Hunters rescued from Routt Cty cliffs |

Hunters rescued from Routt Cty cliffs

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers got to put a recent ropes training session to the test Saturday evening when a pair of bow hunters found themselves trapped on the cliffs atop Mount Werner.

Two rescuers with headlamps rappelled down the cliffs in the dark to get to the bow hunters and used the ropes to hoist them down to safety.

The hunters “weren’t injured, but they were feeling helpless when they were stuck on those cliffs,” volunteer Kristia Check-Hill said. “They couldn’t go up, down or sideways.”

The rescue mission, which started at about 7:20 p.m., went into the early hours of Sunday morning.

Volunteers used ATVs to get to and from the rescue scene.

Check-Hill said the last rescuers dropped off their gear in town after 2 a.m.

And it was cold. Rescuers could see their breath at the top of the mountain.

The hunters got stuck on cliffs near the No Name Chutes, and they were brought down to the ski run known as First Chance.

“How and why they got where they were, I don’t know,” Check-Hill said.

The identities of the hunters weren’t immediately available Monday.

Check-Hill said the hunters were friends and were from out of town.

The rescue came just a few weeks after Search and Rescue volunteers practiced rescuing people with ropes on the cliffs near Fish Creek Falls.

“It was awesome we had it all so fresh in our minds and to be able to use that training so quickly,” Check-Hill said. “We got to do a little bit of everything on this mission.”

Drilling limits won’t be on November ballot

Barring a battle in the courts, Colorado voters will not decide this fall on greater restrictions for oil and gas development in the state.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams announced in a press release Monday that two citizen-initiated issues failed to gain enough signatures to send the questions to the ballot this November. While supporters for both question turned in more than the 98,492 signatures to the put an issue on the ballot, enough signatures were rejected to bring the total number below the necessary threshold.

A projection for the number of valid signatures for Issue No. 75, which would have granted local governments greater authority to regulate oil and gas development, was 79,634. Similarly, the projection for issue No. 78, which would have established a mandatory 2,500-foot setback zone for oil and gas development, also fell short at 77,109 signatures.

Supporters turned in 107,232 and 106,626 total signatures for the two questions.

However, in processing signatures for No. 78, the secretary of state’s office identified several potentially forged signature lines. Those have been turned over to Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s office for review.

Backers of the proposed ballot questions have 30 days to appeal the decision in Denver District Court, according to the press release.

Big plans at the bowling alley in El Jebel

The new owners of El JeBowl are sparing nothing in their quest to strike a chord with young adults in the midvalley.

Craig Spivey and Tom Weber, partners in Bowlounge in Dallas, purchased the bowling business in El Jebel on Aug. 15. They bought the bowling alley from the Stecklein family, which started it in 1992. The building is owned and leased by the Crawford family, longtime owners of El Jebel property.

El JeBowl is closed for renovations but will reopen to the public in mid-September as Bowlounge, according to Spivey. It will open for league play later in the month.

The partners think they’ve got a business plan that will attract a whole new generation of bowlers without alienating their older, established clientele. They will target young adults.

“We need to move the bowling alley into the next century,” Weber said.

Extensive renovations

Bowling alleys across the country are closing because they didn’t change with the times and adapt to appeal to younger customers, Weber said. The Stecklein family has done a great job keeping up the equipment and operating the bowling alley for nearly 25 years, but it could use an update and rebranding, Weber said.

“We kind of feel like we’ve saved this place,” he said.

The 16 bowling lanes and equipment will remain unchanged. Virtually everything else is undergoing an extreme makeover.

The bar was in a dark, secluded room to the side, away from the action. The bar room will be opened up and the bar itself wrapped around toward the current food counter, doubling the seating. The bar and other decor will be covered with recycled wood from bowling lanes.

Bowlounge in El Jebel will carry 20 or so microbrews on tap and feature local brewers. They also will serve specialty drinks inspired by the movie “The Big Lebowski,” including All the Way, The Jesus, Donnie’s Element and, of course, The Dude.

The restaurant, which has drawn rave reviews for years for the food served by Jonathan Fuentes Morano, will continue to feature special entrees along with the baked and fried chicken and other food that’s proved popular at Bowlounge in Dallas.

For the first time, the bar and restaurant will have wait staff.

Sports bar atmosphere

The arcade, currently in a secluded, rear room, will be opened up. They will install two pool tables, video games and possibly a shuffleboard game. A pro shop, where people can be fitted for bowling balls and have finger holes drilled, will operate in the back of the building, if Matt Stecklein so chooses, Weber said.

They also are cleaning up the landscaping and painting the exterior.

They won’t be adding bowling lanes. Weber said 16 lanes are quite a few, especially since intense use is centered on Fridays, Saturday and Sundays.

The partners are trying to create an atmosphere that will attract people to hang out, even if they aren’t bowling. It will have a sports bar feel with several televisions showing sporting events when possible and vintage music videos from the 1980s and ’90s.

They will keep all the leagues going. Weber said some longtime customers have popped in to look at the work and welcomed the changes, particularly to the bar.

While the bowling alley will be family-friendly, the partners emphasized they are focusing on making the bowling alley a fun place for young adults to hang out.

“This is going to be a very bar-friendly place,” Weber said.

Spivey and Weber hope to attract as much corporate business, private parties and special events as they can.

The bowling alley’s web address is

Nearly 25 years

Matt Stecklein started the bowling alley in 1992 with his dad, William Stecklein, and Glen Harris. It was a tough decision to sell after nearly 25 years, but it was time for something different, he said.

“I’d like to thank all the patrons and encourage them to keep coming back,” Stecklein said.

Spivey and Weber opened their first bowling alley in the Dallas Design District and, after finding success there, looked for expansion opportunities. They learned about El JeBowl and explored the growth potential. They believe the Roaring Fork Valley has got high potential for growth because of limited entertainment options, especially for young adults.

John Hornblower of VR Business Brokers of Aspen was the listing broker for the business and he managed the sale for the Stecklein family.

Weber said the Steckleins did a great job running the business for nearly 25 years. Now he and Spivey want to build on the success.

“Hopefully we’re not killing anything that’s working,” Weber said.

Essex column: What we know better than to say

In the small, homogeneous town where I grew up, before the word “diversity” was in common use to refer to people different from each other in some way, it was pretty common to hear racial and religious slurs.

My dad, born in 1919 and whose longest time out of Nebraska was serving in the still-segregated Army at Fort Riley, Kansas, would refer to black athletes as “boy,” a term that harkens back to slavery and segregation. Others used even more offensive terms.

Not many black people lived in Beatrice, Nebraska, other than the Scott brothers, barbers just down the street from my house. Beatrice didn’t have a synagogue or a mosque or hardly any residents who weren’t as white as our yards in January.

Beatrice had a Catholic school, and I remember hearing terms that I didn’t even understand, but later grasped as derisive toward Catholics.

Back then, towns like Beatrice and Glenwood Springs were more isolated from outside influences than in today’s high-tech, hyperconneted world. The struggle for civil rights was more theoretical to us than real.

So by the time we reached middle school, most of my classmates and I had grown up hearing things, and some of us saying things, that were just plain bigoted.

This is a rationalization for bad behavior, but I think most of the slurs were rooted more in unchallenged ignorance more than in hate. If someone started telling racist jokes and we’d heard adult relatives do similar things, we would join in or laugh along. It was adolescent mob mentality.

Our teachers helped us learn the issues of the world and why not to say things that demean groups of people. Seventh-grade social studies included a unit on stereotypes, the first time I’d heard the term.

For the most part during my adult life, these things we learned in middle school have been a standard of expected conduct in our increasingly diverse society. Overall, Americans gradually got better about how we talk about people who aren’t like us.

It’s not just a question of being polite. If we have to think about how we describe someone or how we address someone, we are breaking the ignorance and disregard of a less sophisticated time in our history. Over time, what we say and what we hear changes how we think.

Racist, sexist, homophobic, religiously biased language was marginalized. Some people still thought these things but for the most part knew not to say them — though Barack Obama’s election showed us that the proportion of our population with racist feelings is larger than many of us imagined.

Then came Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In many ways, Trump is like the name-calling bullies who got in trouble with my middle-school teachers — but there’s no one to send a 70-year-old self-proclaimed billionaire to detention.

Trump, with his cruel language toward Mexicans, his sweeping generalizations about Muslims, his racial dog whistles that we all can hear, has emboldened those so inclined to start saying the things they learned as children just aren’t appropriate.

Video from his rallies captures grown-up mob mentality, with supporters shouting the n word, calling protesters fags, calling Hillary Clinton a bitch who should be hanged and making references to her body — which, oddly enough, no one did with John McCain, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

It’s spreading into everyday life, across the country.

A Latina restaurant worker in Virginia who is a citizen recently found a note on a receipt that said, “We only tip citizens.”

In Iowa and Indiana, students taunted opposing Latino basketball players last winter with chants of “build a wall,” and “Trump.”

An El Salvadoran man was dragged from his car and beaten last year at the El Jebel City Market by man who yelled obscenities about our president and that “Mexicans” should go home.

Words matter. Trump launched his campaign two months before the El Jebel beating by saying of Mexican immigrants, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Then he got serious about putting people down.

As much as any other aspect of his rise, this is the threat of a Trump presidency — that we will regress and become a more hateful society.

Even if he loses, he has ripped at our social fabric in a way that frays decades of gains against discrimination and stereotyping.

The makeup of America is changing in a way that cannot be stopped. We will either embrace our growing diversity or risk being more deeply divided by it.

Racism and hatred are driven by fear. Fear’s running mate is ignorance. Its antidote is familiarity, in this case, getting to know people who seem different from us and learning how much like us they are.

This doesn’t just involve people of different religions and skin colors. America is so polarized today that liberals and conservatives need to reach out to each other.

In this process, we will learn that we are more alike than different. A conservative columnist and I recently exchanged emails in which we agreed that we make each other think harder, which we both enjoy.

Whichever way the election goes, America desperately needs to think harder and choose our words responsibly.

It will help us remember our middle school lessons and to behave like grown-ups.

Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.

CMC’s Novak earns trustees’ organization award

Debbie Novak, assistant to the president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College and secretary to the college’s elected board of trustees, was recently named the recipient of the 2016 Western Regional Professional Board Staff Member Award by the national Association of Community College Trustees.

She was the sole nominee from the western region, and one of four nominees for the national award to be announced in October.

Novak holds leadership roles on many Colorado Mountain College committees, including the 50th Anniversary Planning Team and, for multiple years, the central committee for CMC Day, an annual gathering of hundreds of employees that rotates to different campuses.

She has also provided outstanding service to ACCT’s Professional Board Staff Network, holding positions from regional member-at-large, to secretary, vice president, president and immediate past president. She facilitated a three-hour workshop for her peers at the 2014 ACCT Annual Congress.

Her award nomination pointed out that she has held a steady hand in supporting the college president and elected board of trustees through a decade of great change. In addition, she has led to the board to adopt more technologically advanced practices, from the use of laptops, to electronic board packets, to a board portal that is under development.

The Association of Community College Trustees, based in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit educational organization of governing boards, representing more than 6,500 elected and appointed trustees who govern over 1,200 community, technical and junior colleges in the United States and beyond.

Guest column: A remarkable first year for Iron Mountain Hot Springs

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve already wrapped up our first year in business at the Iron Mountain Hot Springs. The past couple of years have been a whirlwind of activity, especially when you think about the fact that two years ago there was nothing visible here but weeds and gravel.

Looking back, I’m incredibly proud of all that we’ve accomplished. What started as an idea sketched out on napkins over lunch meetings has turned into one of Glenwood Springs’ premiere attractions. This wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication of every person on our team.

Building a hot springs destination is no easy task, and we certainly encountered some challenges along the way. Just imagine digging holes and pouring concrete for 18 pools on the bank of a river during mud season. In addition to the unpredictable weather that we’re all familiar with here, partway through the process we decided to double the number of soaking pools from eight to 16. Richard Nash, general contractor for the construction, kept everything moving along — despite the changes that we made along the way.

Learning how to work with mineral water has been a challenge as well. We combine water from three sources and cool it down to a variety of temperatures as it is channeled out to different pools. The water is constantly flowing so that each soaking pool completes a total changeover every two hours. Because of this, we don’t need to add any chemicals to the water.

The outcome is worth all of the effort, though, and our first year was a success. There was a learning curve as there is with all new businesses. We’ve listened to customer feedback, which has led to some big improvements and additions.

The first upgrade was to replace all of the keyed locks on the lockers with key pads. Now, our customers can choose their own four-digit PINs without having to worry about keeping track of, and returning, the keys.

As our attendance grew, so did the need for more space in the locker rooms. We started working with the architect to come up with plans last fall. Construction started during the winter and was completed in time for Memorial Day weekend. Both the men’s and women’s facilities were doubled in size, providing private dressing rooms, additional seating and more elbow room.

Our guests also asked for more shade, so we’ve installed large umbrellas over six of the soaking pools. That’s been a welcome addition with the warm weather we’ve had the past few weeks.

The Sand Bar, which opened during the Fourth of July weekend, serves all of the drinks that are available in the Sopris Café along with some grab-and-go snacks.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We were particularly proud to win three Locals’ Choice Awards this summer. All of this is thanks in large part to our staff. We have a great team in place, and Jeanne, Mogli, Coop and I can’t thank them enough. City officials and the Glenwood Springs business community have also been supportive from the very beginning, which has helped immensely.

We are truly blessed to live and work in Glenwood Springs. When you look around at the beautiful setting and take into account that we have two wonderful hot springs to choose from — plus Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Sunlight Mountain Resort, and trails, rivers and mountains in every direction. I can’t imagine a better place to be.

Steve Beckley co-owns the Iron Mountain Hot Springs with his wife Jeanne and Mogli and Coop Cooper.

Bridge activity ahead on several fronts

Question: What is on tap for the Grand Avenue bridge project?

As we move into fall, the war board is full of daily construction activities. Today’s column will highlight a project roundup of some current and upcoming construction activities.


Near Sixth and Pine streets and at the north end of the pedestrian bridge, construction crews begin work on a 250-foot-long structural wall for the north pedestrian bridge landing. Crews will excavate the area, forming walls (reinforced with structural steel) and pouring concrete.

At the former Shell gas station near the corner of Sixth and Laurel, the contractor has been working on the pedestrian underpass. This underpass will create a better connection for pedestrians traveling from Two Rivers Park to Sixth Street, the Historic Hot Springs District and the Glenwood Canyon trail. During the next several weeks, the tunnel will be taking form, and crews will be pouring the tunnel walls. Once complete, it will provide needed pedestrian and bicycle connections on the north side of the bridge.

In the same area, near the traffic bridge north abutment – crews are forming and pouring “wing walls” that will act as structural support for the new vehicle bridge. On the pedestrian bridge, installation of overhang brackets continues and the deck sections are being formed.

In September, you will see crews pour the pedestrian bridge concrete deck, which is a significant step toward the March 2017 completion date.


As the Seventh Street Station foundation work continues, crews will install all underground utilities including its gas line, electrical, phone and power conduit into the utility vault, which is located on the south side of the Colorado River.

In September, the Seventh Street Station will begin to go vertical. GAB construction teams will install the landing structure, erect structural steel, form stairs and concrete walls.

Later in the month they will begin building the upper and lower pedestrian bridge stairs that will take users from the Seventh Street Plaza to the bridge’s deck.


Motorists have noticed increased construction activity at Exit 114. Crews have been working to widen the interchange and prepare for the 95-day traffic bridge detour in August 2017.

At the Exit 114 westbound on-ramp, crews will install traffic barriers and finalize signs and light standards. At the north roundabout, crews will build curbs on its east side, and also work on placing concrete pavement.

Additionally, on the I-70 Exit 114 eastbound off-ramp, crews will set barriers and remove pavement to prepare for a wider lane configuration.


On the corner of Sixth Street (where the new water line was installed), GAB crews are paving a patch of road. The contractor also will be testing the new 16-inch water line, and work will be underway to construct and install utilities into the north pedestrian bridge utility vault.

As you can see, the contractor definitely intends to make the most out of remaining construction season. If you have any questions about traveling through these constructions zones, don’t hesitate to call or text us at (970) 618-9897.

Meet the Garfield library director finalists

A public meet-and-greet is scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Silt Branch Library with the two finalists for Garfield County Public Library District director.

The finalists for the job of directing the six-branch library district are Eleanor Nave, who currently manages two branches of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library in Evansville, Indiana; and Dan Mickelson, who has been with the Garfield County Libraries for 10 years, currently as the Silt Branch manager.

Members of the public are invited to ask questions, learn about the area libraries and discuss what’s important in the communities served by the district. Refreshments will be served.

BLM habitat project rejuvenates mountain flora

The Bureau of Land Management has contracted some heavy machinery to knock down large swaths of thick brush that have been choking out more beneficial vegetation and have become dangerously dense in the event of fire.

Altogether, the agency is clearing about 270 acres of brush in a patchwork approach covering about 600 acres near Center Mountain south of New Castle. This project is expected to continue through September and wrap up before the first rifle deer season.

David Boyd, BLM public affairs specialist, estimated that since 2003, BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office has conducted about 50 such clearing projects, including prescribed burns and hand thinning.

But in the case of Center Mountain, the BLM has opted to use a “roller-chopper” and hydro ax to make short work of large spans of nearly impenetrable brush.

The project is being done in conjunction with nearby oil and gas operations southwest of New Castle.

In theory, the project should benefit the same wildlife population that’s being affected by the drilling operations, said Boyd.

The roller-chopper, a bulldozer affixed with a 20,000-pound steel drum, knocks down this thick brush was also digging its tracks into the soil, leaving a rough, texturized soil that’s easier for seeds to latch onto and good for absorbing water.

The key to this machinery is in the weight, said Billy Roedel, the BLM’s contractor. The 10-ton drum can be filled with another 1,800 gallons of water. Tracks on this drum dig into the ground as it crushes the vegetation and effectively plants seeds that have never touched the ground, said Roedel.

The hydro ax, which is a slower-going but powerful machine, eviscerates any trees or plants in its path, leaving behind a layer of mulch.

Bobby Roedel, the contractor for this project, called this a “haircut” for the vegetation. Because the hydro ax leaves the roots underground intact, its effectiveness only lasts about 10 years, whereas the BLM is hoping to get another five years out of the bulldozer method.

“Essentially, we’re mimicking the effects of a wildlands fire,” said Chad Sewell, a BLM fuels specialist. The last time this a prescribed burn happened in this area was in the 1980s, he said.

Decades of fire mitigation efforts have protected the land from the regular scoring these species have evolved with. So an unintended consequence is that many plants that would be regularly burned are allowed to grow without restraint.

Clearing the brush doesn’t do away with these fuels but rearranges them to create fire behaviors that are safer to combat, said Sewell.

Wildland fires naturally burn in patches, what Sewell called a “mosaic burn,” which creates openings for the animals rather than just destroying the landscape.

The leaves of the oak brush, when they’ve lost enough moisture, become volatile. A fire will travel up into the leaves in the canopy, where it can be blown by the wind and travel uphill very quickly.

Oak brush burned nearby in the 1994 Storm King fire that claimed the lives of 14 firefighters, said Sewell.

This approach moves the fuels to the ground where they will burn slower and be fanned less by the wind.

Firefighters can also use these small treatment areas, linking the clearing together to make a fire line and create a box around the fire, said Sewell.

The wildlife is also facing a lot of pressure from development expanding into its habitat, so the effort is meant to create pockets of nutrition for these animals, said Sylvia Ringer, BLM wildlife biologist.

The project will create the space for grasses, younger oak brush and other nutrient-rich plants with acorns and berries that animals like deer and elk feed upon, said Ringer.

The BLM’s target in this case is mainly oak brush, though this treatment knocks down many other plant culprits as well. When the oak brush is allowed to grow older and larger, it becomes more tough and woody, according to Ringer. After this project the brush will comes back with soft shoots that animals like to eat.

She also hopes this roughed up soil will promote sage brush in the treated areas, which she said many wintering big game rely on to get by in the cold season.

The animals also benefit from variety in habitat. Wildlife are drawn to the boundaries between one type of habitat and another, between covered areas where they can hide and open areas where they can forage, said Ringer.

Raptors too like to have vegetation they can perch in and watch their prey in the clearings, she said.

“The thick brush is hard for hunters to move through as well, so I think this project will make a lot of people happy,” said Ringer.

This project isn’t killing these plants, the BLM staffers said. Oak brush is an especially hardy plant that’s difficult to kill. In fact these plants by this point already have enough carbohydrates in reserves for next year, said Ringer.

It’s counterintuitive, but disturbing the plant life in this way actually rejuvenates it, she said.

It’s similar to deadheading plants in a garden; if you cut off the dead flowers of a plant, you can stimulate it to keep growing and extend your season, said Boyd.

School meals return to GSHS after 22 years

Glenwood Springs High School senior Jose Rivera says he would regularly spend $25 a week or more to go off campus for lunch during his first three years of high school. But this year, he and the rest of the 900 students at GSHS have another, less expensive option.

“It’s a pretty good deal,” Rivera said as he stood in the lunch line Friday, weighing the options between chicken pasole, a cheeseburger or a favorite stand-by, Domino’s Pizza, plus Spanish rice and tortilla chips on the side, a full fruit and salad bar, and milk.

Likewise, sophomore Molly Hemmen said she would otherwise buy her lunch at the on-site café service operated by a private vendor up until last year, or go off campus, both of which could get pretty expensive.

“At least there’s pizza,” Hemmen said.

The cost? — $4 for students and $5 for teachers and staff. Or, for the 52 percent of GSHS students whose families qualify for reduced-cost lunch under the federal Free and Reduced Meal Program, 40 cents.

School district-sponsored breakfast and lunch service made its return to GSHS at the start of the new school year last week after a 22-year hiatus, including the past nine years since the new high school was built complete with a modern kitchen facility under the premise that a regular cafeteria meal program would be offered.

“We haven’t had it simply because students weren’t using it,” GSHS Principal Paul Freeman said, noting that the school has an open campus policy that allows students to go off site during lunch. And the close proximity of the City Market deli and other food options makes that an attractive option, he said.

The school has also invited a series of private vendors to use the kitchen facility since the new school was completed in 2007, including most recently longtime area chef Andreas Fischbacher. But those services were not eligible for the Free and Reduced Meal program, and, though competitive with off-site food options, were still rather expensive.

“I’m thrilled that we now have this, because there is a need,” Freeman said, noting the increasing percentage of students entering GSHS who qualify for the program.

“What’s disturbing is that some of the families who qualify don’t want to exercise that right,” he said, pointing out that even a teacher who has two children and is making less than $45,000 would qualify under the program.

“There’s no shame attached, this is a right for people and it’s intended for a good purpose,” Freeman said of the importance of making sure students are well-nourished so that they are better able to learn.

Michelle Hammond, director of food services for the Roaring Fork School District, said the return of a meal program to GSHS has been in discussion for the past two years as the district noticed an increase in the percentage of qualifying students within the Glenwood Springs Middle School ranks.

In addition to the lunch service, breakfast is also served before school and during a morning break that GSHS has built into its schedule. Qualifying students can receive free breakfast, she said.

“So far, for the most part we have heard a large number of comments from parents and from staff that they are super excited about having this program at Glenwood High School,” Hammond said.

As with the district’s other high schools in Carbondale and Basalt, three different entrees are offered every day, plus a full vegetable and fruit salad bar and sides. The school meal programs are also now in accordance with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act that was championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and signed into law in 2010.

student jury is out

Only three days into the new school year, students at GSHS are checking out the new lunch option but aren’t quite sure if they’re ready to give it a thumbs-up.

Senior Grace Coley said she’ll miss the options offered under the former private vendor service, but she said curiosity prompted her to get in line for Friday lunch.

Another senior, Margarita Ramirez, was just polishing off a bowl of the chicken pasole.

“It’s really good, but it’s not quite enough,” she said, earning a concurrent nod from her table mates, junior Kyro Ledeszma and sophomore Dalia Ramirez.

“It’s kind of like a little snack for me,” Ledeszma said. “I usually eat a lot more than this.”

Among the legions of GSHS students making the usual lunchtime pilgrimage to and from City Market across the street from the school were sophomore Cole Williams and freshmen Audrey Steen and Francesca Roberts.

Williams said he usually brings his lunch from home, which he said can be even cheaper than eating the school lunch.

“I can buy bread and meat for $4 and it lasts me quite a while,” Williams said.

As a freshman, Steen admitted she likes the newly awarded freedom of being able to leave campus for lunch, which she couldn’t do as a middle school student.

But she and Roberts said they’ll probably give the school lunch a try eventually.

“I think it’s a really good option for some of the kids,” Roberts said.

participation still lagging

Hammond said it’s a national problem keeping high school students on campus for lunch, and school meals participation rates for all school levels are down.

In Garfield District Re-2, both Coal Ridge and Rifle high schools allow only seniors to leave campus for lunch, but school lunch participation is still fairly low. About half the students at both of those schools qualify for Free and Reduced Meals, but less than 20 percent of the entire student body utilizes the school lunch program.

Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, which is part of RFSD, does somewhat better with about 58 percent of the students qualifying for Free and Reduced Meals and a total participation rate of more than 30 percent, according to statistics provided by the district.

One unique attraction at RFHS is that some of the produce included with the salad bar comes from the school’s own grow dome and outdoor gardens, which are maintained by students in the agricultural biology program.

At Basalt High School, about 40 percent of students qualify for discounted meals, yet the school sees less than a 15 percent participation rate, Hammond said.

The cost to the district’s general fund to subsidize the introduction of the GSHS meals program is about $35,000, on top of the nearly $100,000 the district already spends for the other Glenwood, Carbondale and Basalt schools.

Nationwide, participation in school meals programs has declined 4.5 percent in the years since the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act went into effect, according to a presentation by Hammond to the RFSD school board last spring.

In RFSD, participation at the elementary schools continues to be strong, but overall the number of lunches served has decreased in recent years from 305,000 in 2010-11 to 288,000 last year, she said

District wide, about 41 percent of the approximately 5,425 students qualify for meals at a free of reduced rate.

But the new HHFKA rules, which were partly intended to address childhood obesity rates, have increased compliance costs and resulted in lower student participation rates.

The legislation updated nutrition standards for school meals, placing limits on calories, sodium and fats and restricting competition for other foods sold on school grounds. With that has come an increase in the average cost per meal to more than $3.45, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture reimbursement rate sits at about $3.30, according to statistics contained in Hammond’s presentation earlier this year.

A 44 percent increase in the cost of milk, plus wages for school cafeteria workers, has also increased the cost locally, she said. And, where the school meals programs were once able to purchase locally sourced foods, that’s no longer possible with the increasing costs, Hammond said.

The district is also down two food service employees at the high school level, she said.

At $15.39 an hour for kitchen managers and $13 an hour for cooks, the wages are competitive with other school food service programs in the area, Hammond said. But on a broader scale, she said she has a hard time keeping cafeteria workers at those pay rates.