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Mountain News: Glacier Skywalk now open in Alberta

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JASPER, Alberta — It's now up to the jury to decide whether the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park profanes the natural setting or assists those seeking to appreciate that setting.

The glass-bottomed skywalk opened on May 1, allowing patrons to peer through their feet 280 metres (920 feet) into the canyon of the Sunwapta River. This is along the Columbian Icefields, about halfway between the towns of Lake Louise and Jasper.

Brewster Travel Canada spent $21 million (Cdn.) on the structure, which won the World Architecture Festival's Future Projects Category Award in 2011. The Calgary Herald explains that the skywalk is anchored into the cliff with 200 metric tons of steel.

A number of environmentalists and Jasper residents opposed it because of concerns about privatization of a national park and potential ecological impact, particularly to mountain goats. Parks Canada approved the project after overseeing an environmental assessment that concluded in 2012.

To venture out onto the glass costs $25 for adults, $12.50 for kids.

The Herald questioned several visitors from Alberta who were at the skywalk on its opening day last Thursday. "It's amazing," Adele Schwartz and Dawn Kuzio, both from Morinville, said in unison.

Brewster president David McKenna told the Rocky Mountain Outlook the goal of the venue is to capture people's imagination and demonstrate the theme of water.

"Our overarching goal at the end of this is to explain to people the canyon they look over is the result of retreating glaciers and you can still see the water from the glacier off in the distance," he said.

He also noted that the deck offers a more intimate view of the Snow Dome, whose melting ice flows into rivers that eventually make their way to three different oceans: the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic (if you include Hudson Bay as a tributary to that ocean).

Fleeing heat, taxes and crowds

PARK CITY, Utah — Driven by buyers seeking to escape heat, taxes and crowds home sales surged in Park City and adjacent areas during the first quarter of this year, reaching volumes unmatched for winter months since 2007.

New condominiums priced in around the $400,000 range powered some of this growth in sales volume. Also pushing sales were single-family homes in an outlying area near Jordanelle Reservoir. Buyers were mostly people looking for a second home, but at a lower price point than the $1.2 million average price of a home in Park City's high-profile Old Town neighbourhood.

Local real-estate agents tell The Park Record that the people buying into Park City tend to come from the hot-climate states of Florida and Texas, and metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. Marcie Davis, president of the Park City Board of Realtors, further identifies a non-traditional motive for buyers: "They are coming here more and more for the summer."

Carol Agle, another agent, further noted new impetus for Californians to relocate to Park City. People making $1 million a year in California get dinged by the state income tax at a 13-per-cent rate, compared to five per cent in Utah.

Further evidence of economic recovery is found in plans for redevelopment of an area called Bonanza Park. The 19-acre parcel north of downtown currently has 357 housing units and 137 businesses.

Park City's comprehensive plan envisions a denser, more urban environment in the neighbourhood, with blocks 275 feet by 325 feet, encouraging more walkability and use of buses. This design is projected to draw a diversity of residents, including millenials, or those people born between 1980 and 2000.

That plan also projects development occurring gradually, building by building, such as is commonly found in older downtowns. "The evolution of architectural design created over time will lead to an authentic, diverse district," the document says.

Owning over half the land is a development company co-owned by Mark J. Fischer and Paul DeJoria. The latter is a bearded billionaire from Texas who made his fortune in Paul Mitchell and other hair products.

Fischer tells The Park Record that he hopes to file a proposal that would make it the the first significant redevelopment in Bonanza Park by mid-June. He also speaks about more of an "upscale vision" for Bonanza Park.

Keeping ATV riders on trail

TELLURIDE, Colo. — A new agreement being formulated in three counties of the San Juan Mountains would provide expanded, but still low-key, enforcement of laws governing off-highway vehicles.

The Telluride Daily Planet reports that the ranger hired by San Miguel, San Juan, and Hinsdale counties is to enforce local ordinances plus the state law that mandates all OHVs have a state permit. The ranger is to work in the network of high-mountain passes between Telluride, Silverton and Lake City.

The program was spurred several years ago by increasing use of all-terrain and other motorized vehicles, many driven by adolescents and children, and some of whom have ventured off roads and onto delicate tundra.

Safety of drivers also remains a concern. Last year, a 14-year-old died in Ouray County while a 10-year-old died in San Juan County.

The Daily Planet explains that the ranger is instructed to educate the public, not issue tickets for violations. "The ticket part of it has to be moved into the background," said Peter McKay, a commissioner in San Juan County.

Composting toilet good for water

ASPEN, Colo. — Rio Grande Park is more or less in the middle of Aspen, sandwiched between the Roaring Fork River and the Pitkin County Courthouse. It gets high use from rugby, soccer, and others engaged in sweaty pursuits.

These users will now have composting toilets for their use. The technology sold by Clivus Multrum, a company that has been around since 1973, uses 95 per cent less water than even newer-generation toilets, which use 1.6 gallons per flush. Even water used for restroom sinks bypasses sewage treatment and is instead routed into a tank and then fed just below the surface of a flower garden.

Don Mills, sales director with Clivus Multrum, tells the Aspen Daily News that composting toilets allow the waste to dehydrate and become fertilizer.

He contends that water-based sewage treatment isn't benign to human health. "It is a great mistake to put our waste into water," he said. He explained that pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, are now commonly found in water supplies, even after sewage treatment. That danger posed by pharmaceuticals is greatly reduced with a composting toilet system.

These compostable toilets don't come cheap, however, at least in Aspen: $556,000 for the complex, although that's still less than the $763,000 restrooms provided at another Aspen park 12 years ago.

Contributing $100,000 says the Daily News, was Theater Aspen, which stages summer performances in a nearby pavilion.

Skiing and golfing on the same day

JASPER, Alberta — For one weekend, it was possible to ski and play golf on the same day in Jasper. As Marmot basin ski area ended its 50th season on May 4, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course was open for business.

Gregg Lown, the new director of golf, assured the Jasper Fitzhugh that the course was in prime condition. "This is the best golf resort in Canada, but it's still a hidden secret in a lot of ways," he went on to say. "The people who know golf — the people who rate golf courses across Canada — all agree on it, but we need to spread the word, not just throughout Canada, but to the U.S. as well."

Lown had previously been director of golf at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler before taking a job at a Fairmont resort in Mexico. After too many drippy, sweaty polo shirts, he returned to Canada, taking a job at a golf store in Canmore before the job at Jasper opened up.

Restaurateur heartburn about ruling on workers

BANFF, Alberta — The federal government has imposed a moratorium in hiring of temporary foreign workers by restaurants, and it's causing plenty of heartburn among restaurateurs in Banff and Jasper.

Among those aggrieved is Stavros Karlos, a Banff town councillor and co-owner of a family-owned Balkan restaurant. He told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that he was "shocked and dismayed" by the moratorium.

"I am not defending anybody who may have abused the program, but what I am saying is the federal government didn't have enforcement standards in place nor inspection programs of a robust enough nature."

He fears having too few workers this summer.

"I don't want to end up back where we were in 2005 and 2006, where you just couldn't find bodies to work because of a huge machine up in northern Alberta called the oil sands ... it sucks so much employment out of us," he said.

He further explains that the majority of the foreign workers he hired have now become Canadian citizens.

In Jasper, the Fitzhugh characterizes the moratorium as a blunt tool. The suspension "sends a strange message to the employers who are abusing the program, but it also targets employers who have been successfully and fairly using it to grow and maintain their businesses. In that way, the suspension is unfair punishment," says the paper.

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