TRUCKEE, Calif. - A push continues in the Lake Tahoe area to foster what is called geotourism, which is defined as an effort to identify and promote those things that make a region different from other areas.
"In general, what we're looking to highlight are places that have a quality unique to the area," said Jonathan Tourtellot, founding director of the National Geographic's Center for Sustainable Destination.
"We have to make a lot of judgment calls," he told the Sierra Sun .
Whether geotourism is anything new, or more of a refined marketing tool, is open to argument. The Sierra Sun seems to think it is a new kind of tourism. As examples of geotourism attractions, it cites a museum, locally owned restaurants with character, and a natural foods store with a local flavor as examples.
The newspaper cites a study by the travel industry of America, which says geotourists value clean, unpolluted environments, outstanding scenery, and opportunities to learn about the culture and history of areas they visit.
"They patronize businesses that emphasize the local character," explained Nichole Dejonghe, project manager of something called the Sierra Nevada Geotourism. The organization has a Sierra Nevada map guide with 1,500 contributors, including dozens of attractions in the Lake Tahoe area.
Bottled water replaced
VAIL, Colo. - For sheer silliness and wanton environmental waste, perhaps nothing comes close to bottled water. Repeated tests have shown that water bottled hundreds or thousands of miles away is rarely, if ever, better than the local stuff that comes out of the tap. Plus, it's expensive - usually more expensive than petroleum shipped from Venezuela, Libya or refined from the tar sands north of Edmonton.
In Vail, which sits at the headwaters, its waters as pure as the driven snow, that's doubly the case. It's good water, then further purified by the local water agency.
Yet, for years, bottled water was given out at the Teva Games, the big festival of kayaking, climbing and other outdoor pursuits held at Vail and nearby Minturn. An undercurrent of the festival is celebration of the environment.
This year, at long last, organizers have announced sanity. Instead of bottled water, they will have three "hydration stations" that use reverse osmosis cleaning technology to further clean what is already excellent water. Festival-goers will also be given biodegradable cups made from corn, reports the Vail Daily .
Plastic bags taxed
CARBONDALE, Colo. - Trustees for a third town in the Roaring Fork Valley have indicated they might be willing to impose a tax on throw-away plastic shopping bags as a way to discourage their use.
Carbondale trustees, reports the Glenwood Post Independent , have indicated that a regional approach might be best in this and other environmental initiatives. Aspen and Basalt have already indicated their interest in imposing fees of 10 cents to 25 cents per bag.
Should there be exceptions? In Aspen, some say ski season should be exempted. In Carbondale, it's hunting season, for fear that hunters will buy their many bags of groceries elsewhere.
Can 'nature' replace real estate?
JACKSON, Wyo. - With the real estate bubble still pricked, and carpenters and other craftsmen under-unemployed, leaders in Jackson and Teton County continue to ponder the economic outlook. The construction trades provided a middle-class in a valley otherwise noted for its extreme wealth and those people just scraping by.
But what can replace the middle class incomes of the construction contractors and tradesman? Jonathan Schechter, an economic analyst, continues to make the case - which he was making even before the recession - that Jackson Hole's future lies in preservation of its natural assets.
"With every new person born on earth, what we have here becomes that much more scarce," said Schechter, according to an account in the Jackson Hole News&Guide . He called on Jackson Hole residents to become the "oligarchs of nature."
Pressures of the financial downturn continue to mount, according to several panelists at a recent symposium. "This recession is deep," said the Rev. Ken Asel of St. John's Episcopal Church. "It affects this valley, which many of us thought to be recession-proof, and is spread across multiple income and social groups, and it is long-lasting."
Monster home developer sues
ASPEN, Colo. - Meanwhile, there are still rich people. Developers who want to build a 15,000 square-foot home near Aspen are suing Pitkin County and its commissioners. The commissioners had ruled that the house could only be 8,250 square feet, because a larger house was unreasonable on a site subject to debris hazards. But the Celestial Land Co. says that the county was inconsistent, as it had previously approved a 15,000-square-foot single-family home along with a caretaker unit and barn complex and other buildings in the same area of debris flows.
Bison not an easy catch
BANFF, Alberta - If Yellowstone National Park is a reliable guide, wolves would kill relatively few bison reintroduced into Banff National Park. It's not that wolves have anything against bison. Rather, it's that elk are easier to take down and bison are more difficult.
In complex systems like Banff and Yellowstone, bison are likely not the preferred species because of their defensive abilities, explained wildlife biologist Tom Hurd at a recent symposium. "They are substantially harder to take down for wolf packs than most of the other prey available.
"Bison are low on the list of food items in a complex system. They likely wouldn't change the predator-prey landscape extensively."
Quoting Hurd, the Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that bison in both Yellowstone and Prince Albert National Park have shown they are adaptable and use a variety of habitats.
Archaeological and historical records suggest that bison existed in both historic and pre-historic times in what is now Banff National Park, but in a low density.
Winter in Cuba
JACKSON, Wyo. - Osprey are snowbirds, travelling south each winter. But four osprey captured in Grand Teton National Park and outfitted with devices that allowed researchers to track their movements by satellite showed several interesting deviations from the norm.
The norm for osprey from the Yellowstone ecosystem is to fly to Central America. Several did, one of them stopping for about a month in and near Boulder, Colo. But one of the osprey flew all the way to Cuba for winter. Along the way it stopped in Tulsa, Okla., for a week.
The Jackson Hole News&Guide explains that migrating birds typically use one of four primary routes: the Atlantic, Mississippi, Rocky Mountain, or Pacific flyways.
No welcome mat
PARK CITY, Utah - A small assisted-care living center will be built in a residential neighborhood near Park City, but without much of a welcome mat from the neighbors.
The Park Record reports considerable complaining at a recent meeting. "I wanted to sell my home, and now I will never be able to," said one resident. Another complained that her children might see a hearse if a resident dies.
"Where do they want disabled people to live?" asked Alex Whitt, a co-owner of Beehive Homes, the developer and operator. "Would they rather have the assisted-care living home stuck behind a Costco where the elderly residents have no interaction with the community and are separated from the neighborhood environment in which they want to live?"
The assisted-care-living operators said neighbors should welcome them. "We are the perfect neighbors: we don't party late at night, and if you party we don't hear it," said Joe White, a co-owner.
Highway opens late
RED LODGE, Mont. - Red Lodge can be called a ski town. It has a ski area. But like Jackson, Wyo., its more important meal ticket is its proximity to Yellowstone National Park.
Normally, summer tourism season begins on Memorial Day, when the 67-mile Beartooth Highway opens. This year, however, crews were diverted by rockslides elsewhere in Yellowstone, so the highway was not opened until last Friday, 12 days late.
Beartooth Highway is the highest elevation highway in both Wyoming and Montana, reaching an apex of 10,947 in Wyoming and 10,350 in Montana. Neither is high by standards of Colorado, but the rugged scenery holds its own anywhere.
Earlier this year, there had been talk about plowing the road through winter, to boost tourism. But nobody was willing to foot the bill, notes the Billings Gazette . Further, some argued that plowing the road would actually reduce tourism, because it would impair use of the highway by snowmobilers during winter. However, nobody had data to back up the contention that snowmobiling provides the lion's share of recreational revenue during winter for Red Lodge.
WiFi to stay on buses
ASPEN, Colo. A new generation of buses connecting Aspen and outlying towns in the Roaring Fork Valley will be outfitted with wireless Internet technology, despite the opposition from the congressman representing that area. U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton said he wasn't singling out the broadband Internet service planned for buses as his reason for withholding support for a federal grant.
But, according to The Aspen Times , he did seem to think it was a luxury - and hence should be among those items scrutinized to help the U.S. government trim its budget deficit. The newspaper notes that the WiFi item is a $15,000 expense in a $25 million federal appropriation, and directors of the Roaring Fork Transit Authority said they wouldn't scrap the WiFi plans.
Bank sues purveyor of pot
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. - Alpine Bank has been around for decades operating primarily in mountain towns of Colorado's Western Slope, from Vail to Telluride. Alpine Dank was created a few years ago to sell medical marijuana. Is the name coincidental?
The founder of the marijuana firm argued that that was the case. Dank, explained Jeffrey Lessard, is a word that describes the quality of produce, whether it's marijuana or the products associated with it. Alpine, of course, is a word used by many firms.
The parallels go further, though. The logos were nearly identical, with the tree used by Alpine Bank replaced by a cannabis leaf for Alpine Dank. The Aspen Times says the lawsuit filed by the bank was dismissed after the pot purveyor agreed to drop its name.