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Mountain News: The funeral of Hunter S. Thompson

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ASPEN, Colo. — An odd apparition has taken shape at Owl Farm, the home of the late writer Hunter S. Thompson, in the Woody Creek area near Aspen. A crane has hoisted steel cylinders covered with gray cloth to resemble a clothed arm, and atop these cylinders will be a clenched fist made of fiberglass, two thumbs holding a peyote button.

All of this will be 153 feet high, about two feet higher than the Statute of Liberty in the harbor at New York City.

As the typewriter-ribbon-sniffing fans of Thompson will immediately recognize, this is the fist that Thompson used as a symbol of the "gonzo" writing. In a 1978 television documentary, Thompson revealed his desire to have his ashes blasted from a cannon at his home. And so it will be on Saturday, Aug. 20.

The actor Johnny Depp, who portrayed Thompson in a movie based on Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is paying for the unusual cannon. Costs are estimated at $1 million to $2 million, reports the Rocky Mountain News.

Just who gets to see all this, at least close at hand, remains at issue. The affair will be strictly private, inasmuch as a 153-foot cannon can ever be private. Writers and journalists on the guest list for the funeral have been asked to refrain from writing about the event. Just the same, everybody from the New York Times to CNN has expressed a desire to be there.

Meanwhile, fans of Thompson – both invited and uninvited – are streaming in from across the world, some by jet, others on foot. Among the latter is Rick McKinney, who earlier this year began walking south from Yellowstone National Park with plans to attend the funeral. Arriving in late July in Steamboat Springs, he told The Steamboat Pilot that he had been so affected by Thompson’s writing that, at age 19, he had gotten Thompson’s trademark gonzo fist tattooed on his right forearm.

McKinney told the newspaper that he had struggled with depression and the temptation to commit suicide for years. Last year he hiked the Appalachian Trail, partly to help spread awareness about depression, the eighth leading cause of death of men in the United States. Last winter he wrote a book based on the experience called Dead Men Hike No Trails.

The website for McKinney’s trip is www.jigglebox.com .

New events boss in Park City

PARK CITY, Utah — Park City is getting a new employee dedicated to putting on events. The employee is to spend two-thirds of his or her time focused on events appealing to destination visitors, such as the Sundance Film Festival, and one-third to community events like concerts. The salary is to be picked up by the town’s chamber and resort bureau and the town government, and the employee is to report to both bodies, reports The Park Record.

Lots start at $4.2 million

TELLURIDE, Colo. — In a way, Telluride has been the poor man’s Aspen. That’s not to say you can afford to buy real estate anywhere close to Telluride unless you’re among the richest of Americans, but it does identify the pecking order.

Just the same, things can get pricey, as The Telluride Watch revealed in a story about a high-end and high-elevation project called Sunnyside Ranch. The ranch was split into 25 lots, and the roads and telephone lines laid to the 35-acre parcels, with pleasing ponds scattered about.

The cost for all this exclusivity begins at $4.2 million. The houses are extra. Package costs start at probably $10 million, although two spec homes currently under construction are priced respectively at $12.5 million and $12.9 million.

The homes have views, views, views, of course. Another selling point being advanced by the real estate agent in Telluride is that anything comparable in Vail or Aspen would mean neighbours so close you could hear their arguments.

Avalanche kills two

BANFF, Alberta — Two climbers from Europe were killed by an avalanche during late July on Mount Robson. At 12,972 feet (3,954 metres), it’s the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that avalanche dangers this summer have been unusually high. Record rainfalls down in the valleys during June and into July yielded probably record snowfalls up high, As a result, snow persists in areas of Banff National Park and elsewhere that normally are free of snow by now. Climbers were being advised to monitor the overnight weather conditions. When it is cold enough for the snow to freeze, it’s less likely to avalanche.

More elk problems predicted

CANMORE, Alberta — Bustling Canmore is being advised that it can expect fewer wolves and more elk in years ahead, similar to what happened in nearby Banff in the mid-1990s. However, that’s not necessarily for the better, says Mark Hebblewhite, a wildlife ecologist who co-wrote a report in the current issue of Ecology.

"The ecological and human problems that we saw happen in Banff in the mid-90s are potentially going to pale in comparison to problems in Canmore of a growing elk population," he said.

"I would expect, just based on previous experiences, it will probably take someone getting stomped until somebody actually notices this is a problem."

Absence of wolves near Banff, where there is high human activity, allowed the elk population to balloon to several hundred. These elk, in turn, began attacking people in Banff. Elk also became a common sight at the Fairmont Banff Springs golf course.

"I think Canmore is going to be looking at a population of hundreds of elk and they’re going to cause the same problems of property damage, risk to human life, damage and kids being hospitalized as in Banff."

Canmore, a town with a permanent population of 11,000 and a part-time population of 3,000 more, has been growing rapidly but is poised to become even larger, partly owing to a major wellness resort called Three Sisters. While efforts to accommodate wildlife migrations and travel in the Bow River Valley, where Canmore and Banff are located, are among the most carefully conceived in North America, wildlife biologists say that it’s not enough. Town officials, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, say the provincial government needs to take more responsibility.

Pot question goes to voters

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Telluride voters in November will be determining whether local police should be directed to give their lowest priority to enforcing laws controlling the personal use of marijuana by adults. Oakland and Seattle are reported to already have such policies, and Denver voters this fall will be asked the same question.

The Telluride Watch notes that proponents say marijuana should be no more criminal than use of alcohol, and that regulation could better prevent its use by children. But opponents say that more open use would send the wrong message to children. Marveen Reagan, a counselor, said she already sees children in the community confused by the open use of marijuana by adults. "Many people use substances to fill emotional holes," she told the town council. "There are ways to fill them that are positive but filling them with alternative substances is not how we want to role model it."

Flyfishing community OKed

GRANBY, Colo. — It has been decades since Granby was really a ranch town. More recently it was a service sector for the resort areas from Winter Park to Rocky Mountain National Park and, increasingly during the last several years, it has been gaining vacation homes of its own that are geared toward residents of the Denver area, located a two-hour drive away.

Now, it’s moving toward the high end with a project called Orvis Shorefox. The town has started the process of annexing the 1,550 acres in the project, located along the Colorado River immediately west of the existing town. Developers envision a project geared to the jet-setters who like to flyfish and shoot at targets as well as the more usual activities of mountain resorts such as golfing and skiing.

The new project will have a store operated by Orvis, the flyfishing company, as well as two hotels, one of them 80 feet tall, and 700 housing units in a variety of configurations and costs. There will be, of course, a gate to block general access.

How much is too much?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — The debate about "how tall is too tall and how dense is too dense" is getting underway in Steamboat Springs as the community looks to upgrade its 1970s-era base village.

The community wants more affordable housing, of course, as well as parking garages and other things that are loosely called public amenities. In turn, the developers want bigger buildings, so they can sell more real estate and hence finance these things.

Too, the community wants enough people in this housing to create a quasi-urban vitality. But the age-old question is how much density is enough – and how much is too much.

Julie Ann Woods, a planning consultant from Snowmass, urged planners in Steamboat Springs to consider using incentives, instead of regulatory minimums, to encourage developers. However, she also noted that other ski towns have required anywhere from 15 per cent to 70 per cent of their total square feet in new developments to be "affordable."

Rodman on the rebound

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — Dennis Rodman, the former rainbow-coloured rebounding queen of professional basketball, is partially off the hook for a variety of complaints lodged against him during a recent drive across Colorado as part of a charity rally involving public figures in high-priced vehicles.

He had been accused of stealing a cowboy hat from a store in Glenwood Springs, but explained that he thought he had been given the hat in exchange for an autograph. The same excuse cannot be used for why he left only $20 on a $40 gas tab. However, an unidentified woman later paid the bill, reports the Glenwood Post Independent.

Still lingering is the charge that he whistled through Frisco at a speed of 98 mph in a zone posted for 65.

Age before Vail beauties

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — The greying of the ski towns and resort valleys is fully underway. In the Eagle Valley, where Vail is located, the county commissioners continue to talk about footing the bill for an assisted-living centre.

The hospitals in Vail and Glenwood Springs are both planning a hospital in Eagle, located half-way between, with ultimate plans for assisted-care living. The hospitals, however, aren’t moving fast enough to suit the county commissioners, who are reported by the Vail Daily to be considering allocating $1 million to the project. Only 3 per cent of Eagle County’s population was over the age of 65, but that is expected to increase substantially in just the new few years.

Giardiasis not huge threat

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — You know you should never, never drink water from streams in the backcountry. For 30 years we’ve heard warnings that you can get Giardia lamblia cysts and other microscopic miscreants that can cause diarrhea and other great unpleasantness.

But if you absolute must drink water in the backcountry, drink from fast-moving streams, but never, ever from lakes. And, of course, always take a high-priced water filter.

That’s what we’ve often been told. But the Los Angeles Times reports that evidence for those claims is skimpy. In fact, researchers from the University of Cincinnati found that giardiasis caused by consumption of high mountain water is an "an extraordinarily rare event," one comparable to the threat of shark attacks against beach-goers.

A 1995 survey of 48 of the 50 state health departments found that only two of the agencies considered giardia cysts a problem for backpackers, and even then, they had no data to support this concern.

Another study was done in 1993 in the Desolation Wilderness, located west of Lake Tahoe. That study found that of the 41 backpackers studied, six were stricken with cramping diarrhea, nausea and bloating. Yet lab tests revealed that none of them were infected with giardia. Instead, E. coli, salmonella or other culprits were suspected.

Poor personal hygiene, not contaminated water, may explain the frequent complaints of those returning from the backcountry, say wilderness managers. When going to the wilderness, hikers or backpackers are less punctual about cleanliness after going to the bathroom. Afterward, they may share food along with fecal matter, which can be transmitted from the surfaces of eating utensils and even camping gear.

"We are so dependent on convenient sanitation that when people go out in the wilderness, they fall apart, and their habits drop to Third World standards," Dr. Howard Backer, a water purification expert and a past president of the Wilderness Medical Society, told the newspaper.

A 20-year study currently underway in the Sierra Nevada aims to further document the quality of wilderness water. Bob Derlet, an emergency room physician and medical professor, hikes about 2,000 miles each summer, stopping at 100 sites to collect samples of water that are then tested for the presence of microscopic miscreants.

Based on his findings so far, he bothers to treat only that water located below sheep and cattle pastures, and in slow-moving and warm streams immediately downstream from heavily used campsites, Otherwise, most of the water is clean enough to drink, he says.

Lake water is actually better than stream water, he says. "The top few inches of lake water are zapped with ultraviolet rays from the sun, which are a very powerful disinfectant."

Real estate prices climbing

SILVERTON, Colo. — For a place that only two or three years ago could be counted on to have Colorado’s highest unemployment rate, real estate sure is getting pricey in Silverton.

The Silverton Standard reports that the town’s first choice for a new administrator rejected the job after learning a bank would loan him only $260,000, based on the salary the town aims to pay him. That, notes the Silverton Standard, is not enough anymore to purchase a livable house for a family of four in Silverton.

The assessed value of San Juan County increased 40 per cent in the last two years.

Toll road unlikely

VAIL, Colo. — Nobody seems to be getting too excited about it, but a company called the Denver Eagle Toll Roads has recently been created. The Vail Daily reports that the company identifies the purpose being to construct a toll road "along, within, and adjacent to the I-70 corridor," possibly using Loveland Pass and/or Berthoud Pass. Filing the incorporation was Lindsay Case, who was identified as a Colorado Springs developer.

Access to the mountain resorts and transportation across Colorado has become an increasing problem, of course. I-70 steadily resembles a city highway, even during mid-week. While state and federal transportation officials have been toying with how to expand capacity for 17 years, every solution will require lots of money – at a time when gas taxes are yielding less money, due to improved operating efficiencies of cars.

Given this narrative, the Colorado legislature in 2002 authorized study of toll roads in Colorado, including along the I-70 corridor. Because current state law prohibits levying of tolls on roads already paid for by gasoline taxes, few toll roads are likely to make enough money to pay for themselves. However, a recently enacted state law – as well as the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in support of eminent domain – may make it easer for tolling entities to appropriate land for their ventures.

Still, the idea of a toll road from Denver to Eagle remains an iffy proposition, explains the Vail Daily. In Aspen, Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland points out that the revenue bonds required of toll roads would require higher interest rates than state financing. Ireland said he also believes toll roads would represent a major shift in public policy, in that it would require some communities to pay for their road systems while others are state-supported through tax revenues.

Gary Lindstom, a state legislator and former Summit County commissioner, noted that any such toll road would require large swaths of U.S. Forest Service land – a dubious proposition. He labeled the toll road a "pipe dream."

However, state authorities are not turning their shoulder on toll roads in the mountains. A state transportation planner told the newspaper that toll roads should remain in the mix of options

More elk, more problems

EAGLE, Colo. — By 1916, Colorado had fewer than 2,000 elk left, the result of over-hunting. Elk were transplanted from Wyoming and Utah, and with hunting regulations carefully enforced, the population began climbing again.

Now, there are too many elk, at least in some portions of the state. The Flat Tops area northwest of Eagle and southwest of Steamboat Springs has what is estimated to be the largest elk herd in the United States. The herd has increased 40 per cent in just the last 15 years.

What is happening? Some think that elk are better generalists than deer, whose herds continue to decline. With more development of human activities, generalist species generally do better. But whatever the cause, ranchers in the area would like to see fewer elk, because the elk get into hay stacks, fouling the food so much with their urine and feces that cattle won’t even eat it. As well, some people believe there are too many elk collisions with cars.

Colorado wildlife officials are looking at issuing more hunting permits, but Sinapu, a group that advocates restoration of carnivores, believes that wolves should be reintroduced to thin the elk herds.

While most ranchers oppose wolf reintroduction, there has been some support along the way. One of Colorado’s leading ranchers, George Coleman, a fourth-generation rancher who created the organic beef bearing his name, speculated in 1997 that wolves were needed to keep the elk at bay.

Outpatient care increased

ASPEN, Colo. — Last year, Aspen Valley Hospital was on the ropes, reeling from financial troubles. Those problems seemingly now addressed, the hospital is looking forward to expansion.

Having recently spent about $6 million, the hospital authorities contemplate spending $34 to $42 million more. But instead of adding hospital beds, they expect the work will be focused on improving and expanding outpatient services, reports The Aspen Times.

Town trumpets case for pot

OAK CREEK, Colo. — Oak Creek, a coal-mining town about 15 miles from Steamboat Springs, has a history of independent thinking. Several decades ago, it passed a law that insisted that locals had a right to require guns of locals, no matter what state authorities might have to say.

Now, Oak Creek is bridling against federal laws on marijuana possession. The Steamboat Pilot reports that the town board recently passed a resolution supporting the right of people to have marijuana for medical reasons.

The resolution was spurred by a case in Hayden, another bedroom community for Steamboat Springs. There, a man with cancer last year was arrested by federal agents for marijuana possession and his marijuana plants, and growing materials confiscated. The case against him was recently dismissed in federal court.

The medical marijuana issue is one of conflict between state and federal governments. Other states have similarly authorized use of marijuana for medical purposes, but the federal government has not.

Patroller remembered by colleagues

WINTER PARK, Colo. — Ski patrollers at Winter Park have been fondly remembering one of their own, Jeff Christiansen, a backcountry ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park during the off-season. He disappeared in a remote area in late July, spawning a well-publicized week-long search that culminated in the discovery that he had died after falling and suffering head wounds.

Fellow ski patrollers told the Winter Park Manifest that Christiansen, 31, a native of Minnesota, was a somewhat typical, fun-loving, outdoors-embracing guy. They plan to informally name a ski run after him and, during a trip next winter to Jackson Hole, keep him strong in their thoughts. He had, they said, embraced a "Bode Miller-style of skiing."

100 years of railroad

WHITEFISH, Mont. — It’s a summer of centennials, particularly for ski and resort towns founded as the result of western railroads. In Colorado, Granby was established 100 years ago. And in Montana, the Whitefish Pilot traces that town’s history to the arrival of railroad tracks being built to access the coal fields of Fernie, B.C.

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