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Mountain News: This year’s Grump larger than ever



CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - Every fall, for 24 years running, Crested Butte has hosted a community celebration called Vinotok. A high point of the festival is a giant bonfire at which a creature called The Grump - actually, all the bad things - is burned.

This year, reports the Crested Butte News , the bonfire was exceptionally large, 30 to 40 feet in diameter, enough that the town marshal, Tom Martin, was worried that the embers might set other buildings on fire. His recommendation is that a bonfire a third to a fourth of that size might be appropriate.

Festival organizer Theresa Henry quipped that the "fire was so big this year because the Grump was so large."

Seasonal housing vacant

ASPEN, Colo. - Large chunks of employee housing remain unspoken for in Aspen as the year's first snows have winked at the town.

The town has huge amounts of housing for lower-income workers, some of it specifically earmarked for seasonal employees. But housing complexes that filled within hours of becoming available last year continue to sit largely empty and unspoken for.

But one property manager, John Michaels, is not worried. "The people will come. The snow will fly, and the lifts will open," he told the Aspen Times .

But many of the ski instructors traditionally retained by the Aspen Skiing Co. through the H2B visa program will not be returning this year. The company hired 109 foreign instructors through the program last year, but plans to use only 57 this season. A ski company spokesman attributed the decision to the recession, which has left many people unemployed.

But the Aspen Times also notes that a ruling by the U.S. Department of Labor in August will force U.S. employers to reimburse foreign workers for travel costs. The National Ski Areas Association is exploring how to best challenge the ruling.

The Aspen Skiing Co. wasn't clear yet whether H2B visas will be used to fill other positions, such as housekeeping jobs.


Construction totals lowest in years

PARK CITY, Utah - If not for a major new hotel at Deer Valley, construction numbers at Park City through August would be only 22 per cent of what they were last year.

The hotel, called the Montage at Empire Pass, is valued at $26.9 million, nearly half the value of the construction for which the city has issued building permits this year. Most of the rest consists of alterations and additions.

Even with this high-end hotel, notes the Park Record , the year-end totals will likely be lower than any time since the early 1990s.


'Less bad' is encouraging

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - Could the economy be turning? Everyone keeps looking for daybreak. At least for those closer to metropolitan areas, the darkest of night has now passed.

In Breckenridge, town officials report July was "less bad" than previous months, with a decline of only 12 per cent compared to the same month in 2008. That compares with about 18 per cent for the year. More broadly across Summit County, the sales tax decline for the year was 14.6 per cent through July, reports the Summit Daily News .


Chickens starting to look good

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Add Steamboat Springs and Gypsum to the long list of municipalities who are considering allowing live chickens. The proposal - which has yet to be heard by review commissions - would allow as many as five hens, but no roosters at single-family homes.

Bob Keenan, a city planner, tells the Steamboat Pilot & Today that chickens have some negatives, including the clucking and fact that they attract predators. But, overall, he believes they have fewer impacts than dogs.

Not all readers were impressed. "Gimme a break," wrote one blogger at the newspaper's website. "A dozen eggs are like $3. Chickens stink and are annoying."

In Gypsum, located west of Vail, a chicken-owner was ordered to get rid of her cluckers. But the woman, Lydia House, told the Vail Daily that "having chickens is important for modern-day self-sustainability."

She tells the newspaper that the town has about 16 "underground" chicken-owners. "My kids adore the chickens and they learn that eggs don't come from rectangular Styrofoam containers," said one of the undergrounders. "And the eggs are fantastic. Light years and beyond better than the eggs you buy in a store."

Gypsum allowed chickens until the mid-1990s and Jeff Shroll said those residents wanting to allow livestock as a right are free to petition the town council. "We are a government for the people, by the people," he said.


Flash mob calls for climate pact

REVELSTOKE, B.C. - What is called a "flash mob" suddenly appeared in downtown Revelstoke recently at the noon hour, making noise and waving signs, such as: "Wake Up Leaders - Climate Action Now."

The mob marched down the city's main avenue to the municipal hall, then dispersed. It was, reported the Revelstoke News , among 2,300 groups internationally who held a public demonstration on short notice.

The groups hope to raise awareness of the international conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, during December, when the world's nations attempt to come up with a replacement treaty to the Kyoto Accord of 1997.


Spirituality the new mega-trend?

SUN VALLEY, Idaho - The Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival had its largest attendance since it was started five years. Peter Shia, founder and chief executive officer of Orb Media Group, said he believes spirituality is the driving mega-trend. "Hollywood is dying and something new needs to replace it," he said. Down the valley, reports the Idaho Mountain Express , action-movie hero Bruce Willis continues to put together plans for expansion of his small ski resort, Soldier Mountain.


Money starting to flow

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - After being slowed by the freeze-up of bond markets, Steamboat Springs is poised to move ahead with major redevelopment work at the base of the ski area. The Steamboat Pilot & Today reports that several financing options have become apparent, including a $21.6 million loan. Work is expected to begin next spring and continue through 2011 as workers remove a creek that currently flows underground and make it front and centre in the new development. A new promenade will also have a snow-melting system, with the heat provided by burning fossil fuels. Joe Krakum, the project manager, says that a ground-source heat pump would be too expensive.


Alberta study finds 581 grizzlies

CANMORE, Alberta - A new study using DNA testing mechanisms has found that Alberta has 581 grizzlies.

Provincial wildlife authorities said the new study provides an "excellent baseline," a far better estimate than any provided before. But, they said, it's impossible yet to know whether the population is increasing, decreasing, or stable.

But an advocacy organization, Defenders of Wildlife Canada, believe that the scientific studies have established a strong argument for taking incisive action to protect grizzlies in Canada, as has been proposed since 2002.

A newspaper in the Banff/Canmore area impatiently accused the provincial government of "dithering." Said the paper: "Can't we just say the big bears are threatened?" it asked.

Grizzlies were in the news south of the border, too. A U.S. District Court judge in Missoula, Mont. restored threatened status to grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act, concluding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Species had not established sufficient justification for delisting the bear in 2007.

Wyoming state officials charged judicial activism and complained about too many grizzlies. In Jackson Hole, though, the mood seemed different. A person-on-the-street poll by the Jackson Hole News & Guide found unanimity when it quizzed three retirees, a developer, and a service dog trainer. All said the bears still need special protection.

Meanwhile, a hunter killed a grizzly in Jackson Hole, on the edge of Grand Teton National Park. South of Jackson Hole, on the edge of the Wind River Range, a grizzly bear mauled a shepherd. The man was expected to recover, reported the newspaper.


Dust on peaks tied to gas drilling

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Mud extracted from lakes high in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado tells a story of changing land uses in the deserts below.

A 5,000-year history shows a sharp increase in sediments that can be traced to the deserts of the Southwest.

Scientists believe that arrival of the railroads allowed large-scale livestock grazing, which caused soil disturbance. The soil, in turn, was kicked up by storms, with some particles ending up in the lakes - some 500 times more than had been the case.

After the U.S. government adopted grazing restrictions on the vast public lands, the dust levels slowed again in the lakes. But, speaking at a water conference recently, scientists said there has been a surge again - the result, they believe, of increased oil and gas drilling. Tom Painter, a scientist from Park City, Utah, tells the Summit Daily News that the amount of dust falling on the San Juans increased 20 fold.

That dust, in turn, caused the snowpack to melt rapidly this pat year - some 45 to 48 days earlier, Painter and colleagues estimate.