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Mountain News: Are booming summers too much of a good thing?



TELLURIDE, Colo. — Five years since the recession was in the rear-view mirror, and summers at mountain resorts in Colorado just keep getting busier and busier. Is it too busy?

The Denver Post reported ratcheted-up discussions in a number of mountain towns about what constitutes success.

"We have to work our butts off to make it work financially to live here, but if we have to sacrifice our quality of life now, it's no longer worth it," said Hillary Cooper, a long-time resident of Telluride and soon to be a San Miguel County commissioner.

"We don't want to kick a gift horse in the mouth, but this summer just felt like too much. Maybe it's time for a different discussion about what makes a successful mountain town."

The Post offers plenty of statistical evidence of busyness. Occupancy rates during July in Aspen and Snowmass topped 88 per cent for the first time for a summer month. Winter Park had tax collections in July surge 57 per cent compared to the same month last year. And Rocky Mountain National Park has leapfrogged both Yosemite and Yellowstone to become the nation's third-most-visited park — with more visitors at the gateway communities of Estes Park and Grand Lake.

In Aspen, the busyness is part of a discussion about whether the town needs more lodging units. The Aspen Skiing Co. has been pushing hard for more lodging for a number of years. Some locals say there's enough already.

In Telluride, town manager Greg Clifton said the debate is about mitigating impacts of success, not cutting back commerce.

"To be clear, we are not looking at how to scale back or reduce. The conversation is how do we best handle this growth and mitigate its impact."

The Post did not mention this, but in the 1990s Telluride had a similar debate about being too busy in summer. Even then, the summer calendar was filling up with festivals. At length, the town council agreed to a designated weekend when nobody would try to hold a festival.

Assessing the impact of cannabis

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Since marijuana became legal among adults in Colorado, communities are trying to come up with strategies to deal with unintended consequences.

For example, what happens if tourists leave marijuana in their hotel rooms before heading home? In Gunnison, site of an airport, and Crested Butte, 43 kilometres away, there are now amnesty boxes, where unused marijuana can be left. The box at the airport was emptied twice weekly during the busy season.

Local police told the Crested Butte News that stores selling marijuana pay close attention to state and local regulations. "They have a great thing going, and they don't want to lose their licences, explained Tom Martin, the town's chief marshall.

Sales and other taxes imposed on sales rose in 2015, the second year of legal sales for recreational use. In Crested Butte, collections grew from US$94,000 to $140,000. That indicates altogether $3.5 million in sales last year in Crested Butte.

One fear of legalization was that cannabis use would grow among youngsters. The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey reports that between 2009 and 2015 kids did indeed get increased access — but there was a slight decrease in use, except for Grade 12, the News says.

But the jury is still out about the effect of legalization on traffic safety. California is weighing the evidence as voters prepare to vote in the November election about legalizing sales as Colorado, Washington and other states have done.

The Sacramento Bee sorted through the evidence from Colorado, Washington state and other jurisdictions and drew no clear conclusion.

"We really do not have accurate data," said Glenn Davis, Colorado's highway safety manager. "I recognize that marijuana impairment is going to be a challenge for us. I would say the increased availability of marijuana to the driving public has some impact on crashes, but we don't know."

What better place to learn about implants

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Mountain Village, the town located adjacent to the ski slopes above Telluride, might seem like an odd place to set up a dental implant business. Sure, Telluride gets visitors, but Mountain Village has a permanent population of about 1,000 and Telluride just a few more.

But Michael Spicer thinks that Mountain Village can work for his dental implant business. It's not the locals he has in mind. He will sell implants to dentists, but also facilitate training for dentists on how to sell them to patients. He told the Telluride Daily Planet that essentially he is teaching the dentists he hopes to have as customers the business aspect.

With well over 100,000 dentists doing implants in the U.S., "there is a marketplace for this," he said.

Transportation, though is crucial. Most visitors on ski vacations arrive by larger airplanes into Montrose, an airport about an hour away. But Telluride has a smaller airport located on a mesa above Telluride, the town. Great Lakes Airlines is resuming year-round service in December.

"We've definitely seen a significant influx of new families into Telluride over the past decade, many of them coming from big cities where they were involved with successful start-up companies," Bob Delves, former mayor of Mountain Village, told Mountain Town News.

Alcohol deaths, but no rehab

JACKSON, Wyo. — Since the start of last year, Teton County has had 11 alcohol-related deaths. "We're way above the national average, Dr. Brent Blue, the local coroner, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Even paradise has its pitfalls.`

Circumstances varied. One man was found alone in his trailer surrounded by empty bottles of hard liquor. Another person just drank herself to death.

The problem, said Blue, is that Jackson Hole has no rehabilitation centre.

"They just need a safe place to sober up," he said. "The choices are the jail, which is the worst place, or the hospital, where there's way too much care and it's very expensive. We have two extremes. There's nothing in between."

Jail has worked for at least one person, though. The News&Guide tells an absorbing story of a local resident, who was caught dealing drugs in Teton County three years ago and spent three months in jail. The woman used that experience to free herself from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Her family members had no such luck.

"My sister passed away last year. She overdosed on heroin. My father passed away two weeks later. He overdosed on pills," said Danielle Christensen. "I feel extremely lucky and sometimes I wonder, 'Why me?' My life is 100 times better than what it was."

She testified to the need for a rehab centre. She now works full time as a manager at a restaurant and helps addicts in her spare time.

Imagining porno shops on town square

JACKSON, Wyo. — Can you imagine a porno shop between the art galleries of Jackson? How about next to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar?

Unlikely, but it was possible until last April, when the Jackson town council imposed a six-month moratorium on applications for sexually oriented businesses.

But town officials can't hide from the issue forever, said the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Adult entertainment businesses are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If a sexually oriented business were banned from opening in Jackson, it could sue the town for a breach of its constitutional rights.

The town council in November will ask the public to comment where they think would be the best place.

Bricks-and-mortar stores want curbs on trunk sales

ASPEN, Colo. — They're called trunk shows. Pedlars of high-end art, jewelry and clothing arrive in Aspen during Christmas, pay the $150 business licence fee, then rent a room to show their wares.

But a coalition of 19 business owners would also like to call them illegal or at least make it expensive for competing pedlars. They argue that they pay to have business locations and allowing itinerants is unfair.

The Aspen Daily News explained that high-end pedlars skirt town laws that prohibit commerce in hotel rooms by showing the goods there but then conducting the actual sale later and legally. Retailers also objected to something called the antique, jewelry and fine art fair that leases the city's Ice Garden for a week in July to bring in 60 vendors.

Mayor Steve Skadron told local merchants that he wishes he could "wave a magic wand," such as by increasing the cost of a temporary business license or strengthening zoning rules to discourage pop-up retail. But he also cautioned that any action must be carefully considered, since "every action has a reaction."