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Dotsero Mobile Home Park residents are trying to become Eagle County’s first resident-owned community

Some residents of the Dotsero Mobile Home Park gather together. The park started around 30 years ago, and has grown to 84 individual homes with an average of five occupants per structure.
Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily

The residents of the Dotsero Mobile Home Park are attempting to collectively purchase the park and become the first resident-owned community in Eagle County. The challenge is, they have less than 60 days left to secure financing and make an offer before the landlord can begin accepting bids from outside buyers.

A new statewide bill, signed into law in 2020, requires park owners who wish to sell their property to notify residents of the impending sale, and guarantees that residents will have 90 days after notification to organize into a cooperative and make a competitive offer before the landowner can sell the property.

Since being notified of the sale in early April, 64 of the 84 homeowners in the Dotsero Mobile Home Park have already signed on to join the aptly named Volcanic View Cooperative, and are now taking steps to become owners of the park that they call home. It’s a challenging road ahead, with a tight and imposing deadline, but with the help of the greater Eagle County community, these residents have the opportunity to secure their homes for decades to come.

A tight-knit community

The Dotsero Mobile Home Park is a tightly interconnected community. The park, located just off exit 133 on Interstate 70, started around 30 years ago, housing laborers who worked on the Glenwood Canyon project. It has since grown to 84 individual homes with an average of five occupants per structure, many of whom have lived on the property their entire lives.

Alondra Gardea, 25, is the vice president of the board for the Volcanic View Cooperative. Gardea shares a home with her husband and her 5-year-old daughter, and lives across from her parents and down the street from her sister.

“I’ve been here since I was a little toddler, and I grew up with so many people that live here. I mean, they watched me grow up,” Gardea said. “I can hope, if we do go through with this buy, that my daughter can raise her own family here someday, just like my parents raised me.”

Many of the residents are second- and third-generation members of the community, with roots that started in Mexico and remained intact as people followed friends and family to Eagle County in search of a better life.

Many of the residents of the Dotsero Mobile Home Park are second- and third-generation members of the community.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The residents are banding together with the help of Thistle, a nonprofit organization based out of Boulder that provides technical assistance to mobile home parks in Colorado to help them transition to resident ownership. Resident-owned communities are still a rare occurrence in Colorado, but Thistle has successfully helped six communities transition to resident ownership since 2017, including a park in Leadville last fall.

Andy Kadlec is the program director at Thistle, and said that the strong showing of support from the Dotsero community is a crucial factor for attaining success.

“The law requires a minimum of 51% of the community to be in favor of a purchase, but from our perspective that can also mean that 49% are against it,” Kadlec said. “We really like to see a high level of engagement and interest, and I believe that this community has that. They’ve had fantastic attendance and turnout to meetings we’ve hosted, and have really shown a lot of interest in learning more about this process and what it would take to purchase their community.”

Gardea said that the residents are motivated to attain the security that comes with owning the land they live on, and want to have control of their futures.

“A lot of people want this, because we don’t know who the new owner would possibly be and what he wants to do with this land — if he will keep us here, or if he wants to build apartments or condos,” Gardea said. “You’re always living with that. Are they going to come now, are they going to tell us to leave, what are they going to do? Once it’s ours, no one is ever going to come and tell us anything, because it belongs to us.”

Home improvement

Ownership would also give the residents the ability to tackle much-needed improvements to the property. The park was not designed to be a permanent residence, so there are a number of infrastructure projects that need to be undertaken in order to support a healthy and durable residential community moving forward.

The most expensive project will be an overhaul of the park’s septic system, which is outdated and insufficient to meet the needs of the growing community.

“Once it’s ours, no one is ever going to come and tell us anything, because it belongs to us.” — Alondra Gardea

In addition to the septic system, the water supply needs to be changed. Sourced from the base of the Dotsero volcano, the water that currently runs through the park’s pipes is undrinkable and, in most cases, entirely unusable due to high mineral content.

Kyleigh Morales, 32, is the president of the Volcanic View Cooperative. She said that the only way that the community can access clean water is to purchase water bottles and jugs in bulk from Costco.

“We need six to eight cases every time we go, because that’s our cooking water, that’s our cleaning water, that’s our drinking water,” Morales said. “If, say, women want to dye their hair, it turns green. It’s like you’re going swimming every day. You can’t cook with it, you can’t wash your car with it, you can’t even grow grass because of the water.”

Morales said that the poor water quality causes a myriad of issues and extra costs for residents, corroding water heaters, washing machines, and pipes to the point where they must be replaced on an annual basis. In order for the community to get fresh water into their pipes, they would have to tap into another water source.

The current landowner has also neglected road repairs in the park for many years, resulting in large potholes and dangerous cracks that make it difficult for cars to access the community.

“It’s hard watching a place where you call home, where the owner doesn’t take responsibility for some of the stuff that should have been done,” Morales said. “But we can’t really do it when our hands are tied to get it fixed. So this is the only way for us to get it fixed, is to buy the community ourselves.”

Thhe Dotsero Mobile Home Park is in need of three big infrastructure projects: upgrading the septic system, the park’s water supply, and the roads.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

In order to secure a loan from the bank, the Volcanic View Cooperative first needs to contract an engineer to estimate the costs of undertaking these three big infrastructure projects. Kadlec said that including the costs of major repairs into the loan is a necessary step for ensuring the long-term viability of a resident-owned community.

“A really important aspect is doing a deep analysis of what major projects they might need to assume in the first 10 years of ownership, and assure that they have appropriate financing to take care of that so they’re not cash strapped in five years if an infrastructure project goes awry and they have to pay a million dollars for something,” Kadlec said. “This is a big decision for the community, and ensuring they have resources and the information at their hands to make a qualified decision whether or not to move forward with the purchase really relies on understanding that.”

At this stage of the process, finding and financing an engineer to provide that survey is the biggest roadblock that the cooperative is facing. Morales said that the estimated cost of the survey is around $10-15,000 dollars, and that they cannot proceed to the next step of the process without it.

“Right now, we’re at a standstill,” Morales said. “We’re having a really hard time finding an engineer that can do it in such short notice, because we only have 90 days, and that ends on July 1. We also need to raise the funds for the engineer, and it’s not a cheap expense. Our only option right now is to ask our little community to help fund that.”

The community has started a GoFundMe Page to help raise the money necessary to finance the survey, and plans to hold a cookout later in the month to try and raise additional funds.

Morales said that residents’ ambitions for the property don’t end with the necessary infrastructure projects. She said that people have dreams of finally growing grass and flowers on their property — not just cleaning it up, but beautifying it — and that in time they hope to create a park that they can all be proud of, one that no longer invites the cruel but common nickname “Dot-Ghetto.”

“That’s literally what they call it, and it was no one’s intention, ever, of getting to that point,” Morales said. “This is hope for everybody, because everyone thought that it wouldn’t get better, and now that we have the opportunity to buy it, this is everyone’s dream. Which is kind of crazy for 84 households to have the same goal: to fix it up, make it better, make it what we’ve always wanted to see.”

Maintaining affordable workforce housing

The call for reliable and affordable workforce housing in Eagle County grows with each passing year, and the Dotsero Mobile Home Park is providing exactly that for dozens of families who work throughout the valley.

Marlene Rios, 19, came to the park as a child with her mother and two younger sisters.

“My mom is a single mother, and this was the only place that she was able to come in and have enough money to start having a home for us,” Rios said. “We actually started in a really small trailer, and we worked until we were finally able to get a bigger one for our family.”

Today, Rios is a graduate of Eagle Valley High School, has been working at Alpine Bank through Eagle County’s CareerWise program for three years, and is currently pursuing a degree in psychology at Colorado Mountain College’s Vail Valley campus in Edwards. When she heard about the opportunity to buy the park, she stepped up to serve as treasurer of the Volcanic View Cooperative, because she has experienced first-hand how transformative it is to own your own home.

“We’ve all grown up here, and I’ve loved it,” Rios said. “I think we all love the peace of just knowing that you won’t have someone come and bother you, that it’s just your space right there. You can just be you, without worrying about who has to say something, who’s going to complain.”

If the Dotsero Mobile Home Park is sold to an outside buyer, the new landlord could raise rental rates at will or force the residents off the land entirely. If that happens, the entire community would be pushed into an already overcrowded housing market, with very few, if any, options that resemble the current prices that they pay for housing.

Last year, Eagle County installed a playground at the Dotsero Mobile Home Park for the children in the community. Residents hope to continue enhancing and beautifying the property if they are able to purchase it.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

“Everything is so expensive here and there’s really nowhere to go,” Gardea said. “I mean, there’s a wait list that’s so long — apartments, houses are expensive. It’d be really hard to go anywhere else.”

“It’s about $1,300 per room in Eagle County that you’re renting for,” Morales said. “Here, that money could go to our property. We can put the money back. With the loan we have to pay off, rent would only increase by a couple of hundred, instead of where if a new person comes in, it could go up thousands. It’s just worth a lot more to us than it would be to somebody else.”

The clock is ticking, and the board of the Volcanic View Cooperative is now turning to the greater Eagle County community to help support the process and get them to the bidding table before it’s too late.

“We can’t do it on our own, which is hard for some people to say, but we need help. Dotsero Trailer Park needs the help,” Morales said. “I think everyone is scared of what will happen if someone else does buy it, so we’re trying our hardest. If the community is willing to help us, we’re all willing to help other people, too.”

To donate to the Volcanic View Cooperative, search for the fundraiser titled “A better future for Dotsero’s community” on GoFundme.com. To connect with the board members and share contacts, resources or ideas, email volcanicviewcooperative@outlook.com.

Driving to the Front Range? Here’s what construction to expect on I-70

Work on Exit 205 has been delayed until Thursday. Multiple projects will happen across Interstate 70 this spring and summer.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

This week marks the first portion of the large-scale Frisco-to-Silverthorne project from the Colorado Department of Transportation. That work begins under Interstate 70 at Exit 205, but there are other projects that travelers should be aware of before planning trips along the corridor during the spring and summer.

Originally slated for Monday, April 11, work under the I-70 bridge was delayed because of winter weather expected for Tuesday and Wednesday. If winter weather continues through the rest of the week, it could be delayed further. For the most part, crews will work on this area at night, but there is a possibility for day work.

Elise Thatcher, regional communications manager for the northwest region of CDOT, said the department anticipates work starting on Thursday, April 14. For the project, left-turn lanes from the exit onto I-70 will be shortened. Even though there will primarily be night work, lanes will be shortened day and night. They will be returned to their original length by July 1, Thatcher said.

“Most work above on I-70 will be next season in 2023,” Thatcher said. “I-70 lane closures will also be limited to the CDOT lane closure strategy, which is nighttime work and generally 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. for eastbound I-70. There may be some impacts to traffic just due to the crane being visible. If there ends up being some day work on eastbound I-70, there must be two lanes open.”

Exact hours for night work depends on the location, Thatcher added. On the eastbound portion, hours of work are estimated to go from 7 p.m. until 9 a.m. Specifically for the work on Exit 205, hours are expected to be from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. after traffic volume decreases when ski season ends.

“All U.S. 6 and Colorado 9 lane closures will be picked up by 6 a.m., regardless of traffic volumes, to avoid impacting morning rush-hour traffic,” Thatcher wrote in an email.

Because of other work, drivers traveling between Denver and the Western Slope are going to see several of the department’s projects on the interstate. Grant Anderson, an engineer for CDOT, told the Silverthorne Town Council at its last work session that the department is aware of the back-to-back projects, and construction teams will communicate with the public if any cause traffic delays.

“(Some work is) going to butt up to this project on the east end,” Anderson said. “East of that, we’re going to finish up the structure replacement at the box turnaround. Everybody has seen that from last summer. For the public, really our problem and our challenge as a team is that this is going to look like one giant work zone. We’ll get complaints coming into one complaint line for unrelated projects, and we’re going to have to manage that.”

In addition to projects west of Summit County, like on Vail Pass, CDOT is looking to work on several projects east of the county.

Structure replacement west of Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels

Crews for this project are expected to return in April, as well. This project aims to replace a single-lane concrete box culvert, or drainage structure, which was built in the late 1960s during the original construction of I-70. Located 2.6 miles west of the tunnels, this project began last year. From May until September, two westbound and three eastbound lanes will be open, but there will be various lane closures.

“The project will first construct the remaining eastbound bridge, median guardrail and concrete barrier. Once bridge and median construction are complete, crews will repave and restripe I-70 through the project limits,” project information from CDOT reads.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to continue a project that will close at least one lane of Interstate 70 just west of Silverthorne.
Colorado Department of Transportation/Courtesy photo

CDOT will also complete a new underpass and reconstruction of approximately 1,900 feet of the access road under I-70.

“When work resumes in the spring, another primary focus will be finer detail work; namely erosion control measures, landscaping and aesthetic components,” the project information continues. “Much of this work is temperature dependent and needs to be completed during warmer temperatures.”

Speed limit signs between Empire and Idaho Springs

Starting in 2021, this project focused on installing electronic, variable speed limit signs along I-70. Using the LED display, the speed limit can be changed to best suit conditions on the highway as needed based on traffic speed and volume, weather conditions, road conditions and traffic incidents.

In 2022, drivers should expect to see the department begin to test the signs between Empire and Idaho Springs. Testing for these signs is expected to continue through the spring.

The Colorado Department of Transportation will test its variable speed limit signs between Empire and Idaho Springs during spring 2022.
Colorado Department of Transportation/Courtesy photo

Clear Creek Greenway path near Idaho Springs

Crews will construct a trail system that includes two project segments near I-70 between Idaho Springs and Dumont at mile markers 235 and 242. There are no expected I-70 lane closures for this project, but traffic control and flagging operations will be in effect to mobilize heavy machinery through Riverside Drive.

Jared Polis, Dylan Roberts say enough is enough on tourism marketing

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks about HB22-1117 Thursday at Miller Ranch in Edwards. The bill allows county lodging taxes to be used to help create affordable housing funds in Colorado.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Hotel guests in Colorado will no longer see 100 percent of the funds they pay into county lodging taxes used for marketing efforts telling them to return, thanks to a bill signed into law Thursday in Edwards.

Those marketing efforts aren’t as necessary if the tourism industry is facing larger problems servicing the guests who are already here, said Gov. Jared Polis, in a speech explaining why he feels the new bill is important.

“If the tourism community, and the industry, needs housing, because they need workers to be able to power the tourism industry, that should be an allowable use of funds too,” Polis said.

Students ask Gov. Jared Polis questions at My Future Pathways Thursday in Edwards.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Polis credited Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat who lives in Avon, for his work on the bill, saying Eagle County, where Roberts lives, is an example of a place where lodging tax funds would be better spent on housing than marketing.

“That’s exactly the situation we have in Eagle County,” Polis said. “Our recreation economy, our tourism economy, depends on housing.”

The new bill says 90 percent of the lodging tax funds can be used outside of toursim marketing, allowing counties to make capital expenditures out of their lodging tax coffers for housing and child care, or for facilitating and enhancing visitor experiences, which includes trail maintenance.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is briefed on the new site of the Residences at Main Vail by Michael O'Connor with Triumph Development Thursday in Vail. The site will be home to more than 70 deed-restricted units.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

A plus for public housing

In an effort to visit the types of projects that could benefit from the bill, Polis toured Miller Ranch in Edwards and the town-owned property in Vail known as the Residences at Main Vail, which is being converted from a preschool to a mix of 72 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

“Communities are healthiest when people who work in communities are also able to live in communities,” Polis said. “It also reduces traffic, takes cars off our roads, leads to cleaner air, and if people can live close to where they work, it also improves employee morale and retention.”

But that doesn’t mean downvalley housing isn’t important, as well. Polis said in the complicated layout of Eagle County, where numerous towns comprise a single workforce, the answer has to be yes to many of the questions on housing.

“It’s yes to transit oriented development downvalley,“ he said. ”And it’s yes to additional apartments where we can, for an increasingly year round workforce close to the town, as well.“

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis visits and speaks with students at My Future Pathways in Edwards on Thursday.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Serendipitous timing

Roberts said in examining the history of Colorado counties’ ability to lobby lodging taxes, it may have made more sense in the 1980s to stipulate that those lodging taxes be used strictly for the purposes of advertising and marketing local tourism.

“That was back in a time when Colorado wasn’t as much of a tourism hotspot as it is today, and I think it was seen as a way to try to promote Colorado, and generating resources to do that,” Roberts said. “But now, we live in a totally different world here in our mountain communities, where people are coming here in droves regardless of what sort of marketing is done elsewhere, and we’re feeling the consequences of it, with our housing crisis, with the cost of living being so high for people who want to live and work here.”

As Roberts was presenting the bill to the state legislature in January, crowded ski areas were receiving media attention across the country, with pictures of long lift lines and crowded roads and parking lots being shared in traditional and social media.

“It was pretty serendipitous timing,” Roberts said. “There was a lot of press across the state and the country about some of the impacts of sky-high visitors at any Vail resort across the country.”

Roberts said he referenced those current events in his presentation of the bill.

“At first, the hotel lobbying association and the statewide tourism groups were hesitant about this bill,” Roberts said. “But I was able to point to the fact that this was happening right now as we’re sitting here, my community and other communities across the state are grappling with the significant impacts of increased visitation in our communities.”

Roberts said in addition to receiving support from the tourism industry, the bill received bipartisan support in the legislature.

“We made compromises and got the bill to a place where nobody was opposed to this,” Roberts said. “This was a bipartisan bill from the very start.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis tours the new site at Residences at Main Vail Thursday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily Chris Dillmann

‘Year after year funding’

In Eagle County and Summit County, there is no county lodging tax currently. Roberts said Eagle County and Summit County officials were not likely to ask voters for one either, given the fact that funds would have needed to be used for tourism marketing.

“(Local county commissioners) don’t see it as a useful thing to ask voters for,” Roberts said.

With the signing of HB22-1117 on Thursday, “Now they can go to their voters and ask for a lodging tax to generate funding for housing.”

Roberts said in that idea comes some hope when it comes to the housing crisis resort communities are facing.

“We have a lot of one-time funds for housing, or we do one project, but this could be year after year funding for housing and workforce development,” he said.

— Nate Peterson contributed to this report

Time Machine: 60 years ago, Colorado Game and Fish purchased property that became Sylvan Lake State Park

The Colorado Game and Fish Department submitted the successful bid for the Otto Zurcher property on West Brush Creek in March 1962. The state offered to pay “slightly more than $41,000” for the property, which included what is now Sylvan Lake and the surrounding camping areas.
John Stroud

5 years ago

Week of March 23, 2017

The Eagle County Regional Airport received $9.6 million in grant funding, the final installment in a $30 million award from federal and state sources.

The Trump plane was parked at the county airport as a large contingent of Trump family members vacationed in Aspen.

Four fighters from Mean Street Boxing in Eagle were headed to the state Golden Gloves tournament in Denver. The operation opened in August 2016 at the old Eagle Community House on Second Street.

10 years ago

Week of March 23, 2012

High winds toppled three large pine trees located near the Brush Creek Pavilion at Eagle Ranch. The felled trees blocked the southbound lanes of Capitol Street. Jim Pringle of the National Weather Service Grand Junction office said wind gusts of 59 miles per hour were reported at the county airport.

The popular 9Health Fair, presented by the Eagle Lions Club, changed locations. The fair moved from its former site at Eagle Valley Middle School in Eagle to Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum.

Eagle County officials anxiously awaited news from Great Outdoors Colorado about spring grant awards. The county applied for $4.5 million to provide public easements along the Colorado River.

20 years ago

Week of March 21, 2002

Gypsum installed its first-ever traffic light at the corner of U.S. Highway 6 and Oak Ridge Drive.

The Eagle Valley High School Devils placed sixth at the state boys basketball tournament after losing to Weld Central.

Eagle Valley High School students Billy Rodriguez and Sean Wood were training for the Snowboard Nationals in California.

30 years ago

Week of March 26, 1992

The Eagle County Airport’s first international commercial flight, which originated from Mexico City, touched down at the facility.

Two-term Eagle County Commissioner Dick Gustafson announced he would challenge Democrat Ben Nighthorse Campbell for the 3rd Congressional District seat in Congress.

A 12-mile stretch of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon was slated to open to four lanes of traffic by October of 1992.

40 years ago

Week of March 25, 1982

Eagle Valley High School announced it was cutting its baseball program. The decision came after the high school dropped down from AA to A classification, and there were only two other league schools — Parachute and DeBeque — with baseball programs.

The Eagle Post Office received an odd request. A man in Poland asked for an Eagle Police Department patch to add to his collection. “We feel any correspondence with communist governments should go through the U.S. State Department, and not through the Eagle Police Department,” said Chief John Leake.

Steve Berta was hired as the new editor for the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

50 years ago

Week of March 23, 1972

After several delays, construction finally began on the new Eagle elementary school. “It is located on a high area directly east of Eagle, with a commanding view of the surrounding valley,” the Enterprise reported. The 21-acre site was purchased from Kaibab Industries for $40,000.

The Colorado Selective Service System announced it was combining the three offices located in Eagle, Meeker and Aspen into a single operation based in Glenwood Springs. At age 18, all young men were instructed to contact Russell Hubble at the Glenwood U.S. Post Office to register for the draft.

The Climax Molybdenum Co. announced it was cutting back its workforce. There were 1,780 mine workers employed at the site.

Eagle Valley High School staged the play “So This Is Paris.” Cast members included Kathy Chandler, Anna Marie Colby, Patty Baxter, Ann Knoonce, John Gamble and Barbie Black.

60 years ago

Week of March 22, 1962

The Colorado Game and Fish Department submitted the successful bid for the Otto Zurcher property on West Brush Creek. The state offered to pay “slightly more than $41,000” for the property, which included what is now Sylvan Lake and the surrounding camping areas.

Walter Woodward, described as “the local Conservation officer,” reported the total area deer harvest during the 1961 fall season reached 8,059 animals. That included 2,717 deer taken from the Brush Creek area and 2,060 animals from the Sweetwater area. He added that the total local elk harvest was 363 animals.

Two dogs died under suspicious circumstances, leaving some Eagle residents wondering if there was a dog poisoner at work in the community.

70 years ago

Week of March 20, 1952

“Vehicle registration cards must be carried in your vehicle at all times,” warned Colorado State Trooper Jim Seabry. He noted that road blocks would be set up in the near future to check registrations.

The annual all school carnival in Eagle planned “numerous new attractions to this year to make it more fun for the public, including the selection of a Carnival Queen,” the Enterprise reported. Bingo was traditionally the most popular activity at the event.

Two new books arrived at the Eagle Library — “My Cousin Rachel” and “Lives of Famous Composers.”

Three new inches of snow fell in Eagle to mark the first day of spring. The community ski tow was still in operation. “Conditions of the road the course may be learned each Sunday by inquiring at the Eagle Pharmacy,” the newspaper advised.

80 years ago

Week of March 19, 1942

Local officials were told to prepare for an Army training camp of 30,000 soldiers and 15,000 civilians at Pando.

Sixteen Eagle County men were drafted into military service. The U.S. Army also announced it was getting ready to open its officer training program to married men.

Eagle County High School took first place, besting Red Cliff, in the Eagle County basketball tournament.

A dance was planned in Avon — offering music by the Melody Rangers and supper served in the hall for the price of 25 cents.

Colorado Democrats, election officials are trying to prevent insider threats to election security

Lawmakers and lobbyists are seen at the Capitol on Jan. 12, 2022 in Denver at the start of Colorado’s General Assembly’s 2022 session.
Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun

People who tamper with voting equipment or publish confidential voting system information in Colorado could face felony charges punishable by up to three years in prison under a measure introduced Friday by Colorado Democrats and backed by state and local election officials.

Senate Bill 153 would also bar those convicted of certain offenses, including attempting to overthrow the government, from serving as an election official.

The legislation is a pointed response to the controversies surrounding Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who last week was indicted on 10 charges related to a security breach of her county’s election system.

Peters, a Republican who has cast baseless doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election, is alleged to have brought an unauthorized person to a sensitive Dominion Voting Systems election software update in May 2021, after which photographs of passwords taken during the update were posted online.

Read more via the Colorado Sun.

Ukrainians in Colorado rally in solidarity with their homeland

Vitali Tychshenko, center, joined more than 100 people gathered in support of Ukraine outside the Colorado Capitol building in Denver on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.
Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post

As Russian troops waged war on their homeland, Ukrainians living in Colorado came together in solidarity outside the state Capitol on Thursday and Gov. Jared Polis announced the state will work to ensure it’s not financially supporting the Kremlin in any way.

Scores of people waving Ukrainian flags and hoisting signs bearing slogans including “Putin! Hands off Ukraine!” and “Support Ukraine, save democracy in the world!” filled the Capitol’s front steps. Colorado is home to about 11,000 Ukrainians, the governor’s office said.

Oleksandra Chub, 27, moved to Denver from Ukraine three years ago for work. She slogged through a sleepless night as she contacted family and friends in Ukraine amid explosions from attacks launched by Russian troops.

“They’re safe right now, but I don’t know what can happen tomorrow,” Chub said. “I’m really afraid, and I can’t go home. This is not a conflict. This is a full-scale war.”

Gov. Jared Polis announced new state actions Thursday in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging Congress to suspend the federal gas tax and “double down on a rapid clean energy transition to ensure that our energy future cannot be tied to geopolitical conflicts and global commodities,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

“Colorado will not stand for this attack on freedom and democracy,” Polis said in a statement. “Our country must make Putin pay and continue to use our economic power to push back on Russia’s aggressive invasion of Ukraine.”

Read more via The Denver Post.

Garfield County woman worried about family back home in Ukraine

In western Garfield County, Anastasia Brinkerhoff said the midweek snowstorm kept her from traveling to Denver to be part of the vigil on Capitol Hill.

Brinkerhoff, 35, came to Denver from the Ukraine about 10 years ago and got married. She now lives with her husband in Parachute.

On Thursday, she had been in contact with two of her aunts and several cousins who are in different parts of the country. Two of her cousins are in the Ukrainian Army.

“Since 3 in the morning I have not been sleeping,” said Brinkerhoff, who was born in the former Soviet Union and grew up in the city of Poltava, about 227 miles east of the capital city of Kyiv.

“We’re optimistic. They say the (Ukrainian military) is strong, but that there are too many of them (Russian troops),” she said.

Brinkerhoff is in the fashion design business, and now works remotely. She said she would typically travel to the Ukraine once a year with friends and to visit family. She’s part of a Facebook group called Ukrainians of Colorado, a network of mostly Denver-area Ukrainian immigrants.

“It’s very sad, and so stressful right now because we can’t do anything from here,” she said, adding she also worried that some in the Ukraine were not taking the situation seriously enough.

“I said to be prepared that this would happen, but some said they would go to vacation,” Brinkerhoff said. “I think it’s a big mistake to move out and leave your house, because it’s dangerous. I hope the U.S. and NATO can help.”

— John Stroud, Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Indy Pass reveals Sunlight as newest resort addition

A pair of skiers make turns down a run at Sunlight Mountain on a chilly Friday afternoon in February of 2022.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Alice “The Alligator” McKennis, of Minturn, was thrilled to hear that the place she grew up skiing is also the formerly unnamed ski area that joined the Indy Pass this month.

In early February, the Indy Pass announced that the 81-ski area co-op had signed its first Colorado resort, but it held off on releasing the name to the public.

McKennis, on Friday, learned that Sunlight Mountain in Glenwood Springs was the mystery ski area.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “How fun would it be to go on a trip and check out all these resorts?”

Alice McKennis goes airborne during a training session for the women's World Cup downhill in Cortina d'Ampezzo, northern Italy on Jan. 17, 2018.
Domenico Stinellis/AP

It’s quite an endorsement from someone who has visited many of the best resorts on the planet while traveling for a decade on the World Cup circuit.

McKennis is best known for winning the St. Anton World Cup downhill in Austria in 2013, but competed on the World Cup circuit from 2011 to 2020 and finished fifth at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics after also notching a World Cup downhill podium that season.

“I think these resorts like Sunlight are places that should be treasured,” she said. “They’re staying true to the roots of skiing, and they’re standing their own ground, which I think is incredible.”

A view of Sunlight Mountain Resort in February 2022.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

This season and next

The addition of Sunlight is effective for the remainder of the 2021-22 season for those who have already purchased their Indy Pass, and it will apply during the 2022-23 season as well.

Indy Pass founder Doug Fish said signing Sunlight is a huge win for Indy Pass holders.

“Colorado is North America’s ground zero for skiing and snowboarding, and now we have access to one of the most cherished indie mountains remaining in that great state,” Fish said.

The Indy Pass works like a co-op, with the small businesses sharing the profits.

“We take 85% of all the pass revenue, and we pay it out based on redemptions,” Fish said. “It’s really a marketing program. It’s designed to introduce people to new resorts that they probably haven’t been to, and it’s designed to give a collective voice of the oft-forgotten and overlooked little guys.”

The pass doesn’t allow unlimited access, giving guests only two days at each ski area, but it now has 82 ski areas to choose from with the addition of Sunlight.

Troy Hawks with Sunlight said the staff is excited for Indy Pass skiers and snowboarders to “enjoy a two-day taste test” of the lesser known ski area in the White River National Forest, in operation since 1966.

“We’re confident they will enjoy spreading out on our 730 acres served up the old school Rocky Mountain way,” Hawks said.

The Western Winter Games for Special Olympics Colorado was hosted by Sunlight Mountain on Friday and Saturday.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Alligator Alleys

McKennis now works for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, where she coaches young ski racers.

On Feb. 26-27, McKennis’ schedule is highlighted by the race she says she’s most excited for this season, the Sunlight Mountain event.

Sunlight recently named a section of runs after McKennis, but she has yet to ski them due to injury and the pandemic-restricted ski racing schedules of recent years.

She said she can’t wait to show her athletes “Alligator Alleys,” a steep section of double black diamond runs that now use a namesake “The Alligator” McKennis has enjoyed since her days of skiing Sunlight as a child.

Sunlight Mountain’s trail map. Alligator Alleys is named after Alice McKennis, who competed on the World Cup circuit for 10 years as a ski racer and went by the nickname “The Alligator.”
Courtesy image

McKennis said she attributes much of her skills in downhill to learning at Sunlight, which contains 2,010 vertical feet on 730 acres of skiable terrain. The mountain boasts one of Colorado’s steepest lift-served runs, The Heathen, which has a 52 degree pitch. It’s also known for having access to a wide variety of different terrain options.

“I think skiing that type of challenging terrain – trees, huge moguls, and then the fun and fast groomers, I really think that’s one of the things that helped develop me as a skier and especially a young skier, to be thrown into an environment where you had to adapt to all different types of terrain,” McKennis said. “It’s a great mountain to explore by yourself as a young kid because you know all trails lead to the same spot, and I think that was really amazing as a kid, knowing I could go on my own, go take runs by myself, and my dad and my sister trusted that I could make it back to the chairlift.”

Stronger together: How Eagle County’s health care workers rose to the challenge of COVID-19

Vail Health nurse Nicole Campbell administers a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Jordon Nicholson of Conifer Wednesday at the Vail Hospital.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

In the thick of the pandemic, in a year that refused to let up, Caitlyn Gnam started running.

An infection preventionist at Vail Health Hospital, Gnam prefers more daring outdoor pursuits: whitewater kayaking, dirt biking, and tearing down the mountain on her skis. But with her professional life bleeding into every aspect of her personal life, Gnam needed a release valve. As the 14-hour days at the hospital stacked up, and the toll of the pandemic weighed on her, she found herself being pulled outdoors for what she jokingly referred to as “jogging on purpose.”

Caitlyn Gnam said she was always able to leave her work at the hospital. That changed with the arrival of COVID-19.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Running from something? Towards something? Gnam isn’t so sure, but whatever it was, she absolutely needed it.

“I used to be able to leave thinking about infectious disease and masking and hand washing at work,” she said. “And I would go home and go in public and nobody cares about that kind of thing. But now the whole planet is thinking about your work. So it’s harder to escape in that sense.”

Before COVID-19 took over her life, pandemic preparedness was a sidebar in Gnam’s role at Vail Health. It was the “oh, just in case” aspect of a job focused on keeping infections out of the hospital. Name any type of infection — staph, urinary tract, seasonal flu, SARS — and you can be sure that Gnam has, at some point, obsessed over it.

But in early 2020, that “oh just in case” scenario of a global pandemic quickly consumed every waking minute of her life. Protocols and rigorous training are essential to a job that requires constant vigilance, but Gnam said she could always compartmentalize her work. That changed when a mysterious, airborne virus that originated halfway around the world quickly found its way into every corner of humanity, including Eagle County.

The valley’s two largest health care providers, Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical, braced for the arrival of COVID-19 by stockpiling personal protective equipment before supply chains were overwhelmed and launching a system-wide high-level task force to solve logistical challenges as they arose. But when case numbers exploded locally in early March, there was no training to emotionally prepare for the reality of a novel virus that was highly contagious and deadly.

“We see all kinds of infectious disease where we need to take precautions all the time,” Gnam said. “But for something to spread that quickly, we knew that it was something different and that we would be kind of off and running from that point.”

They haven’t slowed down since.

Uncharted waters

Antarctica. That’s where Dr. Brooks Bock was in late January when he first heard about COVID-19. Earth’s least inhabited continent was arguably the safest place on the planet with a global pandemic on the march.

Bock, the CEO of Colorado Mountain Medical, was traveling with his wife on a National Geographic ship to see penguins up close. He first read about the virus that originated from Wuhan, China, in a daily newsletter that rounded up global headlines.

By the time he returned to the Vail Valley in February, he found himself on a voyage unlike any other he’d ever taken in a medical career spanning more than five decades. Over the course of 75 or so days, Bock and Chris Lindley, Vail Health’s chief population health officer, worked out of a command center at the hospital managing the organization-wide response to the pandemic.

What started as a smaller team of high-level managers quickly grew to include as many as 24 different staffers from an array of departments over the months of February, March and April as the first wave of the virus shut down the valley and the state.

The objectives? Keeping the local health care system from buckling under the strain of the virus and protecting health care workers and the community at large.

Vail Health Safety Manager Kimberly Flynn and Vail Health Population Health Director Chris Lindley are joined by Airman First Class Samuel Weber of the Colorado National Guard in receiving the first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Vail Health in early December.
Ben Gadberry/Vail Health

For each member of the team, especially the two men heading up the collaborative effort, the experience was challenging, exhilarating and emotionally draining.

“We got to be good friends,” Bock said. “I have a tremendous respect for him and I enjoyed working with him.”

The challenge of slowing the virus put all of Lindley’s education and experience to the test. A former unit commander and environmental science officer of preventive medicine in the 793rd Medical Detachment of the United States Army Medical Reserves, Lindley served in Iraq and received a Bronze Star for saving multiple lives during a suicide bomber attack. He holds master’s degrees in public health, epidemiology and business administration.

His first job after getting his master’s in epidemiology was working with bioterrorism preparedness for Denver Health Medical Center.

“It was the first in the country training for pandemic influenza or large scale biological warfare attack,” he said. “These things, I’ve been thinking about them my whole career.”

If Lindley had been prepping for a global pandemic for years, Bock represented the opposite end of the spectrum.

The challenge of slowing the virus put all of Lindley’s education and experience to the test. “I think that finger pointing this year has started to decrease and go away,” he said. “And our challenge is, how do we stay in this community collaborative effort going forward?
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

“I certainly never planned to live in a pandemic,” he said. “And hopefully there won’t be another during the rest of my lifetime.”

Working together on the same problems, with the same goals in mind, often times with different approaches, brought the two together — and the two organizations they represented. Colorado Mountain Medical’s merger with Vail Health in July 2019 had, on paper, already created a valley-wide health care network — but Lindley, Bock and Vail Health CEO Will Cook insist that it took a pandemic, of all things, to truly make the two providers inseparable.

“There were lots of moments of concern and doubt,” Bock said. “The amazing thing was that everyone was very supportive. Everyone was very collaborative. There was no one who was trying to run the show. It was a group effort to figure out what we needed to do.”

Each day brought new challenges, and with those challenges came spirited debates, brainstorming sessions and swift innovation.

How to ramp up testing and keep the virus out of the hospital and clinics? Create the state’s first drive-thru testing facility, in Gypsum, and install a testing trailer at the hospital in Vail — both of which were in place by March 7. Also, create a system of “clean clinic” safety protocols to ensure the safety of patients and staff as clinics eventually began seeing patients again for well visits.

How to reach the valley’s Spanish-speaking communities? Partner with the MIRA Bus to begin offering free testing.

Yazmin Almanza with Vail Health tests a patient for COVID-19 Friday at the Dotsero Mobile Home Park in Dotsero. The Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance (MIRA) bus through Vail health provides free COVID-19 screenings in select neighborhoods where transportation is an issue.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

How to solve the riddle of a lack of available tests and delayed results from outside labs? Work to develop an in-house test that could be turned around quickly.

How to counter the slow-rolling behavioral health crisis that was engulfing the valley as residents struggled with isolation, joblessness, food and financial insecurity, and the stress of kids learning remote? Provide telehealth training for all behavioral health providers, hire 40 new behavioral health specialists and roll out a community-wide scholarship fund to provide those in need who are struggling financially with free access to services.

“We learned a lot about what it means to be resilient, and I think even before COVID, we were already dealing with a lot of those problems,” Cook said.

He described the response to COVID among his staff like any response to a traumatic event: First there was denial, then a sense of sorrow and being overwhelmed.

“I think that actually the initial phases bonded us together and really helped us respond the way that we did,” he said. “What I’ve liked the most, is, you know, Chris and Dr. Bock and even Amanda Amanda Veit, our COO, and so many others, were spending countless hours in that command center. But they were collaborating, making decisions, moving quickly and avoiding that bureaucratic sort of hierarchy that can sometimes make people feel like I’m not going to even bother to make this decision because I’m going to have to go through three channels above me.”

Bock said he enjoyed becoming a bit of a local celebrity by filming a number of informational videos with Lindley and others early on in the pandemic that helped soothe some of the fears of the community.

“We would call each other the day before and say, ‘OK, let’s make a video on this. Or let’s make a video on that,’” he said. “It was the topic of the moment that we were trying to educate the community on, and they were effective, remarkably effective. I can’t tell you how many people I would see when I was out and about at the grocery store, or wherever I ventured to, not often, but whenever I ventured out for the needs that I had, people would comment on how much they appreciated that and the personal touch that it brought to their lives and the assurances that they received from them.”

Added Lindley: “You always kind of look at the big health care systems, the big hospitals with all they can do,” he said. “Many of them have great resources, very talented people, great financial capability. But I got to see firsthand what this health care system is for this community and what it can do. And without question, I’m 100 percent certain the Vail Health system has done more in this community than any health care system I’ve heard about or ever dreamed about.”

‘This test sucks’

Mark Joffrion parachuted into a crisis. He started his job as the director of Vail Health’s laboratory in March, smack in the middle of the first wave of COVID-19 cases in the valley.

A soft-spoken Southerner who came to the Colorado after stints in labs all across the country, working in Louisiana, Indiana, Texas, Alaska, Oregon, California, Florida and North Carolina, Joffrion described his first weeks and months in his new role as an “everyday scramble” to find solutions to problems that were largely out of his control.

How could the lab get more tests? How could it avoid the growing backlogs for results from state and private labs?

“There was just that need to get results out immediately,” Joffrion said. “We kind of had our hands tied with the testing available and the turnaround times that we were dealing with.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Joffrion and Vail Health officials targeted in-house testing as a solution to both of those problems. Developing a test that worked, however, and being able to turn it around quickly to deliver results in a 24-hour period was a challenge that pushed every tech working in the lab to the brink over the summer and into the fall. As Joffrion and his staff worked tirelessly to find a reliable test, not to mention a manufacturer that could supply it, they coped with the stress that came from repeated phone calls looking for results that too often weren’t available.

Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine wait to be filled into syringes Wednesday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

The waiting was excruciating.

“It’s tough when we’re not the owners of that answer,” he said. “You know, we know when the results come back to us, but we had no control over when it came. And we were dealing with sometimes two, sometimes three different laboratories to get these results out or get them back to us.”

The lab received a test it could perform internally in April, but the supply was extremely limited, creating the need to horde the tests for the most symptomatic patients. Tests for asymptomatic patients were still being sent to an outside reference lab, with turnaround times taking as long as 10 days.

In May, the lab picked up another test it could perform internally, but again, the volume was extremely limited. Joffrion said he checked the FDA website every day to see which tests had been approved for emergency use and if his team could actually run them in the lab.

By October, he finally found a test that looked like it was doable, and would supply the large testing volume that his team needed to drastically reduce turnaround times.

Stress levels reached a peak, however, in the final weeks of October as techs worked their way through the delicate process of making sure the test actually worked. Joffrion said at one point, in a moment of frustration, one of his techs walked up to him in the lab and pronounced, “This test sucks.”

“But she came and we talked about it and I go back there and she’s just running them like a true professional,” he said, smiling. “She said what she wanted to say, but she got back there and she was running, you know, 60, 80, 100 of these tests at once and just doing an amazing job. That just speaks to the quality of individuals here in this laboratory. They were pushed to that limit, but they knew what we wanted, what our goal was.”

By November, with the test dialed, the lab was finally able to complete all testing in-house, and started receiving samples from collection sites in Summit County and Vail, as well as the Aspen area, becoming a regional testing center.

In November, the lab performed a total of 4,061 COVID tests, compared to just 835 in October and a little more than 200 in September. The lab has since performed more than 20,000 tests since November, often turning over a result in 10 hours or less.

“There were some days it was really doubtful if we could do it, but these are true professionals just stepping up to incredible levels to do what they did,” Joffrion said. “What’s happened in this laboratory is really amazing.”

Coming full circle

Julie Scales is uncomfortable with people making a big deal about her story. During the past 13 months, so many people have gotten sick, she said. So many have died.

Julie Scales, a respiratory therapist at Vail Health, spent seven days on a respirator in a Denver-area hospital after catching COVID-19 in March, 2020. She returned to work a few months later and was the first Eagle County resident to receive a shot of vaccine in early December.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

There have been 22 Eagle County locals who have succumbed to the virus and more than half a million Americans. But talking to Scales’ coworkers at Vail Health, where she works as a lead respiratory therapist, her recovery from the virus is the narrative that often emerges when they talk about the turning points in the pandemic.

March 14, 2020, is the day when COVID-19 became jarringly personal to them. It’s the same day that the local ski resorts shut down and the hospital saw its highest number of patients admitted. One of those admitted was Scales, whose work often brought her into the emergency department.

“It came home pretty hard,” said Ken Stephen, the charge nurse in Vail Health’s emergency department who oversees the intake of patients.

Earlier that week, Scales had been convinced she had a sinus infection. She had a pounding headache but no respiratory symptoms. Working in a hospital, over the course of a winter, everyone deals with colds and gets run down, and Scales just pushed on with her work. But by Saturday, she was experiencing respiratory symptoms and was admitted to the hospital. A day later, March 15, with her condition worsening, she was transported to the Medical Center of Aurora.

Stephen said seeing Scales being prepped for that ambulance ride down to the Front Range was similar to watching a patient go into the operating room for the last time for organ donation. Scales’ coworkers were legitimately frightened that it would be the last time they’d ever see her.

“It was really, really hard. Of all my ER staff, all of us that worked in the ER the whole time, none of us got COVID that we know of,” he said. “She’s the only one that worked in the ER intermittently, and after she got it, it was like, ‘OK, people, let’s make sure we buddy up.’ We were very, very careful with each other. We protected each other, we had each other’s back and made sure nobody was put at risk if somebody was really sick. We do not rush into that room.”

“It was definitely very scary,” Scales said. “I’m a respiratory therapist. I’ve intubated people on ventilators my whole career, and knowing that that’s where I was headed, I was very scared when I was headed down to Denver.”

Scales spent 10 days in the Aurora hospital, seven of them on a ventilator. She doesn’t remember much. Her daughter, 34, was with her.

“I had my phone, but I didn’t have a charger, so my phone would die,” she said. “My friend told me that I just texted her, and I just said, ‘I’m just going to try and live, OK?’”

After coming off the ventilator, Scales pleaded with doctors to discharge her. She returned home with the help of supplemental oxygen. From the beginning, she was determined to return to work. It took her nearly two months to get back on the job, and it was slow going at first.

“It was very emotional, and still is at times to take care of COVID patients,” she said. “My first ventilator patient that I took care of when I came back was super-emotional. I held it together in the patient’s room. But I had to take the tube out and it was very dramatic.”

Equally dramatic: the scene of Scales being the first Eagle County resident to receive a shot of vaccine on Dec. 16, 2020. That’s when many of Scales’ coworkers said they could finally see the fog start to lift.

Since recovering, Scales has climbed a 14er and marked the one-year anniversary of when she was admitted as a patient by going skiing with some of her coworkers. Gnam was among those who were excited to get out on the hill with her.

Ken Stephen, the charge nurse in Vail Health’s emergency department. He said hospital workers “saw things that would terrify most people every day without batting an eyelid.”
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

“I just made a comment to my daughter that I would like to ski down the hill instead of go down the hill in an ambulance on the 15th,” said Scales, who spent more than three decades working in hospitals in her home state of Indiana before moving to Colorado a few years ago to be closer to her daughter. “I feel really humbled by everything and I feel bad for the people that didn’t make it because when I was sick, we had a lot of people in the valley that were sick.”

Getting to the other side

How does this story end? Vail Health CEO Will Cook isn’t so sure.

Too often, the COVID-19 pandemic has been referred to as a race. A race to save lives. A race to develop effective vaccines. A race to get back to normal.

Cook said Eagle County, as a whole, has run that race better than most places around the country and the state. The collaboration between the valley’s health care providers, local governments and the community at large has been at the center of that.

The county never plunged into the Level Red restrictions that were a crushing blow to neighboring counties. Shools have managed to remain open for the current academic year while other districts around the state struggled to open and stay open.

The pandemic forced innovation, collaboration and created an opportunity for leaders to emerge, Cook said. But that success story doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the national tragedy of a pandemic that is still killing as many as 1,000 Americans a day, and has claimed more than 500,000 American lives, continues to overshadow the local narrative.

“I’m still waiting for the impact of this to my management team,” Cook said. “In some of the front-line staff, we’re worried now about what we refer to as hero syndrome, which is that you get so caught up in being on the front lines of dealing with this and being in there for vaccinations where people are emotionally elated and overwhelmed and excited and happy. How do you go back to being the H.R. assistant after that? It’s understandable, though. I don’t think we’ve even seen the end of the impact of this.”

Residents give thumbs up while waiting in line at a vaccine clinic at Vail Health. The county is rapidly approaching 30,000 total dose of vaccine being distributed.
Special to the Daily

Lindley, an eternal optimist, said the last year has flown by for him, and that in a time where charged national debates over the virus, masking, and reopening created deeper fractures in American society, he has been inspired by the community spirit that has carried the day here.

“I think that finger pointing this year has started to decrease and go away,” he said. “And our challenge is, how do we stay in this community collaborative effort going forward? Because we’re going to have other challenges right now. We have a lot of things we have to address. But if we can do it in this response mode I think we’re all in, it’s unbelievable.”

Stephen said hospital workers “saw things that would terrify most people every day without batting an eyelid.”

Making it to the other side of the pandemic, with the county rapidly approaching 30,000 total doses of vaccine distributed, is the light at the end of a tunnel in a trying year.

“They showed up for work and got it done,” Stephen said. “They’re team players, the best team in the land. You could have called in sick. You could have asked not to do it. But not a single one of them did that. We rose to the challenge. We were resilient and we stayed here for the community and took care of them.”