Mountain Town News: Environmental groups protest e-bikes in Banff

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

Banff e-bikes protested by environmental groups

BANFF, Alberta — Parks Canada has decided to allow pedal-assisted e-bikes on some of the trails open to other bicycles in Banff National Park. At least two environmental organizations are unhappy.

They say the greater speed, range, and relative silence of the e-bikes will likely lead to increased visitor and wildness conflicts, but also degradation of wilderness values.

“The new policy will allow motorized bicycles in the backcountry capable of going faster than the current speed limit on Banff Avenue,” say the Bow Valley Naturalists and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. Banff Avenue, the town’s main street, has a 30-km/h speed limit (about 19 mph).

Jasper National Park announced it would allow e-bikes on some trails as part of a pilot project. The same has occurred in the Lake Louise, Yoho, and Kootenay unit of Parks Canada.

In Whistler, the municipal council has agreed to permit Class 1 e-bikes, similar to those being permitted in Banff, on the paved Valley Trail network in the community. They are pedal-assisted and have top speeds of 32-km/h. They will also be allowed on most, but not all, off-road, non-motorized recreational trails.

Higher classifications of e-bike — those with a higher speed with human assistance or those that require no human effort — will not be allowed on the trails. Pique Newsmagazine explains that they are considered motorized vehicles, as are low-speed motorcycles, powered skateboards, stand-up scooters, Segways, and Hoverboards.

Good luck with enforcement, noted a council member, Cathy Jewett, a patroller with Whistler Blackcomb. “In my winter time work dealing with enforcement of slow zones with skiers, I know how important the education portion is, as well as signage,” she said.

Whistler had a significant contingent of people who wanted no e-bikes on any of the bike trails anywhere. But Linda McGaw, writing in a letter, points out that for some people, pedal-assisted e-bikes have been an absolute godsend.

“I speak of the disabled or semi-disabled riders who thought they had enjoyed their last ever bike ride, and then this wonderful invention came along and they are able to get out and about on two wheels again,” she says.

That includes her husband, who rode the trails of Whistler for 30 yeas before a serious and progressive neurological disease forced him to resign himself to never rising his beloved bike again.

“I may even purchase one myself (my ancient and battered old knees, one with a metal plate in it, being my main excuse) so that I can accompany him and know he is safe.”

When a vice president passes the hat in Aspen

ASPEN, Colo. — The Aspen Times found out about the planned Republican fundraiser featuring Vice President Michael Pence in a very round-about way.

The executive chef of the Caribou Club had been arrested and charged with assaulting his female friend. She said he choked and punched her in the face. In his advisement before a district court judge last Friday, the chef said he needed to show up on Monday to cook for the vice president and hence needed to stay out of jail. His request was approved after he posted a $2,500 cash or surety bond.

Political fundraisers are not unusual in Aspen, even those on behalf of Republicans. This is despite the more liberal bent of the community. But Pitkin did give almost 25% of its votes for the Trump-Pence ticket in 2016 and, of course, it does have some high rollers.

Bob Jenkins, vice chair of the Pitkin County Republicans, said he expected about 25 couples to attend the $35,000-per-couple VIP reception. Of $875,000 collected, $62,500 would go directly to the Trump campaign and the rest to the Republican National Committee.

The Aspen Daily News further identified one local couple, Tatnall and Roberta Hillman, who were expected to be there. He had contributed more than $1 million to Republican causes in 2018.

The event was held at the Caribou Club, which is owned by two gay men. Pence, both in Congress and as a governor of Indiana, repeatedly opposed efforts to legalize gay marriage and other measures meant to improve the lives of gays and lesbians.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo estimated it would cost the county $10,000 to $20,000 to provide security. If officials such as Pence meet the general public, there is not charge for the security. Pence did not. In most cases, DiSalvo told the Times, campaigns agree to pay the costs.

Whitefish woman wins big settlement in Neo-Nazi case

WHITEFISH, Mont. — Aided by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a woman in Whitefish has received a $14 million judgment against the publisher of a neo-Nazi website.

Andrew Anglin’s Daily Stormer had published 30 articles urging his followers to launch a “troll storm” against Tanya Gersh. Gersh, her husband, and then 12-year-old son received more than 700 harassing messages in a five-month span before the complaint was filed. She continues to get harassing and threatening messages even now, 2.5 years later.

The campaign escalated into early 2017 when Anglin planned an armed march in Whitefish that he threatened would end at Gersh’s home. In promoting the march, he superimposed a photo of Gersh and several others on the front gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp, according to a press release issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The march never happened.

The Whitefish Pilot reported that Gersh issued a statement. “This lawsuit has always been about stopping others from enduring the terror I continue to live through at the hands of a Neo-Nazi and his followers, and I wanted to make sure that this never happens to anyone else.”

Driving while stoned? Hard to prove in court

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — More than five years into what former Gov. John Hickenlooper, now a presidential candidate, called the “great experiment,” Colorado is still trying to figure out parts of its marijuana legalization.

For example, when is a driver stoned? “Much uncertainty remains about how the drug impairs the body and at what point someone becomes too high to drive,” points out the Steamboat Pilot.

Colorado law says that driving when blood contains more than 5 nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psycho-active agent in cannabis, that is sufficient to be prosecuted for driving under the influence.

Does that amount really impair a driver? Marijuana users, particularly those who partake for medicinal purposes, worry that their blood will exceed the limit even when they are not impaired.

But what is clear evidence of impairment?

Cory Christensen, the police chief in Steamboat, tells the Pilot that sobriety tests for alcohol have been researched and standardized over the decades. The tests have been honed such that recent studies find an accuracy rate of 91% to 94%.

Much less research has been done in regard to effects of cannabis. There is the blood test, that can determine if the driver has crossed the limit of 5 nanograms.

The state’s highway patrol has drug recognition experts. Many of the criteria they use seem similar to alcohol, such as the one-leg-stand test.

It doesn’t all add up. “There is no go-to tool that is considered reliable across the board to determine if someone is impaired by marijuana,” says Matt Karzen, the district attorney for northwestern Colorado. “Right now, we’re stuck with body camera footage and an officer’s assessment.”

In most cases, prosecutors seek a plea of driving while ability impaired, or DWAI, a traffic infraction that typically results in a fine and revoked driving privileges for 90 days. A DUI is a criminal offense with a stiffer sentence.

In practice, many people suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana also have an illegal amount of alcohol in their systems, Karzen tells the Steamboat Pilot. If that is the case, prosecutors typically pursue a DUI conviction, because jurors feel better versed at recognizing when someone is drunk.

Coming to terms with the deaths and risks of forests

FRISCO, Colo. — The forests of Summit County in Colorado, Steamboat Springs, or Vail look so different than they did in 2006. Today you see standing dead trees here and there, but the forests have mostly become green once again.

Dull red and orange was the dominant color in 2007, the needles dead and soon to drop to the ground. The bark beetle epidemic had begun in 1996, spreading substantially through aging forests. After 2002, a year of drought unprecedented in the historical record matched with unprecedented heat and mild winters, the beetle populations exploded.

A study conducted in 2007 in towns across the 3.4 million acres affected by the epidemic in north-central Colorado gauged community attitudes. Researchers recently returned, to see how those attitudes had changed. Not surprisingly, they found that community attitudes had shifted.

Perceptions of socioeconomic risk, such as impacts on tourism and property values, have generally declined while some perceptions of risk, such as forest fires and falling trees, have remained the same or even increased.

There’s also greater acceptance and even support of active forest management. But what constitutes acceptable forest management varies by location and even by neighborhood. Logging of forests is still not acceptable everywhere. There’s still some wariness about prescribed burns.

“Much of this had to do with communities’ local economics and histories,” explained Jamie Vickery, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Several of the towns — Kremmling, Walden, and Granby — had sawmills and, more broadly, had been resource extraction towns. Breckenridge once upon a time made its living in resource extraction, but now sells recreation and amenities. That’s also true of Vail, a resort built on ranchlands.

In Summit County, Vickery and Elizabeth Prentice, a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant at the University of Missouri, found a higher level of satisfaction with forest management than some of the former logging towns. In the latter, there was grousing about restrictions on federal lands.

Risk of fire is one common worry. For several decades land managers have wanted to set fires, to mimic what nature does. Prescribed fires have not been universally welcomed. A prescribed fire for Vail proposed in the mid-1990s eventually happened, but over initial protests and then was much pared down.

Land managers in Colorado suffered a setback in 2012 when embers of a prescribed burn in the foothills southwest of Denver several days prior were flamed by high winds, creating a wildfire that killed 3 people and destroyed 23 houses.

For still other reasons, getting “good fire” on the ground remains difficult, three university professors concluded in an essay published in Pique Newsmagazine of Whistler, B.C.

The three researchers — Courtney Schultz of Colorado State University, and Cassandra Moseley and Heidi Huber-Stearns, both of the University of Oregon — talked with 60 land managers, air regulators, and others to define the significant obstacles.

“The law doesn’t necessarily impede prescribed burning so much as do some of the more practical realities on the ground,” one land manager told them, as quoted in an essay published in Pique Newsmagazine. “You don’t have enough money, you don’t have enough people, or there’s too much fire danger.”

The researchers note that prescribed fire has limitations and risks. It will not stop wildfires under the most extreme conditions and is not appropriate in all locations. And, on rare occasions, such as that in Colorado, planned burns can escape controls.

Parking meters may be still in future for mountain town

JACKSON, Wyo. — You want some quiet, mountain tranquility, don’t go to downtown Jackson. The nerve center of the valley called Jackson Hole, the town square also happens to be a segment of the highway to Yellowstone National Park.

Still, this place with a town square and antlered arches has free parking. It’s free, that is, if you can find a parking space. The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that the Jackson Town Council has another report about the measures needed to stave off paid parking. Parking spaces are subjected to limits. You can’t just park all day. But escalated fines might do the trick if the limits are enforced. But ultimately, paid parking may be in the cards, despite the vehement opposition of business owners who fear it will scare off customers.

Why some people object to this neighborly solar farm

ASPEN, Colo. — What’s not to like about this proposed newcomer to the Aspen neighborhood? It would create no noise, water or air pollution, nor will it disrupt wildlife, sponsors say. Furthermore, it would move onto a former industrial site, 35 of the 55 acres that had previously been used to spread biosolids from a sewage treatment plant.

But in fact, some people who live near the proposed solar farm outside Aspen just don’t want to see it there. The Aspen Times reports one speaker at a recent planning commission meeting called the 18,000-solar panels on the 35-acre plot would create a “monstrosity.”

Another accused Holy Cross Energy, the local electrical utility that would be a solar-farm partner of wanting to construct an electromagnetic field that would give her family cancer. Others worried about views and slipping values. There were also disagreements about just what impact it would have to wildlife.

The project comports with the climate change goals adopted in Pitkin County but also figures somewhat into the effort to make Aspen more resilient. Last year, a wildfire nearly caused Aspen to lose its imported energy during a fire in early July. The solar farm would provide 5 megawatts of local generation but has no plans for battery or other storage technology.

But the commissioners did hear some testimony in favor. “I knew I needed to be here as a millennial,” said a local student at Colorado Mountain College. “We are concerned for our future.”

Mona Newton, the executive director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, pointed to surveys that revealed 78% of Pitkin County residents want and would pay for more renewable energy.

As for the visual impact, Newton said that not doing anything to reduce carbon emissions will have an impact, too. “We have 10 years to really make a difference in carbon emissions before there’s no turning back,” she said.


Summit County’s 2024 budget is still a work in progress

The first public hearing about tax increases is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Sheldon Richins Building located at 1885 West Ute Blvd. The second hearing is set for Dec. 13 at the Summit County Courthouse. Both meetings will be live streamed.

See more

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.