Mountain Town News: Delicate Arch, Old Faithful and … e-bikes? |

Mountain Town News: Delicate Arch, Old Faithful and … e-bikes?

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

Can e-bikes in Yellowstone make America great again?

MEEKER, Colo. – In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump vowed to “Make America Great Again,” a slogan that supporters have distilled to MAGA when trumpeting his talking points on Facebook and other social media.

But what made America great? That seems open to question. The Trump administration has been rolling back restrictions, lowering every bar except for immigration.

Last week the Trump administration announced it was easing regulations governing oil and gas extraction on public lands. The rules enacted during the Obama administration seek to reduce emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with 80 times the heat-trapping property of carbon dioxide during its first 20 years, although it quickly dissipates thereafter.

The federal regulations were modeled on those adopted in Colorado, where they have been credited with reducing but not eliminating methane leaks. The federal rules also mirror those adopted by Wyoming to cover drilling in the upper Green River Basin south of Jackson Hole. A rural area, it had air quality rivaling that of the worst cities. Several of the major oil companies, including ExxonMobil, supported the existing regulations.

Just before the weekend, new Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt announced that electric bicycles are now allowed on trails in more than 400 national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges previously restricted to human-powered bicycles, hikers, and horses. The intent, he said, was to make the trails more accessible to pedal-assisted bikes with a top speed of 28 mph.

In Colorado, this drew a rise from Michael Carroll, an avid mountain biker from Durango who is a senior program director for The Wilderness Society. He told the Denver Post that the rule change is an attempt to divide the outdoor recreation community.

“There’s a reason for there being non-motorized trails,” Carroll said. “People like being able to enjoy the backcountry free from motorization.”

No National Park Service policy governed e-bikes previously. In Yellowstone National Park, both electric and pedal-assisted electric bicycles have been allowed only on those roads where motorized vehicles were allowed. Now, e-bikes may be allowed on those roads in spring and fall, times when the roads are closed to motorized vehicles, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide. The newspaper noted that the new memorandum does not strip superintendents of their authority to determine where bicycles, including e-bikes, are allowed.

Still, in a general way, the new policy represents a deference to short-term economic interests.

A century ago, a different metric was used at Trappers Lake, in northwest Colorado. The U.S. Forest in 1919 assigned a new hire named Arthur Carhart to survey lots along the shores of the lake for summer cabins. He was a landscape architect by training, although the Forest Service called him a recreation engineer.

Doing his work at Trappers Lake, he encountered two sportsmen. “Do you have to circle every lake with a road?” they supposedly asked him. “Can’t you bureaucrats keep just one superb mountain lake as God made it?”

Returning to Denver, Carhart advised his superiors to rethink their plans. “There are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they are rightfully the property of all people,” he wrote to them. They should be preserved for all time for the people of the Nation and the world. Trappers Lake is unquestionably a candidate for that classification,” he wrote to them.

They agreed, and today Trappers Lake is within the Flat Tops Wilderness, the lake accessible not just to cabin owners but to everybody on the same terms.

That is not the thinking of Donald Trump and the crowds he hangs around with. He’s one of exclusive resorts, places of ornate design. Golf is Trump’s sport, not wilderness trails, in places where the grass is clipped just so.

Rick Reilley, the sportswriter from Denver, recently wrote a book called “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Donald Trump.” Reilly’s conversations with caddies and others revealed Trump’s dishonest ways. But one that was not dishonest is the most surprising.

Trump has publicly said repeatedly that climate change is a hoax. But as Reilley reveals in his book, in Ireland, where he has a golf course, he applied to local officials for a sea wall, citing the effects of global warming in producing rising waters.

Citizen scientists help with wildlife data in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – Nature Mapping Jackson Hole celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. A concept called citizen science collection is at its core, employing the observational skills of people interested in wildlife to build a data base that has become valuable.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide cites the case of pikas, the tiny mammals with the squeaky barks heard so frequently in alpine and montane environments. “Even in the first six months of the project we received several hundred observations of pikas,” according to Embere Hall.

Hall, who now works as the wildlife coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said data

from citizen scientists continually challenged Hall’s assumptions. “The lowest recorded elevation for a pika came from a nature-mapping volunteer, and it totally reshaped how we thought of our research project,” she said.

Another case is the Teton County Wildlife-Vehicle Collison Database. Of the 543 collisions recorded, 130 came from Nature Mapping.

Tom Griffith, who had studied wildlife biology 50 years ago but then pursued a career in business, got involved with Nature Mapping Jackson Hole after retiring to Jackson in 2015. Wildlife, he says, is why he lives there.

“It really gives an opportunity for people to become a part of the conversation of the wildlife they enjoy, living in this location. I’ve lived all over the country, and I can tell you that nothing comes close to the wildlife we have here.”

Banff supports overpass for wildlife across Trans-Canada

CANMORE, Alberta – Banff municipal officials have announced their support for another wildlife crossing over the Trans-Canada Highway, this one east of Banff National Park.

If built, it would be the 7th overpass along with 38 underpasses in an 82-kilometer (51-mile) highway segment in the Canadian Rockies.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook explains that highway fencing coupled with overpasses and underpasses has resulted in 80% fewer wildlife-vehicle collisions in the park and, for elk and deer alone, 96% fewer collisions.

Stressed bear swipes at hiker at Lake Louise at

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta – Can wait staff, hotel clerks, and others stressed after a long, busy summer identify with this bear at Lake Louise?

It had encountered people while feeding on buffalo berries. Trying to avoid the throngs of tourists, it swam across the glacier-fed lake.

Emerging from the chilled water, the bear encountered a 24-year-old man who was hiking on a horse trail. The hiker immediately called a dispatcher for Parks Canada, seeking counsel in how to react to the unhappy bear. It followed the hiker and, at one point, it rushed the hiker, nipping the man on his leg. It was a scratch, not a bite.

The hiker declined treatment at a clinic, but sometimes bear-human encounters turn out much worse. The Outlook recalls the death of a hiker who encountered a grizzly bear on a trail in the Canmore area in 2005.

“Although inadvertently and not on purpose, the bear was very clearly harassed trying to get out of the way of tourists, and eventually something flipped in the bear and it decided to follow a person,” said Stephen Herrero, a professor emeritus at the University of Calgary and a global expert on bears attacks and safety.

“For a bear in those circumstances, it was either fight or flight. This bear was exploring its options.”

First new luxury hotel in 25 years opens in Aspen

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen has a new 88-room hotel at the base of the ski mountain, the first new luxury hotel in Aspen in 25 years, reports The Aspen Times.

The W Aspen is the sibling of W Verbier, located in the Swiss Alps. Both are branded as part of the “Mountain Escape” series. Marriot International is the parent company.

Greg Durrer, general manager of the W Aspen, said the word “escape” is the W brand’s way to describe an alpine resort. “The W brand has a different word for just about everything,” he told the Times.

The 128,000-square-foot building cost Washington D.C.-based developer Northridge Capital, $56.5 million, not counting soft furnishings, such as furniture.

David Jackson, president of Northridge, told a ribbon-cutting crowd that included the Aspen Daily News that his company saw a vacant niche in Aspen.

“We came into Aspen because we saw a niche in the market for younger people that have enough money to spend, but really the Nell or the St. Regis weren’t their place,” he said. Rooms were renting for between $419 and $619 per night in the week leading up to the grand opening.

The hotel also has 11 units with 1-10th fractionals selling for between $551,000 and $797,000. The buyers have come from Australia and Hong Kong but also Colorado and range in age from their 40s to their 80s.

As for décor, it shades to the past and the local, with nods to everything from the Utes who once called the valley home, at least seasonally, to the so-called soiled doves of Aspen’s mining days to its more recent bell-bottom and tie-dye days.

The never-ending quest to deliver housing in Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. – New affordable housing has been going on-line in Whistler. Two projects with 44 units and 91 beds between them will be available yet this year, and another project with 103 beds will likely be completed by 2021.

And more is in the pipeline, reports Pique Newsmagazine. But is it enough?

Jack Crompton, the mayor of Whistler, says no, the job is never completed.

“It’s fair to say we all wake up with housing at the front of our minds nowadays,” he said. He says who using isn’t something the municipality “fixes,” but rather a priority to which it remains committed.

Aspen to benchmark energy use of its largest buildings

ASPEN, Colo. – Since 2004, the municipality of Aspen – which does not include the ski area – has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions 21%.

The city had hoped to get to 30% reduction by 2020, but that appears unlikely to happen. Climate action managers are pinning their thin hopes on electrifying more of the city’s vehicle fleet while also doing a better job of composting.

Another strategy with a longer time horizon is called Building IQ. In this, Aspen hopes to reduce carbon emissions from buildings through a process called energy benchmarking.

The city government will start with its 18 buildings first, then ask the owners and managers of the 205 large commercial and the 625 multi-family buildings to join in. Benchmarking requires the owner and managers to input natural gas, electric, and water utility use into an EPA data base.

Closely tracking utility bills can reduce energy use 2% to 3%, Ashley Perl, the city’s climate action manager, told The Aspen Times.

The idea – still lacking approval—will be for building owners to track energy use for 2 to 4 years and then take steps, perhaps aided by municipal grants, to reduce their energy use. That is the plan being pitched to the city’s council, but no formal proposal will be presented to the council until next spring.

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