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From Enron shareholders to Aspen non-profits

ASPEN, Colo. — The name Carnegie has connotations of both good and bad. The steel magnate of the 19 th century, Andrew Carnegie was known as a repressor of the working man.

ASPEN, Colo. — The name Carnegie has connotations of both good and bad. The steel magnate of the 19 th century, Andrew Carnegie was known as a repressor of the working man. But even today, public libraries bearing his name are found across the land.

In Aspen, a similar conundrum has taken place. There, convicted Enron thief Kenneth Lay and his wife, Linda, owned homes as recently as 2003 and gave lavishly to some two-dozen non-profits in the Roaring Fork Valley, points out The Denver Post.

Among the major beneficiaries was the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, which received $440,000 of the $550,000 pledged by the Lay Family Foundation. He also gave at least $100,000 to the Aspen Music Festival and School, and as recently as last year, gave money to other schools and a local radio station.

Tom Cardamone, of the environmental program, said the board of directors talked about the propriety of accepting money from an accused swindler. "Essentially, the conclusion was that this isn’t a gift from an individual. It’s a gift from a family foundation, and just because there’s a spotlight on an individual associated with it doesn’t make it wrong," he told The Post.

"I’m not sure I’d like to begin necessarily looking too deeply," said Aspen Public Radio’s executive director, Brent Gardner-Smith. "Many nonprofit organizations don’t like to look at the purity of people’s funds."

The Lays bought four homes, beginning in 1991, at a cost of $17.5 million. They were sold for $23.9 million in 2002-03.

Skier days rise 5.8 per cent

DENVER, Colo. — Skier days in the United States are expected to hit 58.8 million before the schussing is complete this summer. That’s up 3.3 per cent from last year and a new record, although the growth in skiing continues to lag the general population growth.

Within the Rocky Mountains, the increase was 5.8 per cent. Most areas of the country have good snow, with the exception of the Northeast and – within the West – Southern Colorado and New Mexico.

Meanwhile, commercial skiing in Colorado ended this past weekend at Arapahoe Basin, although it continues at California’s Mammoth Mountain, Oregon’s Mount Hood, and at Whistler-Blackcomb.

Rails to trails to open space

PARK CITY, Utah — Park City continues to embellish its network of hiking and biking trails and designated open-space parcels.

The latest news is that the Union Pacific railroad line into Park City has been included in a network of national designated recreation trails. The last 1,000 feet of the 30-mile trail was purchased from the Union Pacific in 2000, and paving is now being completed. In addition, city officials are considering asking voters in November for additional tax revenues for continued acquisition of open space.

The city’s director of public affairs, Myles Rademan, says Park City began these trails and open space programs in the 1980s. "Everyone else in Utah thought we were crazy and paid us little heed, but times change and as the rest of the state has boomed they are now seeing the wisdom of our foresight," he says.

When UP was abandoning the rail route, for example, it intended for the land to revert to adjacent landowners. So did the landowners. Park City had different ideas. It used what was then a little-known federal statute to preserve the rail corridor, then invested time, money, and sweat to create a bike trail. It is maintained by a local non-profit called the Mountain Trails Foundation.

"Same with open space," says Rademan. "Now it's a sexy topic. But when we started preserving large tracts and spending the public's money to do it we were soundly criticized for being socialists and worse. So I guess the moral is to pay attention to the old Hopi adage: ‘The moon would never rise if it paid attention to all the dogs barking at it.’"

Silverton’s digital divide

SILVERTON, Colo. — Every afternoon at around 3 p.m. the old steam train that is the main source of Silverton’s economy toots its horn, warning passengers that it’s time for their return trip to Durango. As it does, people hasten to buy trinkets or finish their lunches. "Cash or credit?" ask the clerks.

And that, reports The Denver Post, is when the trouble begins. Most places now have fibre-optic lines to handle these and other matters with the outside world. But despite a pledge in 2000 by Colorado’s state government to connect every county seat by fibre-optic, Silverton is alone among Colorado’s 64 counties on the far side of this digital divide. And San Juan County is also the only county in Colorado that has absolutely no cultivated farming.

Qwest, the giant telecom, which got the $37 million contract to lay the information highway to county seats, blames lack of co-operation by private property owners. Public officials consulted by The Post aren’t buying the story.

What is clear is that in early afternoon, communication with the outside world gets sketchy. "I tell people who want to fax me something to wait until after 3 p.m.," says County Assessor Judy Zimmerman.

The Silverton Standard, which broke the story a month before the Denver paper, notes that the local Internet service provider figures the costs to serve Silverton are double those of other places.

Dog’s best friend gives cat kick

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — What would you do if a mountain lion jumped out of the willows and snatched your dog in its mouth, and dragged it into a beaver pond?

Bob Woodmansee, the owner of the dog in question, instinctively gave chase. He first threw his Nikon digital camera at the lion. The lion refused to yield the dog, a medium-sized Wheaton terrier, so Woodmansee jumped in the water and kicked the lion. That worked.

"In a former life, he was a meter reader, and they know how to use their legs," Woodmansee’s wife, Sara, told The Steamboat Pilot.

A veterinarian said it was a good thing the lion was small, only 60 pounds, as otherwise it might have killed the dog with its initial bite. The Woodsmansees and friends were walking along a road about 20 miles from Steamboat Springs.

Warnings were posted in the area, but wildlife officials were not unduly concerned. Lions likely exist anywhere deer are found, and the Steamboat area has plenty of both, mostly without incident.

Medicine chest endangered

DURANGO, Colo. — Nature’s medicine chest is in danger, reports the Durango Telegraph. The newspaper says the burgeoning market for native plants with medicinal properties is threatening to deplete the plants.

For example, the roots of a plant called osha are believed to have properties that boost the immune system. The plant is relatively abundant in the San Juan Mountains and northern New Mexico, which one source tells the newspaper has the world’s largest concentration of such plants. Whether there’s enough abundance to meet the demand is another matter.

But plants used to extract tinctures of goldenseal, echinacea and ginseng are all listed as endangered. Alternatives, including a combination of Oregon grape and yerba mansa instead of goldenseal, are not as directly threatened, but are on the to-watch list.

Some plants can be cultivated domestically, others – including osha – cannot.

Everest calls

SILVERTON, Colo. — Ken Sauls, who has lived in Silverton for the last decade and makes part of his living as a videographer, summited on Mt. Everest this spring, his second time. He must be doing pretty darned well, right?

Well, yes and no. "Living the dream" has its costs, Sauls, who also makes a living as a carpenter, tells the Silverton Standard. "Never having money; and you have to be willing to let go any of any semblance of security. Last year I was wearing my nail bags all year."

But, he added, "It’s definitely not boring."

Sauls, who has been climbing for 25 years, was hired to shoot video at the base camp in 2003. An injury left a vacancy on the summit team, and he was selected to go. This year, he was hired to shoot film on the summit for a series to be broadcast on the Discovery Channel.

Climbing is his passion, which is what led to his videography work. Now, high-altitude work is becoming his niche. But Everest itself was never a major goal, he says.

"It’s not technical climbing, it’s not that aesthetic, and it’s a three-ring circus," he told the newspaper. "But, like a lot of things it has unfolded into a richer experience than I thought it would be. It is super dramatic."

Meanwhile, Winter Park’s Jack Gerstein was turned back this spring on this second bid to summit Everest. He suffered a mini-stroke, the Winter Park Manifest reports, but seems to have been able to descend the mountain in reasonably good shape.

But in Canada, the resort community of Invermere was celebrating the success of Daniel Griffith, who at age 55 became the oldest Canadian to summit Everest. But it’s a short-lived celebration, as he’s immediately out to climb the highest peaks in North America, South America, Europe, Indonesia, and Antarctica before year’s end.

Griffth’s wife, Deborah, tells the Invermere Valley Echo that it’s not always easy being the wife of a high-altitude mountaineer. "What offsets those challenges is all the cool times I’ve had with him being dragged up 20 million peaks," she said. "There are tradeoffs with everything."

Interest growing in biomass

EAGLE, Colo. — A growing perplexity in many resort valleys is what to do with all the old trees now that most of the sawmills are shut down. In both Colorado Rockies and the Sierra Nevada, officials are increasingly wondering if the answer is biomass burners.

While Summit County readies plans for a biomass burner that could heat county and other buildings near Frisco, Vail this winter sent a delegation to Austria to study existing biomass plants. The technology, the representatives said, is being employed effectively in the Alps.

Now also considering biomass is Eagle County. The Vail Daily reports that county officials have concluded that electricity from a biomass burner would be more expensive than electricity now produced by coal and natural gas. However, the price might be right for heating county buildings, which are located 30 miles west of Vail.

The newspaper reports that county officials continue to study the possibilities, and could make a decision – depending upon the numbers – within a year or two. But the most important consideration is whether enough wood will be available during the next 50 years to supply such a burner.

A similar discussion is underway in the Lake Tahoe Basin. There, as in the Rockies, 80 years of fire suppression have left forests in aging conditions that make them increasingly vulnerable to a major or "catastrophic" fire. The Tahoe World reports that a plan has been proposed to burn 4,330 acres annually in prescribed fires to help quell the threat of a major conflagration.

But a supervisor in Placer County, Bruce Kranz, is proposing study of using the biomass for energy. Instead of a burning plant, however, he thinks a fermentation plan would work better. The gases captured would be used in place of natural gas that fuels buses in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Biomass also came under discussion in May in Aspen at a conference called "Innovative Ideas for New West." There, attendees heard from Mark Sardella, who directs a Santa Fe-based nonprofit called Local Energy that seeks to foster community self-reliance on energy. To that end, he is helping create a plant to heat buildings in downtown Santa Fe by burning of wood chips.

The group in Aspen also heard from Heinz Kopetz, chairman of the European Biomass Association. "Bioenergy is becoming a real alternative to gas and oil," he said. It does, however, receive heavy support from governments.

Ravens flirt, flutter ever more

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — In the late 1940s, the famous wildlife researchers Frank and John Craighead began studying the birds of prey in an area near Grand Teton National Park. Now, nearly 60 years later, it’s clear that ravens – the largest members of the crow family – have become more dominant, not only there but elsewhere in Jackson Hole.

Just why ravens are prospering is not completely understood but seems to be tied to the prospering of people and elk in the valley.

The growing elk herds resulted in the National Elk Refuge. To contain the numbers, a special winter hunt was started. That provides carrion for ravens to pick at, helping carry them through the winter. At the same time, with more people, there was more garbage in dumpsters and in home trash cans. And finally, according to Derek Craighead, ravens can probably find more heat among people’s homes and businesses during bone-cold winter nights.

Ravens in the town of Jackson consistently produce four to five chicks in their nests, about twice as many as are found in raven nests in Grand Teton National Park, which Craighead describes as one of the most unspoiled and protected landscapes in America.

At the same time, the research in a small area has found fewer red-tailed hawks. One hypothesis points out that land used for hay meadows decades ago has reverted, after its inclusion in the national park, into sagebrush. It may be that the hawks could make a better living in picking out gophers, snakes and other critters in the hay fields than they can in the sagebrush.

Ancient tracks found

ASPEN, Colo. — Somewhere in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area between Aspen and Crested Butte are hundreds of five-inch-long tracks of a pig-sized creature that was a cross between an amphibian and a reptile.

The Aspen Times explains that the creature, called a Diadectes, was a dead-end species. The species existed 290 million years ago, a time when Colorado was crossed by two giant mountain ranges, called the Ancestral Rockies.

The discovery – along with fossils of insects and conifer trees – has allowed scientists to determine that Colorado, then part of the supercontinent of Pangea, was much closer to the equator. The climate was more like India and parts of Africa.

Forest Service managers aren’t divulging location of the tracks and have also asked paleontologists to cloak the location in their technical papers.

$1 billion project submitted

MINTURN, Colo. — Specific plans for a $1 billion real estate development on former mining properties in the Minturn-Vail-Red Cliff triangle have been submitted to Minturn officials. The developer, the Ginn Co., hopes to annex to Minturn.

Altogether, 1,700 housing units are proposed and eight ski lifts. Also planned is a gondola. The gondola would ferry passengers from the Bolts Lake area along the Eagle River, where the largest concentration of housing units is planned, to the slopes of Battle Mountain, where the ski runs and the larger homes would be located.

The Vail Daily also reports that the Ginn Co. wants to adopt a "tip-less" model for employees, so they are not reliant on fluctuating tips of their income.

Tools go missing

PARK CITY, Utah — Police and building officials are delivering notices to contractors who do not secure their equipment. The goal is to curb thefts at construction sites. The notices say that crews should "make certain to secure or remove any valuables on your sites at the end of each work day." The warning comes in the wake of a rash of thievery, reports The Park Record.




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