking across the sky on his skis, blanketing the earth in snow each winter. Believe what you will, but those in Breckenridge will say Ullr had a fondness for the town, settling down in the mountains here and blessing the land with the finest, fluffiest snow outside of Asgard. Local C.J. Mueller, a former Ullr king and world-record speed skier, describes Ullr fest as "our own national holiday … the parade/bonfire is one of the wildest, craziest, funnest events in the ski world. Ullr Fest was originally called Ullr Dag. When it became more than a one-day event, it started to be called Ullr Fest. I like to think of Thursday (parade day) as Ullr Dag.
"It has only gotten bigger and better over the years. I'm very happy that the bonfire has been returned to town on parade day after being out of town for a few years. I miss the old days of bringing the dirt bike into the living room in January to get it running for the parade. Some of the best years were when Breckenridge hosted the World Cup Freestyle events during Ullr Fest and all the athletes walked in the parade … and the years when Jim Rianoshek would decorate his old car in a manner that would always be referred to as politically incorrect."
If you like skiing — and you probably do if you live in Summit County — you would be wise to take part in the time-honored tradition of Ullr Fest. If not for the fun of worshipping old Norse gods, then for the parties and viking costumes. Head to Main Street in Breckenridge for the 56th year of mythological fun as the festival runs through Saturday.
One of the most anticipated events, the famed shot ski provided by Breckenridge Distillery will be lining Main Street with a bottoms up at 4 p.m. Last year 1,266 people drank to Ullr, connected by 422 skis spanning 2,128.3 feet. The shot ski this year is sold out, but you can add your name to the waiting list and cross your whiskey-loving fingers.

Once you're feeling warm and fuzzy, stick around outside a bit longer for the Ullr Parade at 4:30. Festive floats will be rolling down the street for a chance at a cash prize. First place gets $500, second place gets $300 and third place gets $200. Everyone else gets to have fun, so there's really no losing. If you've got an idea and a truck, there's still time left to register at GoBreck.com.
It may be getting a bit chilly now, but luckily there's a bonfire from 5-7. Festivalgoers are encouraged to bring their Christmas tree to donate to the flames.
At Maggie Pond at Main Street Station you will find the toughest Ullr lovers. At 2 p.m., anyone is welcome to register to plunge into the freezing waters. A heated changing room and hot tub await you if you dare accept the challenge. Don't just think board shorts and bikinis when you prepare for the dive though, as there will be a prize for best costume. There will also be music, food and drinks at the event.
From 4-6, the National Cocktail Throwdown finale will take place at Breckenridge Distillery. Nine of the best bartenders in the nation compete to make the best bourbon punch. Guests will be greeted with a welcome drink while the competitors are brewing up their own. Drinks will be served along with food from the restaurant. General admission is $35 for the main event. VIP admission is $70, which includes a meet and greet, distillery tour and access to the Dark Arts Lounge for food and drink beforehand. Buy tickets at Bit.ly/2C7nxcK.
At 8 p.m. head over for another night at the Riverwalk Center where comedians Elliot Woolsey and Phil Palisoul will knock your wool-knit socks off. Tickets are $25 and benefit the Carriage House Early Learning Center.
Saturday is for the kids at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena where an ice skating and helmet decorating party will be going on from 1:15-3 p.m.
At 3, muster any strength you have left from the last few days and gear up to compete in the Ullr Fat Tire Bike Race. Registration is $30 for adults and $20 for those 17 and under. Sign up at BikeReg.com.
At 6, the festivities will be closing out with the Wild and Scenic Film Festival at the Riverwalk Center. The Continental Divide Land Trust has partnered with the High Country Conservation Center to bring adventure films from around the world that "inform, inspire solutions and create positive perspectives to restore the earth and human communities." Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. They can be purchased at HighCountryConservation.org.

Courtesy Summit Daily.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Sheriff’s office seeks public help in identifying skiers in Breckenridge collision

Summit Daily

The Summit County Sheriff's Office is seeking the public's assistance in identifying a pair of skiers who reportedly collided with another skier at Breckenridge Ski Resort on Saturday.
On Jan. 5 at about 7:15 p.m. the sheriff's office responded to a report from a victim of a skier collision that took place earlier that day at around 12:30 p.m. An unidentified juvenile male skier on the mountain with his father reportedly collided with the victim while skiing on the Reverie Ski Run on Peak 6, sending the victim into a tree. The young skier and his father left the scene without providing any names or contact information, according to the sheriff's office.
Based on the report, the sheriff's office believes this is a violation of the Skier Safety Act law, which requires all skiers or snowboarders involved in a collision to stop, exchange information and summon aid.
The case is currently under investigation, and the sheriff's office is asking anyone with information about the collision to contact detective sergeant Robert Pearce at 970-423-8925.
Violations of the Ski Safety Act can be serious offenses. According to the Fifth Judicial District Attorney's Office, hit and runs while skiing are class 2 petty offenses punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Though if the collision results in an injury, offenders could potentially be charged with 3rddegree assault or misdemeanor reckless endangerment.
No information regarding the nature of the skier's injuries have been released
Courtesy Summit Daily

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Home prices will rise in 2019

CoreLogic: Home prices will rise in 2019

American home prices to rise by almost 5% come September 2019

In 2018, the principal-and-interest mortgage payment on the median-priced home climbed by more than 16%, according to the latest data from CoreLogic.
CoreLogic reports that although the median home price rose by less than 6% over the past year, prospective buyers are in for a rude awakening come 2019.
According to the company’s forecast, American home prices will rise by almost 5% year over year in September 2019. In fact, it claims that some mortgage rate forecasts point to mortgage payments climbing to more than 11%.
“A consensus forecast suggests mortgage rates will rise by about half of a percentage point between September 2018 and September 2019,” CoreLogic writes. “The CoreLogic HPI Forecast suggests the median sale price will rise 2.7% in real, or inflation-adjusted, terms over that same time period.”
CoreLogic says based on these projections, the real typical monthly mortgage payment would rise from $912 in September 2018 to $994 by September 2019. This is an 8.9% year-over-year gain, which equates to a nominal year-over-year gain of 11.3% in 2019.
That being said, the latest CoreLogic Case-Shiller report indicated that although home prices were slowly increasing, most cities across the country saw a boost from the prior year.
“The combination of higher mortgage rates and higher home prices rising faster than incomes and wages means fewer people can afford to buy a house. Fixed rate 30-year mortgages are currently 4.75%, up from 4% one year earlier,” S&P Dow Jones Indices Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee David Blitzer said. “Home prices are up 54%, or 40% excluding inflation, since they bottomed in 2012. Reduced affordability is slowing sales of both new and existing single-family homes.”

Monday, January 07, 2019

Will Breckenridge backpedal on e-bikes?

Summit Daily

On Tuesday, Breckenridge Town Council could steer the course for shared mobility options in town, including electric scooters and the roughly two dozen e-bikes that rolled out this summer.
After council voted to ban Segway scooters in September, a memo dated Dec. 26 from assistant town manager Shannon Haynes lays out some new questions for the elected officials. Among them, would Breckenridge like to see a bike-share or any other shared mobility option in town? If so, should it be permitted to operate on town-owned property? Perhaps more directly, does council prefer not to have any shared mobility programs at this time?
The overarching discussion about shared mobility options extends to just about any form of transportation that can be shared from one rider to another. It's not limited to public transportation systems, taxis, limos, bike-sharing or non-commercial car-sharing programs, like carpooling.
Modern technology has opened an array of new avenues for shared modes of transit. Like Haynes' memo articulates, from large cities to small tourist destinations, these options are becoming increasingly popular but don't come without their pros and cons.
One of the biggest benefits might be bike-sharing and communal scooters taking some cars off of the roads, Haynes wrote. In Breckenridge, where traffic congestion and parking are two of the peskiest problems along with the town's recent clean energy commitments, anything that shifts people from automobiles to bikes is generally welcome.
Bike-sharing has demonstrated its effectiveness as a first- and last-mile strategy near transit hubs and in walkable corridors with high pedestrian traffic. Haynes noted it does have the potential in Breckenridge.
But bike-sharing has also hindered pedestrian traffic, she added, with riders sometimes blocking or riding on the sidewalks. Haynes also suggested bike-sharing has led to theft, littering and destruction of property.
Framing the town's concerns, Haynes said that the staff, including Police Chief Jim Baird, has reviewed "the issues generally associated with bike-share and scooter-share operations" and the primary concerns are safety, clutter, litter, pedestrian impediments and riders using the bikes and scooters in areas that are off-limits.
"Of these, only safety was not an issue during the Urbike deployment in 2018," Haynes claimed, referencing Summit Bike Share, which put out about two dozen app-based e-bikes in Breckenridge this August and 70 across Summit County.
It was born of a partnership between local bike store owner Nick Truitt and the Boulder-based Urbike company. Shortly after the rollout, former Breckenridge Mayor John Warner gave them a glowing endorsement. Reached over the phone Sunday, Truitt said that he believes the town's trying to avoid recreating problems larger cities saw with the floods of e-scooters hitting their streets and sidewalks.
"It was enough that people could find them when they wanted them, but not enough that they were just sitting everywhere," Truitt said of the decision to put about 25 of the e-bikes in Breckenridge.
For Truitt, controlling the numbers is one key, but he's also heard concerns over e-bikes being used or parked on public property and that the bikes created new competition for the traditional bike rental stores.
Any fears that e-bikes are hurting traditional bike rentals aren't supported by the numbers they've seen so far, said Truitt, who added the way that people are using e-bikes isn't in line with how most rental stores do business.
He pointed to figures produced by Summit Bike Share showing that the e-bikes logged 1,988 trips from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31. The most popular days of the week for them were Thursday, Friday and Wednesday, in that order. Also, the vast majority of trips lasted less than one hour — far less than a typical bike rental — and the evening and nighttime hours brought increased ridership.
Truitt said people are using e-bikes to get to work, to restaurants and around downtown Breckenridge. As for illegal parking, he believes that with some careful planning that hitch has a fix.
"That's kind of what we're trying to work on now with the town, is how do we create these (drop-off and pickup) locations that are convenient for people," Truitt said as he described strategically placed bike-share stations, almost like the town has bus stops, electric vehicle charging ports or other areas reserved for specific types of transportation.
"One parking spot for a car can house 10-15 bikes," he added.
Before asking its members to consider developing a mobility vision, Haynes told council in the memo that shared-use options may have a place in Breckenridge's long-term transportation plan.
This could mean creating goals for the percentages of travelers utilizing each particular type of transportation, the number of trips using each type or assigning a staff member as the town's "Mobility Czar," Haynes suggested.
Her memo said town staff will return with a proposed ordinance, or ordinances, depending on council's conversation. The work session meeting begins at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Breckenridge Town Hall, 150 Ski Hill Road.
Public comments are generally not accepted during council's work session meetings but are taken shortly after the regular meeting begins later in the night at 7. For the complete meeting and work session agendas, go to TownOfBreckenridge.com, mouse over the "Your Government" tab and click on "Town Council."
Courtesy Summit Daily.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

The Swan River Restoration Project made significant progress in 2018, but hits significant speed bump

Summit Daily

Building a river and the entire ecosystem around it would seem to be a task reserved for Mother Nature or deities of some high pantheon. But the people of Summit County government and the town of Breckenridge have been doing just that, attempting to repair damage from the area's dredge mining past with the Swan River restoration project.
Over a hundred years ago, miners dredged the Swan River Valley in their frenzied search for gold and other precious metals at the twilight of the Gold Rush. Using giant, floating mechanized shovels, the river bottom was dug out to sift out dense metals like gold, leaving gravel, cobble and silt behind in huge, gray piles.
The result was a dead river with water flowing through the dug-up detritus but providing no sustenance or habitat for flora and fauna at the surface. For decades, the valley remained abandoned with no hope of self-recovery within a human lifetime.
Back in 2008, Summit County put its eye on the 3-mile gray, dusty eyesore with the grand vision of restoring it to its natural state. The vision was a restored above-ground river with vegetation, fish habitat and recreational opportunities. In 2018, the project saw the most progress yet, with a half-mile of valley floor restored. The riverbed has already become a nesting ground for local birds and 100 trees are growing along the stretch.
Jason Lederer, a senior resource specialist for the county's Open Space and Trails department, said that the county and its partners are putting finishing touches on a downstream portion known as "Reach A."
"We're optimistic that next year we can build a trail access portal and get the public back out there," Lederer said. "With the dry season we had last year, vegetation growth didn't do as well as we hoped. Hopefully this moisture we're getting will continue next year, but until then we need to keep the public away from the area while the site becomes established."
The next major portion of the project involves gravel and debris removal on the upstream portion, known as Reach B, before attempting restoration there. That involves removing tons of material off-site with trucks, which has drawn the ire of neighboring residents who have complained about safety and noise issues related to traffic.
Last summer, local opposition was so strong that county commissioners upheld a ruling that denied construction materials company Peak Materials a permit to crush rock on-site at Mascot Placer for delivery elsewhere. A legal battle between the county and Peak Materials is ongoing, but in the meantime there is some question about how or when the material at that site can be cleared for restoration.
"Obviously, it delays one of the goals for the county, which is restoration of the valley," Lederer said. "But we are still optimistic that down the road, something will happen down there that lets us move forward."
Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch said the county is excited about the future of the Swan River restoration.
"We are creating a great amenity for the public of Summit County with a restored stream as compared to a degraded riverbed with mine dredge piles," Lorch said. "We are creating a beautiful new habitat and new recreational area in the process."
Courtesy Summit Daily

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Summit County officials warn residents, visitors to keep their distance from moose


Summit Daily
Moose are one of Colorado's most beautiful and impressive animals. Though at up to 6 feet tall, 1,200 pounds and with antlers reaching 5 feet wide, they're also one of the most dangerous.
The Breckenridge Police Department is reminding residents and visitors alike to keep a safe distance from moose after a number of close-proximity sightings in recent days.
While moose sightings even in downtown areas aren't anything new for Breckenridge or other areas in Summit County, people's willingness to approach the animals speaks to a lack of understanding on how dangerous they can be.
"This is very typical," said Colleen Goettelman, a spokesperson for the Breckenridge Police Department, on moose sightings in town. "Moose didn't just appear two weeks ago. But people are willing to get too close and take pictures, not fully understanding the consequences of something happening."
The moose population in Colorado has been on the rise since Colorado Parks and Wildlife — along with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service — reintroduced the animals to the state in the late 1970s. From a few stray moose, CPW estimates the population has grown to over 2,500 statewide, and between 200 to 500 in Summit County alone.

District wildlife manager Tom Davies said that because moose are solitary animals, population estimates are much harder to make compared to herd animals like deer and elk, where flyovers and modeling can yield accurate counts. But as moose populations continue to grow, conflicts with humans are becoming more common.
"All our tourists don't know any better, and think they can get close," said Davies. "They're by far the most dangerous animals in North America, and conflicts have been on the rise statewide because the moose population is doing so well.
"People see mountain lions and bears as a threat, and they don't look at herbivores as being a dangerous thing. But moose don't fit that stereotype. They've all got a switch, when if it gets flipped they become very dangerous. They might walk off or charge you. People don't understand that they're nothing like deer and elk. They will sit there and defend themselves."
Davies said that moose are typically docile animals and won't attack unless provoked. But while most animals subscribe to a fight-or-flight response during conflicts, moose lean heavily toward fight. Because moose don't have any natural predators in Colorado — wolves and grizzly bears are their only ones — they don't have the flight characteristic, said Davies.
But moose's natural aversion toward wolves means that dogs face an increased danger when coming across the animals. Davies noted that about 95 percent of moose attacks involve dogs, the main characteristic tying attacks together.
"Moose can't tell the difference between a wolf and a dog," said Davies. "They've evolved dealing with wolves, and they know that a single wolf won't be a problem. They're willing to fight that, where a pack would be a problem. But nobody is walking around with a dozen dogs. So the moose sees the one dog and knows it can win the battle, and they go after the dog trying to protect themselves or their young."
Potential attacks against humans or pets is only one reason to keep a safe distance from moose. According to state statute, CPW is required to remove animals that have attacked and injured people from the population, meaning if someone approaches a moose to take a picture, they're putting both themselves and the animal in serious danger.
There are also legal consequences to fooling around with wildlife. Under Colorado statute it is illegal to harass any wildlife, defined by Davies as anything that alters the normal behavior of an animal. In other words, approaching a moose laying down next to a path and causing it to move may be considered harassment; a misdemeanor punishable by a $140 fine — $275 if a dog is involved.
To keep safe from moose attacks, Davies suggested using a "rule of thumb" theory. He said that if you see a moose, stick out your thumb as far away from your body as possible, and if your thumb can cover the moose you're at a safe distance.
If you turn a corner and find yourself too close to a moose, back away slowly, but don't turn your back on the animal because you need to be able to see if it decides to charge at you. Pinned back ears, raised hackles and licking their snouts are signs of aggression and may signal that a moose is about to attack.
If a moose charges, run away and try to put something big like a tree, car or large rock between yourself and the moose. It's also important to keep dogs on leashes when hiking in areas with moose. Earlier this year CPW produced a video warning residents about the dangers of moose attacks and showing how to avoid them.
"Distance and leashes are your friends when dealing with moose," said Davies. "And don't ever think you know what a moose is going to do. They're the most unpredictable animals I've ever worked with."
Courtesy of the Summit Daily.