Mountain News: Crowds continue, but not free-spending ways 

VAIL, Colo. - Double-digit revenue declines continued through the summer in mountain towns. In Vail, sales tax revenues were down 24 per cent in August. In Aspen, retail sales were down 16 per cent. In Jackson, Wyo., the decline was 21 per cent.

"I think the most important question in all of this is where's the bottom," said Bob McLaurin, Jackson's town manager. "At some point we're going to have to decide whether to look at additional revenue or if we can live with reduced services. But that's a decision that's above my pay grade. That's a community-wide decision."

In all these towns and others, the fundamental story has been that visitor numbers are good, even great. But people have been spending less money.

Consider Jackson, at the gateway to both the Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Those parks have had record numbers of visitors all year. "People are still interested in coming here. They just don't want to spend as much money," said Tim O'Donoghue, executive director of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.

Jonathan Schechter, a business columnist for the Jackson Hole News & Guide , said there is a need to re-examine, if not fundamentally rethink, how local government is funded and the way in which the community makes money.

 

Longer runway considered

ASPEN, Colo. - Aspen and Pitkin County are starting to debate the merits of extending their airport runway by 1,000 feet.

The airport manager, Jim Elwood, says having a longer runway will allow existing planes to carry more passengers and gear. Planes taking off from the airport must limit the number of passengers when the temperature is 80 degrees or above. But even in winter, because travelers on skiing vacations tend to carry more weight, the number of passengers must sometimes be limited.

Currently, the average "load factor," or percentage of sold seats, hovers around 70 per cent for flights in and out of Aspen, explains the Aspen Times .

The newspaper also notes that in the early 1990s local residents voted against allowing runway work that would have allowed larger aircraft to use the airport.

 

Native Americans see it differently

DURANGO, Colo. - In all their transcendent loveliness, Colorado's San Juan Mountains still have problems. Water from most of the San Juan's reservoirs has such high levels of mercury that pregnant women and children have been warned by health officials to limit the number of fish they eat.

The cause of these high mercury levels is not known for sure, although many suspect there's a link to the two coal-fired power plants located in the Four Corners area. For several years now, a new coal-fired power plant has been discussed and cussed.

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