Mountain Town News: Black birds on fence posts, and other acts of public art |

Mountain Town News: Black birds on fence posts, and other acts of public art

Allen Best, author of Mountain Town News.
Courtesy of Allen Best

Black birds on fence posts and other acts of public art

JACKSON, Wyo. – “Human moments” instead of “battle scenes” will be the defining theme of an updated veterans’ monument in the Jackson Town Square.

What this means, says the Jackson Hole News&Guide, is that there will be no half-raised flag at Iwo Jima, no helicopters soaring over the rice paddies of Vietnam. Instead, the images will be of soldiers in non-violent, and sometimes touching, snapshots of history that reflect each of the last century’s major conflicts.

A memorial already exists, but the veterans’ organization wanted to get it updated to include the 500 local veterans of the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars and to provide space for those of future wars.

The town’s Public Art Task Force wanted a memorial that provides only the names, similar to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington D.C. But the American Legion insists that images must also be included. Possibilities include the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri in 1945 or soldiers helping children in war-torn countries.

War memorials come under the heading of public art. So do the arches of antlers positioned at each of the corners of the Town Square. The News&Guide, in one of its many supplements produced in conjunction with the community’s annual Fall Arts Festival, points out that the first arch was erected by the Rotary Club in 1953. Contributions of elk, moose, and other antlers were invited. Joined by arches on the other corners in the 1960s, they created what Pete Karns, a contemporary Rotarian, describes as a unique feature of Jackson. “They’re recognized all over the world,” he says.

But another chapter of public art was done covertly and survives only in collections. Its perpetrator, Thom Ross, described it as a prank. What inspired the prank is not entirely clear, but the execution was such that he managed to fool even himself. Then a new resident of the valley, Ross, with help from friends, created 150 raven-sized plywood cut-outs, painted them black, and put them on fence posts.

Seeing one or two ravens on fence posts is not something to attract much attention. But people noticed whenever a fence post had one. By the way, while a group of crows is called a murder, a group of ravens is called a congress or, alternately, an unkindness.

After that, Ross became a professional artist, but he regards that prank to be his best work yet.

Vail loses two individuals central to its founding DNA

VAIL, Colo. – Vail, as a mountain resort, has two distinct threads since its founding in 1962. One is the 10th Mountain Division, which was headquartered at nearby Camp Hale from 1942 to 1944. The other was its Alpine inspiration.

In recent weeks, the community lost two pivotal figures from both dimensions at advanced ages.

The first was Sandy Treat Jr, who took up skiing at Lake Placid and then, as a 19-year-old, made his way to Colorado to train at Camp Hale, on what is now considered the “back” side of Vail Mountain. He skied and went on to participate in the attack of the German stronghold of Riva Ridge in Italy’s Apennine Mountains. He never did ski while in combat, though, nor did many of the 10th Mountain troopers.

After the war, he returned to Dartmouth College where he captained the ski team and, fluent in three languages, moved to a career with Alcan Aluminum, working around the world and ending his career as president of Alcan Canada Products in Toronto. In 1984, he retired and the next year moved to Vail, where he skied until 2009, when he was 86.

Pepi Gramshammer also died recently. He was a native of Austria, where he was a member of the national ski team. Several of Vail’s founders – two of them 10th Mountain Division veterans – courted him in 1962, the year of the resort’s founding. They wanted to see a professional skier call Vail home, thereby adding legitimacy to the upstart resort.

With his race winnings and sponsorship money, Gramshammer was able to open a lodge, called Hotel Gastof Gramshammer, in 1964. In recent weeks, felled by several strokes, he was returned to the hospital in Vail. There, his widow Sheika told the Vail Daily, his eyes lit up even as the words came slowly as he viewed once again his favorite ski run, Riva Ridge.

Telluride to consider 2.5% tax on short-term rentals

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride voters in November will decide whether to institute a 2.5% special tax on short-term rentals. This is in addition to normal lodging taxes.

A divided town council had declined to adopt such a tax last year. This drive to put a tax before voters was initiated by a group of citizens who believe that the proliferation of short-term rentals in the community made available through Airbnb and other booking platforms had hurt the housing market for working locals, explains the Telluride Daily Planet.

Pepper Raper, one of those behind the vote, defended the excise tax as a means to provide revenue for affordable housing. “A vote for affordable housing is a vote for the economy,” she said, according to the Planet’s account of a recent meeting. “We want a workforce that can be here on time.”

But there is much opposition. Stacey Ticsay, who has a cleaning business centered around short-term rentals, told council members she can pay her mortgage because of Airbnbs. “They fill a niche in our economy. They attract price-sensitive visitors.”

Michael Martelon, of the Telluride Tourism Board, echoed the warning of ski company chief executive Bill Jensen, who discouraged the town council last year from adopting such a tax by warning of unintended consequences. The council heeded Jensen’s advice, voting 5-2 against going forward with such a tax last year.

This time, council members agreed to put it before voters, but with little enthusiasm.

If adopted, the total state and local taxes levied on lodging in Telluride would reach 15.15%, says Kevin Geiger, the town attorney. It is currently 12.65%. The local taxes include 2% for the airline guarantee program.

It gets even more complicated, he says, as Telluride has only three true commercial hotels that are taxed under Colorado law as commercial properties. Other units are classified as residential property. The former is taxed at 29% of assessed value, and the latter at 7%. The three hotels would be exempted from the tax, under the thinking that they are already paying their fair share.

Telluride has been one of the most ambitious developers of deed-restricted affordable housing going back to the 1990s, when it adopted a half-cent sales tax to finance affordable housing. Each year, it has had at least one project go forward.

“It’s fair to say that they have had for many years a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach to community housing. They have done a whole lot of different things, all in combination, to produce a very effective program,” says Melanie Rees, an affordable housing consultant with broad expertise in mountain resort towns of the West.

Last year it was a boarding house with 18 single-occupancy units and 14 double-occupancy units. The single-occupancy units are about 200 square feet in size. The complex has two shared cooking spaces.

Telluride has also invested in three tiny houses, similar to those put into place at Basalt by the Aspen Skiing Co. as a temporary fix to the problems it has in recruiting employees.

Geiger says 70 to 80 individuals have been housed in new affordable housing projects in the last year. Two more projects are going forward now, with occupancy expected by November. Together the projects will provide 26 units with one- to four-bedroom configurations.

Breasts bared in Whistler, but to good or bad effect?

WHISTLER, B.C. – On a recent Sunday afternoon, women wearing nothing above their waists marched from the Olympic Rings in Whistler Village to the base of the ski mountain. Their point?

Denise Belisle, who has previously been involved in such displays of semi-nudity in Vancouver, says the purpose was to make a statement of empowerment, but also break the stigma surrounding breasts and their sexualization.

“Men’s breasts can be just as sexy as women’s breasts, or they can be quite un-sexy, and they’re still allowed to be in public, right?” she said.

“So for me, that’s the whole reason behind it … just to stir a little bit the beliefs of people, and their old way of thinking, and to break the stigma that breasts are sexual. It’s a big stigma to break, and that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish, and build up women’s equality in all areas of our lives.”

But a resident from the Whistler area saw the flaunted nakedness as flawed. “It only serves to encourage sexualizing women and disrespect/disregard for their bodies and not in any regard makes them gender-equal to men as they claim,” wrote Gail McKellar in a letter published by Pique Newsmagazine.

“Young teens/preteens are very vulnerable, especially young males and their expectations from the girls at school. ‘Hey, it must be OK because it was allowed publicly in Whistler.’”

Grizzly dies on highway outside of Banff park

BANFF, Alberta – Grizzly bears continue to get killed with some frequency on the Trans-Canada Highway.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports a 275-kg (600 pound) male grizzly was the latest to die, the third large male grizzly to be killed in that particular area in the last 5 years. This is east of Banff National Park and in an area without fencing or wildlife overpasses.

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