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Mountain News: Banff maternity ward delivering ‘natives

BANFF, Alberta - The word "native" often gets misused. It means where you are from originally, especially where you were born.

BANFF, Alberta - The word "native" often gets misused. It means where you are from originally, especially where you were born.

And, for many expectant couples in Banff, it does matter that their offspring are born in Banff, not down the road in Canmore or Calgary. When the maternity ward was closed earlier this year because of a shortage of nurses, there was a hue and cry, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

That obstetrics unit has now been reinstated, and Naomi Langer-McIntosh, the first mother to give birth in the reopened clinic, explains why Banff is so important.

"I've always said that Banff has wrecked me for anywhere else," said Langer-McIntosh, an events and wedding planner. "It has all the wonderful things of living in a national park, but also living in a small town with big city amenities," she said.

"You can go and do all the wonderful hiking and biking right there, but you can also go to restaurants and see ballet and concerts."

Banff has 115 new natives per year and continues to grow in population, despite being unable to spread out, due to its location as an island within Banff National Park. Parks Canada, the park administrator, had believed the build-out population would be 8,000.

But the population has grown to 8,800 people. Instead, of spreading out, Banff city officials have been revising regulations to allow more dense development. As well, the community has expressly tried to provide less expensive housing.

About half of Banff's population is composed of people who are 18 to 36.

Brazen bears a bother

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - Among Crested Butte's many bear stories during recent weeks is that told by Paul Merck. He returned home late one evening recently to find a huge bear eating vanilla ice cream out of his refrigerator and freezer.

"He ate two and a half gallons of vanilla ice cream but left me the chocolate, ate a full thing of butter, yogurt and cheddar cheese," Merck told the Crested Butte News. "But luckily he didn't drink my beer."

Merck told the newspaper that he instructed the bear to leave, and the bear complied, exiting the same window he had used to access the home. The bear managed to avoid breaking anything although, as you might expect, the kitchen was quite a mess.

Elsewhere in Crested Butte, a couple had put their children to bed and was watching television when they heard the door open. They said hello.

"When no one answered, I went to the top of the stairway and looked down and saw one of the biggest bears I've ever seen," said Channing Boucher. "I screamed like a stuck pig as loud as I could. My kids were in the bedroom four feet away from that bear. My heart was coming through my shirt."

Chased by the family dog, the 400-pound bear backed out of the door. Boucher told the News that the bear left a stink. "They are the foulest smelling creatures that walk the earth," he said. "He was in the house 10 seconds, and it just stunk."

Still Boucher considers himself lucky. The door was open, and the bear wasn't confused about how to get out. That was also the case when a bear crept into a house, apparently headed for the refrigerator.

"I screamed like a little girl. This bear's head was massive, and it was just seven feet away from me," said Dawne Belloise, who had just put down the telephone. "He snorted and backed out really fast."

Police tell the newspaper that at least 75 vehicles have been broken into this summer, as well as a dozen garages and at least five or six houses. Some $20,000 in property damage has been reported.

Some five or six bears are believed to be trying to grub food. Last year, the bears' acquisition of human food was easier, retrieved from trash containers without difficulty. But a new ordinance requires greater efforts to make garbage inaccessible.

One thing is clear: the lever-style of door handles, which bears can open, will become more rare, being replaced by more conventional circular door handles.

Getting there half the problem

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE, Colo. - A big one got away from the Telluride community. Resort officials had hoped to lure a meeting of 400 high-level executives to Mountain Village, the slope-side town above Telluride, for annual meetings during June and September.

Telluride ultimately lost to Scottsdale, Ariz. Was the glass half-full or half-empty?

On the positive side, Telluride was a finalist among 50 resorts. But, of course, it lost out.

For some in Telluride, the lesson learned was of the need for a high-quality, branded property, and for a larger, more diverse bed base.

The Telluride Watch, however, notes that this need is disputed. "A portion of the community believes that until existing accommodations are filled to capacity, there is no need for additional hotel rooms. Other say the total number of rooms is beside the point if those available are not of a quality that people demand.

"The corporate market is seeking a more modern, updated, high-level product," said Scott McQuade, the chief executive of Telluride Tourism.

Also working against Telluride was its remoteness. It's easy getting to Denver, but then visitors must take another shuttle flight to Montrose, about 65 miles from Telluride, then rent a car or take a van to Telluride.

"It's the package; that's what these people are buying," said Bob Delves, the mayor of Mountain Village. "It's not just about being here; it's also about getting here."

Wolf shows value of connectivity

CANMORE, Alberta - A wolf with a global positioning system device attached to her neck has documented what wildlife biologists have long known: individual wolves often travel long distances when looking for a mate, new hunting prospects, or both.

In this case, the wolf, an adult female, traveled 450 kilometres from Jasper National Park before being killed by a trapper near Sheridan Lake, B.C.

Even more amazing long-distance trotting was documented in recent years when wolves that originated in the Yellowstone ecosystem wound up in northern Colorado, one just west of Denver and the other near Beaver Creek and Vail. In the latter case, a global positioning device documented direct travel of 724 kilometres, although wildlife biologists estimate the wolf actually covered 1,609 kilometres.

Wolf expert Mark Hebbelwhite told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that such journeys illustrate the importance of connectivity between ecosystems.

"This very day, there could be a wolf dispersing through the Canmore corridors from Banff to Yellowstone, and we would never know because the wolf passes through town overnight and is gone the next day," he said.

But in Wyoming's Jackson Hole, exactly the opposite problem was evident. There, three wolves had an affliction called the mange, a parasitic infection of the skin that causes the animal to scratch their hair off, leaving them exposed to the elements.

The wolves, federal officials tell the Jackson Hole News & Guide, have been hanging around people's houses. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a permit to the landowner to use rubber bullets to shoot at the animals, in an attempt to drive them off.

Rubber bullets, as a non-lethal deterrent, have been used for 10 years with mixed results.

Leadville 100 felt like Le Tour

LEADVILLE, Colo. - The Leadville 100, which has races for both runners and mountain bikers, has become a storied institution. For the last two years, Lance Armstrong has competed in the bicycle race.

The winner of this year's female division in the bicycle race was Rebecca Rusch, who hails from the Ketchum/Sun Valley area of Idaho. Writing in the Idaho Mountain Express, she recounts the joys of peak conditioning, the ordeal of bicycling amid sleet at an elevation of 12,500 feet, and then the thrill of large crowds.

"This was by far the biggest turnout I've ever seen for a mountain bike race," she writes. "I felt like I was in the Tour de France as I rode through lines of people crowding the course. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face as they were all cheering."

The winner of the men's division, Armstrong, knows something about the Tour de France. Rusch finished in 30 th place overall, in a time of 8 hours, 14 minutes.

The race course actually covered 103 miles, but perhaps the more revealing statistic is the amount of ascent: 13,000 feet.

Sheep rancher ordered to pay

PARK CITY, Utah - A sheep rancher who used dogs to protect his livestock from predators has been ordered to pay restitution. In one case, a woman was bicycling near The Canyons when she was bit on the butt by a sheep dog. In another case, just a few days later, another bicycle rider, this time a man, claims his pet dog was attacked by a sheep dog. The Park Record reports that the sheep rancher was ordered to pay the woman $260 and the man $303.

Schools installing LED lighting

TRUCKEE, Calif.-By now, we've all become conversant with compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use much less electricity and have a longer useful life than the older, incandescent bulbs. Both translate into huge cost savings if you're willing to shell out a little bit more money at the outset.

Now, an even more efficient lighting device, called LED (or light-emitting diodes), has been making its way into the marketplace. LEDs have been installed at the entrance to a middle school in Truckee, with the expectation that the school district will save $88,784 from this installation in electrical costs during coming years.

School officials plan to install LEDs through schools, in part to save money, but also because the light produced is more similar to light from the sun. As such, it is expected to create a better learning environment. After a lighting retrofit in Carson City, Nev., test scores improved 26 per cent.

Micro-hydro considered

OURAY, Colo. - Town officials in Ouray hope to secure a $20,000 grant that will allow them to generate electricity from the power of falling water.

Ouray has had a hydro plant since the 1880s, one of the four longest-continuously operating plants in the world. It generates 800 kilowatts, which used to be enough to supply much of the town's electrical needs.

But Ouray has grown somewhat in recent years, and individual use has grown even more. To help reduce reliance upon outside - mostly coal-generated - electricity, the town has taken several measures. First it replaced incandescent lights with LEDs, which use far less electricity. The payback is expected to occur within just a few years, with great savings over the longer time span of the new light fixtures.

Now, the town hopes to harness the power of gravity through a small hydroelectric plant, called a microhydro unit. The proposed plant could generate 20 kilowatts of electricity. In comparison, 25 kilowatts are required to operate a motor used to pump water from the town's geothermally heated hot springs through a water purifier.

Mayor Bob Risch, who ran for office on the platform of making the town "energy responsible," says it costs $2,000 a month to operate the pump. The town, he said, hopes to save $20,000 annually through installation of the microhydro unit.

Next on the agenda, he says, is to explore potential for greater use of the heat underlying the town. In addition to the community hot springs, a number of hotels have their own hot springs.

In Aspen, work continues on a much bigger hydroelectric plant, one able to produce 5.5 million kilowatt hours annually. Aspen voters agreed to issue $5.5 million in bonds to pay for the facility on Castle Creek. The Aspen Times says that when the hydroelectric plant goes into production, probably in fall of 2010, it will reduce the community's carbon footprint by 0.6 per cent.

At a meeting of several mayors in the San Juan Mountains, including those from Ouray and Telluride, electrical providers noted that many ideas for electrical generation have been offered. However, even more important in the short term may be making more efficient use of existing electricity, whether produced by burning coal or by falling water.

"We have a responsibility to serve our members' demands," said Wes Perrin, a Telluride resident and president of the board of directors for San Miguel Power Authority. "But, if we can make members more aware of energy efficiency, we can lessen that demand."

Mountain towns thinking about food

TRUCKEE, Calif. - Whether it's mushroom festivals, anger about industrialized agriculture, or enjoying harvest delicacies, food seems to be much on the mind of mountain town people.

In Truckee, Calif., a group called Slow Food Lake Tahoe has partnered with other organizations to sponsor an educational program called Harvest of the Month. This year, students will taste tomatoes, bell peppers, Satsuma mandarins, beets, dried fruits and salad greens.

"We have learned that exploring and tasting fruits and vegetables is not only a great way to teach about nutrition, but also often results in children trying new foods and discovering they may even like them," writes Maria Martin, a dietician, in the Sierra Sun.

In Frisco, a workshop in canning and preserving was held at the High Country Conservation Center.

In Eagle, 33 people participated in a mushroom festival, scouring the local forests for truffles as well as the more commonplace boletus. Several local restaurants participated, offering meals built around mushrooms. Most unusual was a mushroom tasting hosted by a local coffee shop.

Acid-mine drainage a problem

MONTEZUMA, Colo. - For many years, officials in Summit County have been vexed by what to do with the Pennsylvania Mine, a silver-producer from the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries located near the Continental Divide.

Waters coming from the mine, after washing across the fractured faces of rock created in the mining, are laden with heavy metals, creating problems downstream. Among the downstream users is the Keystone ski area.

The Summit Daily News reports that more intense study of potential solutions by Trout Unlimited has revealed that a water treatment plant could cost $20 million to build and operate for 20 years.