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Ice Age discoveries now move into labs

DENVER, Colo. -Two weeks ago, a skull and tusks of a Columbia mammoth found in a reservoir site at Snowmass Village were delicately loaded onto a truck for shipment to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, some four hours away.

DENVER, Colo. -Two weeks ago, a skull and tusks of a Columbia mammoth found in a reservoir site at Snowmass Village were delicately loaded onto a truck for shipment to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, some four hours away. Encased in plaster, the specimen weighed almost precisely 450 kilograms, said Kirk Johnson, chief curator at the museum.

Now, after two feverish stints of digging - for a month last fall, after the first Ice Age fossils were found, and then again for 48 days this spring and summer - the work is moving indoors as museum staff and volunteers preserve nearly 5,000 bones.

Altogether, 28 species of animals were found at the site, many of them extinct species, such as the bison with a horn span of up to 2.5-metres feet. Solitary, unlike the herd animals of today, the bison then were half again as large as those of today, said Johnson.

The most frequent bones, especially at the lowest level of the ancient lake, were those of mastodons, a species similar to the elephants of today. They had teeth adapted to browsing the fibrous matter of trees.

However, the most important news may yet to be announced, after the tiny evidence - seeds, pollen, and spores, as well as the chemical composition of the lake itself - are examined.

All along, scientists have said that the site, because of its elevation at nearly 2,700-metres and remarkably preserved sediments, may expand the understanding of the climatic variations in the Rocky Mountains that occurred 150,000 to 50,000 years ago. It was basically a warm period, growing cooler toward the end as the North Hemisphere entered into its most recent ice age.

By understanding the climatic variability of the warm period on Earth, they say, we may better understand what is natural - and unnatural - about our own changing climate.

These new theories may not coalesce for two or three years, although scientists say some of their preliminary conclusions may be offered later this year at professional conferences.

More Ice Age bones found in Colorado

PONCHA SPRINGS, Colo. - Excavation has begun of the bones of ice age animals from a gravel pit near the hamlet of Villa Grove, located at the north end of Colorado's San Luis Valley.

Curators from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science told the Mountain Mail that the bones were about 25,000 years old, from a time when glaciers dominated Colorado's highest mountains. Bones from two mammoths, an elephant-like species that later became extinct, a camel and several small animals were found in the gravel pit.

These finds are more recent than those at Snowmass, where bones range anywhere from 45,000 to 150,000 years old.



From mansion to an RV park

GRANBY, Colo. - With downscaling the order of the day, a gated community being built a few years ago at Granby, along the headwaters of the Colorado River, is now being recast as a possible RV park. And instead of mansions for well-heeled flyfishermen and golfers at Shorefox, planners are talking about "attainable" housing.

The lender for the project, CNL Lifestyle Properties, Inc., a Florida firm that holds broad interests in resort properties, has foreclosed on the property and retained a firm called Resort Ventures West to see how the 1,550 acres resort property 26-kilometres from Rocky Mountain National Park could be repositioned.

The original project had grand ambitions, and much of the infrastructure work was completed before the Great Recession dashed hopes. The 18-hole golf course was 85 to 90 per cent complete, reports the Sky Hi News , and all water and sewer mains had been installed. So had fire hydrants, plus man-made ponds, bridges, and retaining walls.

All of this was to be gated, but now the idea of gates has been shelved. So has the 100-room hotel and the 4,600 square metres of commercial space geared to the needs of fishermen, hunters and others with an avid interest in the outdoors.

The golf course, now growing weeds and cattle, could eventually be completed - but not any time soon. The area from Winter Park to Grand Lake already has three or four golf courses, and that seems to be plenty for a mountain valley with one of the shortest summers in the Rocky Mountains and a real estate economy in deep slumber.


Sandbags remain

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Now that the rivers are subsiding, the question in Steamboat Springs has become what to do with the 10,131 sandbags distributed in May and June. City officials have decided the bags aren't worth the expense of dispatching pickup crews. "Perhaps this is the year to consider building the sandbox the kids have been begging for," suggests Steamboat Today .


SmartWool staying in Steamboat

STEAMBAOT SPRINGS, Colo. - SmartWool has become a favorite of outdoors people. The firm is headquartered in Steamboat Springs, although it was long ago sold to a larger company, Timberland, which in turn was recently gulped by an even larger company, apparel giant VF Corp.

So what would happen to the hometown company? It turns out that SmartWool will keep its headquarters at the little used airport on a mesa above Steamboat Springs through at least 2022, and it will double its space.

Steamboat Today reports happiness all around in Steamboat at the news.


Crested Butte looks at idling law

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - Like Ketchum, Aspen and many other resort communities, Crested Butte is considering a law prohibiting the extended idling of internal-combustion vehicles.

The council is scheduled to take up the issue this week, but the proposed ordinance looks extremely weak.

"It's a statement ordinance," Councillor Jim Schmidt told the Crested Butte News . "It says this is what we would like to see. I can't see it being enforced at all unless a situation is egregious."


Eagle County improves river access

EAGLE, Colo. - Officials in Eagle County are taking steps to improve access to the Colorado River by boaters and others.

The plan now being reviewed would allocate $7.5 million to purchase or lease 1,000 acres in the corridor between State Bridge and Dotsero, where the river goes through sandstone canyons that might be confused with those in Utah. This is about an hour's drive from Vail.

Peter Runyon, a county commissioner, told the Vail Daily that the county expects boaters to step up to take on self-management for maintenance of toilets, trash policing and other impacts likely to come with increased use of the river.



Paragliding possible in Banff

BANFF, Alberta - Liberalized rules in Banff National Park might allow hang gliding and paragliding operations. At least one of the existing ski area operators within the park, Mount Norquay, is interested but without specific plans to move forward.

Under the draft regulations, via ferrata and aerial parks and traction kiting can also be considered under certain conditions. However, zip line and canopy tours would remain off limits under any conditions, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook .

Conservationists dislike the rules being considered. "Such activities can be had elsewhere, said Mike McIvor, president of the Bow Valley Naturalists. "The more Banff National Park is managed and celebrated for the landscape itself and the ecosystem, the more different it will be from other places and, therefore, the more attractive."

Will Gadd, mountain parks coordinator for the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, countered that the aerial activities being considered are silent, human-powered and very low impact.


British newlyweds get Banff royal treatment

BANFF, Canada - British prince Willie and his lovely bride, Kate Middleton, spent a night in the backcountry of Banff National Park while honeymooning in early July. But some are saying the newlyweds got treatment that was just a little too royal.

The backcountry hut was upgraded to include running water whereas an outhouse formerly was sufficient. Worse, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook , citing various individuals, normal environmental review required of such changes was bypassed.

"They were not pampered in any way, "insisted Charlie Lock, owner of the Skoski Lodge and Lake Louise ski hill. "We give all of our guests the royal treatment. Other than running water, they ate the same food as other guests and drank the same wine."

Jim Pissot, executive director of WildCanada Conservation Alliance, said it reflected well on the future king of England and his wife that they wanted to spend time in such a special place.

"But Parks Canada has bent over backwards to make this (washroom) happen, and it's a shame they don't have the same commitment to mountain caribou and grizzly bears on the (railroad) tracks."


Jackson studies how to improve retail vibrancy

JACKSON, Wyo. - With the municipal budget pinched by continued declines in sales tax revenues, leaders in Jackson are talking about potential regulations to limit new banks, art galleries and real estate shops at ground-floor locations in the town's prime shopping area.

Real estate offices and banks do not collect sales taxes. Galleries do - but there's a loophole, in that if the piece of art is shipped to another location, the local tax can sometimes be avoided.

Gallery owners polled by the Jackson Hole News&Guide disagree. One gallery owner reported collecting $40,000 in sales taxes last year. Terry Ray, owner of West Lives On Gallery, said Jackson is an art destination that produces high-end tourism.

The overall goal, said Jackson planning director Tyler Sinclair, is to produce a more vibrant downtown.

"We want to have ground-floor businesses that promote a lights-on, inviting environment," he told the newspapers. "That means looking at how buildings can be inviting to the public, and the design of the first floor is important to that. Retail uses are much more inviting."

Among ski towns, Vail was the first to put the skids on real-estate offices. That was in the 1970s. Existing offices were grandfathered in. In the last decade, Aspen, Crested Butte, Park City and others have studied limits on real estate offices. However, not all have moved forward with the idea.

McCall, Idaho, in 2006 banned new medical, law, engineering and real estate offices from ground-level locations, but not banks.

"During the real estate boom, downtown filled with lots of real estate offices, and people just didn't want to go there," said Michelle Groenevelt, McCall's community development director. "The purpose of the ordinance was to create a more vibrant downtown with curb appeal."

The ordinance seems to be working, she told the News&Guide .


Heroin suspected in Happy Valley heist

WHITEFISH, Mont. - After an armed invasion of a home in an ironically named area called Happy Valley, located south of Whitefish, three men were arrested. According to the Whitefish Pilot, police suspected the invasion was in connection with heroin trafficking. Police said the men stole a safe containing eight guns and ammunition.


Affordable housing on the Aspen agenda

ASPEN, Colo. - Affordable housing continues to be front and center in Aspen. The number of bids for existing deed-restricted units has dropped from the boom years, but there's no evidence that many lower-income workers are forsaking the local housing for free-market housing located down-valley in Basalt, reports The Aspen Times.

For example, a one-bedroom, one-bath unit with a price of $159,177 attracted 39 prospective buyers. Units are sold in a lottery system.

City officials are trying to gauge interest in the second phase of Burlingame Ranch, one of the Aspen's largest affordable housing projects. The first phase included 91 homes. Another 167 are planned in coming phases.

Meanwhile, a developer who had won approval for a lodge within the city in 2006 instead wants to build a private-market affordable housing complex. However, although the housing complex is smaller in bulk, neighbors have objected to the size of the complex proposed by Steve Stunda.

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said he believes the neighborhood would be strengthened by the inclusion of workers in the area, unlike units for fractional or other part-time residents. "I prefer having people around... and I tell you what, it's great," he said.

In what amounted to a straw poll, a majority of council members endorsed the compromise that was struck between the developer and the neighbors, reports The Times .