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Mountain News: Real estate ambitions in Colorado

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SOUTH FORK, Colo. — Dreams of a new real estate development high in the mountains live on — except for where they don't. Colorado has examples of both.

The dream that lives on is at Wolf Creek Pass, in southern Colorado. There, Texas billionaire B.J. "Red" McCombs set out more than 30 years go to build a giant real estate project next to the ski lifts at Wolf Creek. Last week, McCombs's dream was set back yet again.

A land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service was needed to make the project work. In 2015, the agency approved it. But environmental groups argued that the federal agency had unlawfully limited the scope of the environmental analysis. U.S. District Court Judge Richard P. Matsch has now agreed with those concerns, the Durango Herald reports.

That doesn't mean the project is dead. The proposal can go back for review. But, at least for now, there are no condos for sale at Wolf Creek. It's still relative wilderness.

But the dream died a long time ago elsewhere in Colorado. Infatuated by the success of Vail, St. Louis businessman Fred Kummer in 1973 set out to build a ski area called Adam's Rib 29 kilometres south of Eagle. The Forest Service rarely saw a potential ski area it didn't like then.

Over the years, the Forest Service began paying attention to environmental laws like the Clean Air Act. Finally, in 1997, local district ranger Anne Huebner laid it down straight. The plain fact was that the site was a terrible one for a ski area. Kummer threw in the towel.

What he wanted to be his base area, a wetlands filled area called Vassar Meadows, instead became part of the Colorado state park system.

But one component of the project still lives on in the form of the 1,540-acre Hardscrabble Ranch. The Vail Daily reports that Eagle County commissioners recently approved spending US$9 million to buy the ranch. Other funds have fattened the kitty to US$10.3 million.

To get the purchase over the finish line — and preserve the land as open space — will require another $3.1 million, which open space advocates hope will come in June from Great Outdoors Colorado.

A tall learning curve for greenhouse

JACKSON, Wyo. — A year ago a 1,255-square-metre greenhouse built on the south-facing side of the municipal parking garage began operations in Jackson. Called Vertical Harvest, it is designed to produce leafy greens through the winter while providing employment for locals with physical and mental disabilities.

The opening drew national attention, including a story in the New York Times. That caused others to begin calling to figure out how to do something similar. The calls continue. But operators of Vertical are still trying to figure it out themselves, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

"There's not a week that goes by where another community doesn't contact us and say they want to replicate this," said Nona Yehia, co-founder of Vertical Harvest. "We had a vision of how this would all work out, but that's definitely still an evolution. I don't think you can underestimate the fact that there is no playbook for this."

The greenhouse is state of the art. Each room acts as its own microecosystem, regulated to maintain the ideal heat, moisture, ultraviolet light, and carbon dioxide levels for 35 crops so that they grow in the fastest, most nutritious, and environmentally sustainable way possible, all year long, at 1,900 metres above sea level.

Figuring out how to integrate all the cutting-edge technology, however, has been a daunting task. But delivering meaningful work to the employees has been an unqualified success. The goal of Vertical Harvest is to deliver 100,00 pounds of fresh produce a year. So far, the production is a little more than half that.

Maybe pollinator garden can help

TELLURIDE, Colo. — A pollinator garden rich with flowers has been planted along the San Miguel River downstream from Telluride with the intent of nurturing both butterflies and bees.

The Telluride Daily Planet explained that the pollinator garden was proposed by a former local official, Art Goodtimes, because the population of both insects has been declining.

Volunteers from Fort Lewis College in Durango planted 12 to 15 different pollinators, including native pollinators such as showy milkweed (to help preserve Monarch butterfly populations); native blue columbines; and potentilla.

The cost of presidential families visiting Aspen

ASPEN, Colo. — When family members of U.S. presidents take skiing vacations, it costs taxpayers a chunk of change.

The Aspen Times cites research by a group called Judicial Watch that found the costs of a trip by Michelle and the two Obama daughters in 2016 was $122,000. The airplane trip from Washington, D.C. cost more than $57,000. Hotel expenses by the Secret Service agents that accompany all presidential family members accounted for most of the rest of the cost. Barack Obama stayed at home in Washington, D.C. that holiday weekend.

Donald Trump has also been a frequent visitor to Aspen through the years, but not since he was elected. However, his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner and their two-children visited this winter. Costs of that have not been released.

Two Trump weekend visits to his resort in Florida cost $1.2 million, Judicial Watch said.

"If Congress is looking to save tax dollars, they might consider trimming the platinum travel budgets of this and future presidents."

Volunteer patrollers near the end of a season – and career

DILLON, Colo. — The years of volunteer ski patrollers are ending at Arapahoe Basin. The ski area that calls itself the Legend is expanding and laying off its staff of 22 unpaid patrollers after this season.

With fresh snow recently, A-Basin announced this week that the season will continue at least until June 11.

Volunteer patrollers got enhanced training but were not permitted to do many tasks, such as avalanche control or climbing for lift evacuations. Those jobs were reserved for full-time professions.

"To be honest, our daily jobs are getting more complex," Tony Cammarata, ski patrol director, told the Summit Daily News.

Darla Whinston, who was in charge of the volunteers, said the job did provide a pass and some benefits. But mostly it was about the camaraderie.

In the earliest days of downhill skiing, nearly all ski patrollers were volunteers. That began to change in the 1950s and 1960s as professional patrollers were added to ensure staff during weekdays, says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association.

During the 1970s, Vail Mountain had gone entirely to professional patrollers. In California, Kirkwood soon followed. But some major ski areas still have volunteer ski patrollers. Among them are Colorado's Winter Park and Copper Mountain.

The National Ski Patrol has 18,700 members who are volunteer patrols.

More complexity will be added as the ski area expands by 468 acres this year. It's the latest in a number of investments for A-Basin. Snugged up against the Continental Divide, the ski area opened in 1946, among the first in Colorado. It modernized when purchased by Ralston Purina in 1978. But entering the 21st century, it remained virtually alone among Colorado ski areas in its absence of snowmaking. It now has snowmaking and a detachable quad lift.

Park City discussing a ban on formula stores

PARK CITY, Utah — Formula retailers, also called chain stores, may see the door closed along Park City's iconic Main Street.

The Park Record reported that town officials are starting to review alternatives to limit the homogenization of the street-front locations. There are currently 18 such retailers that fit the definition of a chain, defined as any store with 10 or more locations.

The town's planning staff has resisted interest by the elected officials to limit access to the prime location by chain stores such as Patagonia, the North Face, and Lululemon. Instead, they argued that the free market should prevail.

The announcement that L.L. Bean planned a store on the street shifted the thinking of the city staff. "That really kind of turned up the Bunsen burner," said Jonathan Weidenhamer, the city's economic development manager.

The alternative preferred by the planning staff would prohibit any more street-level storefronts by chain retailers. Another possibility would be to establish a cap. But concern remains. Hannah Turpen, a city planner, said a ban could make the area more viable for smaller retailers but with the unintended consequence of leading to vacancies and lack of vibrancy.

Maybe patrols will stop garbage by Banff campers

BANFF, Alta. — Last summer, two female members of the wolfpack that roams the Bow Valley of Banff National Park were shot and killed following a series of accidents.

Both wolves had become food-conditioned after getting into food and garbage left out by messy campers.

In an effort to ensure that something similar doesn't happen this summer, Parks Canada has hired several private security personnel to patrol the campgrounds in the Bow River Valley, reported the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

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