Mountain Town News: Everything’s on fire, reducing cars in Aspen and curbing cairns in Banff |

Mountain Town News: Everything’s on fire, reducing cars in Aspen and curbing cairns in Banff

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

When smoke gets in your eyes – and in your lungs

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – From Taos to Banff to Tahoe, the talk of the last week was all the smoke in the air.

“Smoke coming in. Damn,” wrote one Telluride resident on Facebook Sunday afternoon. “We can’t even see the mountains,” reported a Jackson Hole resident Tuesday morning.

Lake Tahoe has been smothered with smoke from fires in three directions, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

“We couldn’t breathe,” a woman told a park ranger while in a huff to check out of a campsite along the Lake Tahoe shoreline. “We were going to go on a bike ride, but last night sucked. We’re going straight home.”

With a fire raging on its southern flanks, the Yosemite Valley was closed on July 23 and it remained closed early this week. Air quality in Yosemite, said the Chronicle, rivaled that of Beijing. There, concentrations of fine particulates called PM 2.5—which measure 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller—are regularly six times higher than World Health Organization recommendations.

In Idaho, PM 2.5 was bad enough at Sun Valley and Ketchum that on at least one recent day everybody was advised to stay indoors and keep the windows shut. Children, people with lung disease, and the elderly were advised to stay indoors on several days.

California had giant fires last fall, continuing into December. During one smoke advisory, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health advised schools to suspend physical activities like gym, cancel after-school sports, and keep windows and doors closed. If air conditioning in homes drew air from outside, people were advised to go to libraries and other designated air shelters with better-than-average air filtration systems, reports Sierra Magazine. British Columbia also has designated clean air shelters.

In Colorado, pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Carl White told the Summit Daily News that children are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of the smoke.

Children breathe more air for their body weight than do adults, magnifying the effect the air quality has on their bodies, he explained. “The second issue is that children are still developing their lungs, and more interferences with the normal lung chemistry means impact to growth and development of the lung.”

PM 2.5 poses a danger to older people, too. Inhaling that PM 2.5 can turn the body’s clotting system on and increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes, he said. PM 2.5 can be safely filtered with N95 or N100-type particulate masks. Such masks can be purchased at Walmart, Lowes, and other big-box retailers.

White told the Summit Daily the smoke has other dangers. “Carbon monoxide, acrolein, formaldehyde, benzene, benzopyrene, dibenzanthracene, nitrogen oxide and so on,” White reported. Many of these same chemicals are present in cigarette smoke. As such, breathing in mountain air during smoky periods is almost as bad as breathing second-hand smoke.

White said that experiments about effects of smoke have been conducted on animals, but not human populations. “What we’re seeing now is a huge human experiment in progress.”

Fires have been growing larger and increasing in frequency during the last 30 years in the West. British Columbia was in a state of emergency for 70 days due to wildfire, the longest in the history of the province.

Harper’s Magazine points out that fires rarely exceeded 10,000 acres in size through much of the 20th century. Then, in 1988, a fire called Canyon Creek burned for months, covering 250,000 acres. It was an anomaly then. Not so much now. Blazes of more than 100,000 acres are called megafires. By Monday evening, the Yosemite fire was getting close.

Aspen calculating how to suppress use of cars

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen continues to foment plans for its great transportation experiment next year. Now called Shift Aspen, the intent of the experiment, formerly called the Aspen Mobility Lab, is to see whether Aspen can be less dominated by the self-importance of the internal-combustion engine.

If all goes as planned, people who normally drive into Aspen will be tempted to park their cars on the edge of the town and use alternative transportation: buses, e-bikes, and commuter shuttles. The goal is to peel back 600 to 800 trips per day into Aspen. A portion of this is intended to drive down the trips from Aspen’s outlying neighborhoods into the central business district.

Expanded bike services will include bike mechanics at the intercept lot, with the hope that more people will be persuaded to park their cars rather than continue with the traffic congestion that routinely occurs at the entrance to the town when a four-lane highway narrows to two lanes in a series of S-shaped curves.

The city last year spent $270,000 in hopes of making this three-month experiment occur this year. It didn’t happen, as companies and others hesitated or said they needed more time. The city estimates that the experiment next year will cost $2.3 million to $2.4 million. Most of that money will go toward providing more transit options.

The Aspen Daily News reports the city also plans to partner with a mobile application that tracks various transportation uses. If you have downloaded the app to your smart phone, it will track when you’re on a bus or a bicycle or driving your own car. To get commuters to use the app, the city plans to offer rewards, such as price reductions on goods and services in local businesses. But the proposal to offer Amazon gift certificates got some push back.

Any travel recorded by the app will be rewarded with points, including driving your own car into the city. However, those who use alternative modes will be awarded more points.

Big Sky Resort joins the Mountain Collective pass

ASPEN, Colo. – The buddy ski pass program called the Mountain Collective continues to grow. The Aspen Skiing Co. announced this week that Montana’s Big Sky Resort and the Niseko United Resort in northern Japan have been added. The latter was an affiliate but this coming ski season will become a full partner. The alliance now has 17 destinations. the passes include two days of skiing or riding at each and 50 percent discount on all additional days. Prices run $499.

Cairn creators in Banff and other parks urged to curb it

BANFF, Alberta – Parks Canada has been frowning about all the rock cairns being constructed along hiking trails in Banff National Park.

“We don’t encourage any building of stone cairns,” said Greg Danchuk, the agency’s visitor experience manager. “The time-honoured approach of leave-no-trace would include not piling rocks and stones around the place.”

Another reason not to do so, he told the Rocky Mountain Outlook, is because moving rocks shifts soil and makes the area more prone to erosion.

Stacking stones also annoys some people in Yoho National Park. “Please refrain from saying ‘I was here’ with rock graffiti, and refrain from moving rocks placed by the trial crew to define routes,” a Facebook post by the Lake O’Hara Trails Club scolded.

Price points keep rising for mountain real estate

JACKSON, Wyo. – Average price of single-family homes in Jackson Hole during the first half of the year rose 31 percent, hitting $ 2.33 million.

David Viehman, a real estate agent who curates real estate data, tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide that 37 homes sold for more than $3 million and two of them for more than $10 million. The cheapest home in the single-family category was a two-bedroom cabin that went for $565,000.

Fueling the rising prices is the continued rise of the stock market. Real estate agents say Wyoming, with its low taxes, is a favorite place to stow wealth. And, of course, Jackson Hole is a lovely place in every season.

Aspen and Jackson Hole at top of another national list

ASPEN, Colo. – The average age of first-time mothers in the United States is now at 26, up from 21 in 1972, reports the New York Times. For fathers it’s 31, up from 27.

But in some places the age for a parenthood is higher yet. Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, is No. 3 in the nation with an average age for first-time mothers of 31.1 years, and Teton County, more familiarly known as Jackson Hole, is No. 7 at 30.6 years of age.

Adjoining areas to the ski towns, such as Teton County, Idaho, for Jackson Hole and Garfield County, for Aspen, had more traditional statistics. But all the ski counties, such as Idaho’s Blaine County (Ketchum and Sun Valley) and Utah’s Summit County (Park City) stood out on the New York Times map.

San Francisco leads the nation at 31.9 years, followed by Manhattan. In general, first-time mothers in large cities were older, and those in more rural places, such as the Great Plains, much younger.

The numbers were derived from a study of birth certificates conducted by Caitlin Myers, a Middlebury economist who studies reproductive policy.

The Times reports that researchers believe the differences in when women start families is a symptom of the nation’s inequality. The age of motherhood is correlated with education. Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without—and often use those years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes.

The Times also points to research by law professors June Carbone and Naomi Cahn. In a 2010 book they studied how red and blue, or Republican and Democratic, families were living different lives. Young mothers are more likely to be conservative and religious, to value traditional gender roles and to reject abortion. Older mothers tend to be liberal, and to split breadwinning and caregiving responsibilities more equally with men, they found.

Money for early childhood

help would top tax benefits

FRISCO, Colo. – Voters in Colorado’s Summit County will be asked in November to increase property taxes to a rate of $340 per million dollars of assessed valuation.

County commissioners want to deliver $2.5 million for affordable early childhood care and learning, among other purposes.

In addition to new child-care centers, the money would go toward a sliding-scale tuition assistance program for 4-years-olds in the county. Breckenridge is the largest of the county’s six towns.

“There are three major factors that really put the financial squeeze on our local working facilities: housing, child care and health care,” said Commissioner Tom Davidson. “This proposal would lift some of that burden. And just as importantly, it would also help to ensure that each Summit county child who steps into a kindergarten classroom is ready to learn, because he or she has been part of a quality preschool program during that critical stage of development.”

Another $2 million would be allocated annually for improved mental health services, while $1.7 million will go for a recycling and waste diversion project. The county has a goal of “zero waste” but only recycles about 20 percent of its water. It hopes to double the diversion rate, points out the Summit Daily News.

Also sharing in the pie of money would be $1.6 million for county infrastructure maintenance and improvements and $1 million for work to reduce wildfire dangers by further increasing the fuel breaks around neighborhoods.

Another solar farm as co-op pushes for 100 percent renewables

EAGLES NEST, N.M. – Another 4,000 solar panels have been erected in the service territory of Taos-based Kit Carson Electric, part of a determined push by the electrical co-op to harness solar power in sunny northern New Mexico.

With this latest installation near the Angel Fire ski area, Kit Carson now has nine megawatts of solar capacity, enough to supply 24 percent of the daytime load of the cooperative members. More than twice that amount of solar energy is scheduled to be completed yet this year.

In 2016, Kit Carson broke from its long-time electrical supplier, Tri-State Generation & Transmission. Tri-State provides power to a broad swath of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, including Durango, Telluride, and Crested Butte. It has been expanding its ownership of renewable generation but still remains heavily invested in coal-fired generation.

In breaking with Tri-State, Kit Carson aligned with Guzman Energy, which purchases power on the wholesale market to supply the needs of Taos and outlying areas. It also committed Kit Carson to investing heavily in solar energy. Kit Carson and Guzman say that hitching their wagon to solar, instead of coal, will save the co-op’s 30,000 members $50 million to $70 million during the next decade.

With Guzman as financier, Kit Carson plans to develop up to 35 megawatts of small solar arrays by 2020. That will meet 34 percent of all electrical demand and 100 percent during daylight hours on sunny days.

In coming months, Kit Carson also plans to implement a battery technology demonstration project.

Kit Carson was chosen by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for a study of how solar energy can be used to improve the affordability, reliability, and resilience of the electrical grid serving rural areas. The study will embrace tools of the Solar Energy Innovation Network.

Luis Reyes, chief executive of Kit Carson, says the goal of the project is to “demonstrate that renewable energy can be technically integrated into a rural grid in a way that allows all members access to renewable energy, rather than only a few members. This project will provide a pathway for other rural cooperatives, municipalities and communities to enter into the deployment of distributed energy resources given the fast pace of the changing market and member desires.”

Telluride always close by, thanks to three webcams

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Fred Graflun owns a home in Telluride but lives in Memphis. But three or four times a week when in Memphis he will get on the internet to see what it’s looking like in Telluride.

Three webcams perched above Telluride’s main street, Colorado Avenue, can tell him whether it’s smoky or snowy in Telluride. He can even watch the Fourth of July parade, reports the Telluride Daily Planet.

Two of the web cameras belong to the Telluride Tourism Board. The third belongs to a real estate firm.

But the webcams are also used by locals, including Richard Estes, the street supervisor. “Before we do a street closure, I can see how impactful it’s going to be,” he says.


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