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Younger runners get their chance to shine on sunny day at the Glenwood Invitational

With the Glenwood Springs Golf Course serving as host on Thursday morning, distance runners from Basalt, Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Coal Ridge and Glenwood lined up to test their fitness on the 9-hole layout that is aptly nicknamed “The Hill.”

The 3.1-mile course, which has also served for many years as the Thanksgiving Turkey Day 5K course, is run almost entirely on up and down grassy fairways. That gives runners the opportunity to showcase climbing skills, as well as their ability to gain time while cruising the downhill sections.

A recent change in area meet schedules presented an opportunity to enter some of the top runners in a meet at Grand Junction’s Connected Lakes State Park this Saturday.

So, it was predominantly junior varsity runners who were on display Thursday morning under bright sunshine and perfect running conditions.

“The opportunity to run in Grand Junction on one of the fastest courses around just came up in the last 10 days or so,” Glenwood assistant coach Blake Risner said. “It was an opportunity that was too good to pass up for our varsity runners.”

In the girls’ race Thursday, Glenwood junior Maria Carlson made the most of her opportunity to shine, winning in a time of 23 minutes, 37 seconds. Basalt’s Avery Smith was second in 23:59, and Elle MacPherson of Glenwood rounded out the top three by finishing in 24:18.

The Glenwood girls won the team competition with 22 points, followed by Basalt with 34 points and Coal Ridge at 85 points. CRMS did not have enough runners to qualify for a team score.

The boys’ race saw Basalt’s Ross Barlow, a student at Roaring Fork High School, cross the line first in 19:07. He was followed by CRMS runner Bryn Peterson in second (19:10) and Basalt’s Talon Carballeira, also a Roaring Fork student, in third (19:12). Basalt also won the team competition with 20 points, over Glenwood’s 37.

Glenwood head coach Justin Baum was happy with the experience his team gained at the home meet and the strong showing they put forth.

“I love that we got the opportunity for the JV’s to run on a tough course like this one. The results today show how deep we are as a team this year,” Baum said.

Aspen Skiing Co. announces pricing for local 2020-21 passes, will offer new weekday-only pass

A new weekday pass as well as a $320 increase in price for the Premier Pass await local skiers as the Aspen Skiing Co. announced Thursday options and prices for locals who use the chamber of commerce discount.

In an effort to spread out the crowds and get the locals to the weekdays and the visitors to the weekend, Skico is rolling out two new passes.

The new Valley Weekday Pass is for skiing and riding Monday-Friday and is $899 currently then $999 after Nov. 13. Skico is also introducing a Valley 7-Pack for seven days during the season and it is $399 then $449.

The Premier Pass with the discount, which comes through membership in the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, will be $1,799 if bought before Nov. 13 and $2,099 after. Last season, the pass was $1,479. The Premier Pass this season again will include the Ikon Base Pass, which is offered by its sister company Alterra Mountain Co.

“Our passes and pricing this season are designed to spread people out and enable capacity controls should the pandemic require them,” Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said in a letter posted on the company’s web. “An unlimited Premier Pass is a great anytime-access pass, but it’s problematic in a COVID-19 constrained world. So, it’s going to be more expensive than in years past, and if infection rates rise, requiring our community to increase social distancing, we will implement a reservation system and reduce the number of people on the hill per day.”

Both of the new Valley passes have blackout dates from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 and then Feb. 13-14.

To account for possible shutdowns because of the pandemic, Skico has set up a new refund policy.

“If we are shut down due to COVID-19 for 10 or more days of the season, we will issue refunds, prorated for each day we are fully shut down compared to our published season dates, for all Aspen Snowmass passes, except the Valley 7-Pack and Classic Pass,” according to the refund policy. 

It also states if the Skico goes to a reservation system, refunds will not be issued.

For those who had a pass last season, Skico has issued all 2019-20 passholders credit to apply toward 2020-21 purchases, it states on the website. Pass holders need to go to their account to view their credit amount, which is “valid on all pass, lift ticket, activity, rental and lesson purchases through April 30, 2021.”

Skico is also thanking the teachers and some frontline workers who worked during the start of the pandemic and offering free seven-day valley pass.

“It has been inspiring to see our Valley come together over the last six months, and we owe a huge debt to our essential workers who keep our community going,” Kaplan wrote. “We’re providing a complimentary Valley 7-Pack to all Roaring Fork Valley teachers. In addition, working with local hospitals and grocery stores, we will be providing the same to select employees who were on the frontlines throughout the pandemic.”

Chamber of commerce discounts extend to Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Employees of companies that are member of the local chambers are eligible for the discounted ski passes with Skico.

Pitkin County public health officials said last week they have been working collaboratively with Aspen Skiing Co. to come up with a winter plan that allows for skiing while also tempering the spread of COVID-19.

“We have a couple of different groups that have been meeting (with Skico),” said Public Health Director Karen Koenemann after announcing the partnership at the Sept. 17 county Board of Health meeting.

Leadership, including Koenemann and County Manager Jon Peacock, has been meeting with Skico leaders, while operations crews also met to hammer out details on a winter plan for the last month to six weeks, Peacock said Thursday.

The company announced in May that it would give credits of as much as $250 for the coming season in acknowledgement that last season was cut short. The ski season ended abruptly March 15 when Colorado Gov. Jared Polis ordered all ski areas closed because of the quickly spreading coronavirus. People who purchased a 2019-20 Premier Pass without the chamber of commerce discount will receive the $250 credit.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Reservoir-release pilot project in Colorado begins this week to test possible compact call

Beginning Wednesday, Front Range water providers will release water stored in Homestake Reservoir in an effort to test how they could get water downstream to the state line in the event of a Colorado River Compact call. 

Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Board of Water Works will each release 600 acre-feet from Homestake Reservoir, which is near the town Red Cliff, for a total of 1,800 acre-feet that will flow down Homestake Creek to the Eagle River and the Colorado River. 

The release, scheduled to take place Wednesday through Sept. 30, will produce additional flows ramping up to 175 cubic feet per second. 

That amount of water represents less than 0.3% of current systemwide storage for Colorado Springs Utilities and less than 0.4% of Aurora’s storage, according to a news release from Aurora Water.

The Front Range Water Council, an informal group made up of representatives from Front Range urban water providers and chaired by Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead, approached the state engineer about running the experiment. 

“The Front Range Water Council is, of course, concerned about what’s going on on the Colorado River in terms of climate change and the flows and compact compliance issues,” said Alexandra Davis, deputy director for water resources at Aurora Water. “We thought it would be helpful to do a pilot project to test some of those authorities and administration capabilities with the state engineer.”

The utilities are releasing water downstream that would have otherwise been sent to the Front Range in a water-collection system known as a transmountain diversion.

Compact-call scenario

A compact call could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada), as required by a nearly century-old binding agreement. This could trigger an interstate legal quagmire, a scenario that water managers desperately want to avoid. 

A compact-call scenario could be especially problematic for Front Range water providers since most of their rights that let them divert water over the Continental Divide from the Western Slope date to after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Many Western Slope consumptive water rights date to before the compact, so they are exempt from involuntary cutbacks under a compact call. That means those cutback obligations could fall more heavily on the post-compact water rights of Front Range water providers. 

The goal of the pilot project is to see how the water could be shepherded downstream to the state line. Division of Water Resources engineers will have to make sure senior water rights holders don’t divert the extra water. Water commissioners are visiting dozens of irrigation headgates on the Eagle River to ensure this doesn’t happen, said Division 5 engineer Alan Martellaro. 

“We will see how much work and time and pre-planning it is going to take to make sure these ditches don’t pick up the water,” he said. 

But even with shepherding, it’s unlikely the entire 1,800 acre-feet will make it to the state line because of this year’s dry conditions. Water managers expect to see transit losses in the form of evaporation and thirsty riparian vegetation along the riverbanks sucking up the water. That’s OK because this year’s dry conditions could mimic the conditions that water managers would expect to see in a year with a compact call.

“Not coincidentally, if there’s a need to do this for compact administration in the future years, it’s probably going to be under dry conditions,” said Colorado State Engineer Kevin Rein.

Figuring out how much water actually makes it to Utah is one of the main questions this experiment will try to answer.

“That’s the perfect question to give validity to this pilot,” Rein said. “We will have a better answer for you on that after the pilot is done.”

Water managers will be closely monitoring stream gauges to track the release as it flows downstream. Martellaro estimates it will take the water about four days to get from the headwaters of Homestake Creek to the state line west of Grand Junction. 

The release will be a big boost for streamflows in Homestake Creek and the Eagle River, which was running at 15 cfs near Red Cliff on Tuesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge. The Colorado River near Glenwood will rise from Tuesday’s reading of 1,920 cfs.

The release will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday with an additional 25 cfs coming out of Homestake Dam and slowly ramp up to 175 cfs, reaching that level by Wednesday afternoon. It will stay there until Monday morning, then ramp down slowly over the final two days to keep fish from being stranded in side pools, Martellaro said. According to Greg Baker of Aurora Water Public Relations, streamflows will still be below spring runoff levels and there’s no concern about flooding.

Demand-management implications

The reservoir release also could have implications for a potential demand-management program, the feasibility of which the state is currently investigating. At the heart of a demand-management program is a reduction in water use on a temporary, voluntary and compensated basis in an effort to send as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster water levels in the giant reservoir and, indirectly, to meet Colorado River Compact obligations. 

Under such a program, agricultural operators could get paid to leave more water in the river, but the program stirs fears of Front Range water providers throwing money at the problem without having to reduce their own consumption, while Western Slope fields are fallowed.

Responding to those concerns, Denver Water’s Lochhead has said his agency would participate in a demand-management program by using “wet water.”

This week’s Homestake release is an example of how Front Range water providers could send water stored in Western Slope reservoirs downstream under a demand-management program.

“What we are trying to do is help the state engineer gather options and thinks through how these might operate in practice, which might be helpful to the state of Colorado,” said Pat Wells, general manager for water resources and demand management at Colorado Springs Utilities. 

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org. 

Tree planting project south of Rifle grows sense of community

Thanks to 18 people, 100 more blue spruce trees are now growing south of Rifle.

The restoration project was the first for Defiende Nuestra Tierra, a program of Wilderness Workshop, which is based in Carbondale.

Defiende was organized two years ago “to tap into the influential voice of the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Latinx communities and partner with those communities to steward and protect our public lands,” according to the Wilderness Workshop website.

Until now, the group has focused on hikes to get people out onto public lands. Response from participants even prompted Wilderness Workshop to start its first winter hikes.

“We hosted a series of listening sessions to really help us understand what [the Latino] community was looking for … and that led to offering some of the outings in the winter, which we really hadn’t done,” Will Roush, Wilderness Workshop executive director, said.

Project participation was somewhat limited due to COVID, but the virus didn’t have too much impact on this event.

“For the restoration projects, we’ve been able to manage still having fairly decent-sized groups by splitting people up into different smaller groups to do the work. … You don’t want to be close to people anyway when you’re swinging Pulaskis or pulling barbed wire. You’re already social distancing when you’re doing a lot of the restoration work,” Roush said.

Beatriz Soto, Defiende director, said the organization’s events are getting popular, and little outreach beyond social media was needed. 

“It got filled up as soon as I announced it on our social media. I had to close the registration and say no to a lot of people,” she said.

As it turned out, there were 13 volunteers, she said, along with two Wilderness Workshop staff and three Forest Service employees planting seedlings on a decommissioned portion of Forest Road 317 along Beaver Creek south of Rifle.

Soto said projects like this attract a different demographic than other outdoor events.

“With Defiende events we end up serving more families,” she said.

Olivia Deihs, restoration and stewardship coordinator for Wilderness Workshop, attended the event and said the volunteers comprised a family of four, a family of three and six couples.

Omar Sarabia attended the restoration project with his wife and two children.

“I just want to contribute to the environment of my community … and it’s a good getaway to be in nature with my family as an activity. It was a beautiful experience,” he said.

The volunteers were excited about the project, Deihs said.

“It was heartwarming to see them so excited to plant seedlings that will grow into trees. … The kids were excited and into it, and there was a lot of connecting as a community,” Deihs said.

“For my 9-year-old it was a new experience. … He was excited about it. We really had a good time as a family,” Sarabia said.

Defiende offers hikes year-round, but this project comes at a special time.

“This project is part of our month-long celebration of Latino Heritage Month,” Soto said.

While Defiende’s focus is engaging the Latino community, its events attract a mix of attendees.

“Our groups are pretty diverse. … It’s so great to see diverse people come together to enjoy our public lands. We always have a good mix. I’d say half the participants are Latino and half are not,” Soto said.

An indication that Defiende is doing something right was the interest among volunteers to participate in another project.

“We’re hoping to do another planting project next spring in the Rifle area. A lot of the volunteers were excited to come back next year. That’s a good measure of success for us,” Deihs said.

“I’d love to help. I don’t see this as a work campaign, I see it as environmental activity for the family and education for my son,” Sarabia said.


Demons harriers go 2-3 at Eagle, take to the home turf for Thursday’s Glenwood Invite

Glenwood Springs’ cross country running duo of Ella Johnson and Sophia Connerton-Nevin claimed top spots once again in last Saturday’s Eagle Valley Invitational, and look primed to show their stuff back home on “The Hill” Thursday.

The Demons host their one and only meet in this shortened season — with its COVID-19 restrictions on the number of participants and meet formats — Thursday morning on the Glenwood Springs Golf Course.

Invitees include Coal Ridge, Colorado Rocky Mountain School and Basalt. Girls wave starts begin at 9:30 a.m., and the boys begin at 10:15 a.m.

*Meet officials are asking that no spectators attend the event, and anyone who does show up must wear a mask, practice social distancing and avoid the start/finish area.

At the Eagle meet last weekend, Johnson, a junior, and Connerton-Nevin, a sophomore, finished second and third, respectively, behind the meet winner, junior Samantha Blair of Eagle Valley.

Blair topped the field in 18 minutes, 11 seconds, followed by Johnson in 18:15.10 and Connerton-Nevin at 19:33.80.

The Lady Demons placed third as a team, with junior Alexa Heims coming in 16th (21:41.70), followed by senior Maya Elias (21st, 22:16.30) and freshman Taia Nykerk (26th, 22:30.70).

Glenwood’s top boys’ finisher at Eagle was junior Quinn MacPherson, who took 11th in 17:35.60. Junior Reid Swanson was 17th (17:51.20), and senior Dalton Deter was 25th (18:36.30).

Elsewhere on the XC circuit

Meanwhile, other members of the Glenwood girls squad and Rifle’s coed team took part in the Anna Banana Invitational Friday and Saturday in Fruita.

For Rifle, senior Jonathan Hernandez placed 17th in 18:46.90, and junior Jace Coller was 23rd in 19:04.60

On the girls’ side, Glenwood Springs sophomore Ruby Patch was 18th (22:44.9), freshman Sydney Schriock was 19th (22:54.40), junior Elle MacPherson was 21st (23:12.70), and junior Alicia Lowe was 22nd (23:20.30).

Rifle senior Karisa Coombs placed 20th in 23:02.70.

Competing at the Rangely Cedar Ridges Meet on Friday, Coal Ridge sophomore Tyler Parker was the overall winner in 18:39 for the boys and Basalt senior Sierra Bower claimed the girls title in 18:55.

Other top runners included:

Coal Ridge boys — sophomore Ezra Williams (13th, 20:38), junior William Parra (14th, 20:41), and junior Ethan Poland (19th, 20:58). Coal Ridge girls — sophomore Mikayla Cheney (third, 20:06), junior Araceli Ayala (seventh, 22:26).

Basalt boys — senior Talon Carballeira (fourth, 19:30), junior Ross Barlow (fifth, 19:35), senior Noah Allen (16th, 20:46). Basalt girls — sophomore Katelyn Maley (second, 19:24), sophomore Ava Lane, (fourth, 20:32). The Basalt girls won the team title.

Grand Valley High’s runners were in the alternative Saturday version of the Rangely meet, where Cardinals senior Keaton Jansen took the top spot in 19:37.

He was followed by senior Keenan Strauss in fourth (20:25), sophomore Kade Sackett in fifth (21:27), ninth sophomore Dominic Mendoza in ninth (22:06), and sophomore Joseph Johnston in 12th (23:22). For the girls, Cardinals senior Alex Mendoza claimed the win in 24:14.

Thursday’s lineup

The Glenwood Springs girls run mile repeats during practice at Two Rivers Park last week.
Courtesy Blake Risner

The Glenwood Invitational on Thursday features a rematch between the Demons’ Johnson and Connerton-Nevin, and Basalt’s Bower.

In the Aug. 29 Longhorns Cross Country Meet, held at Crown Mountain Park, the Glenwood girls ran neck and neck with the Bower, the defending 3A state champion, racing ahead in the final stretch to place one and two. Add Coal Ridge’s Cheney to the mix, and it should be a competitive race.

On the boys’ side, the Demons’ MacPherson and Swanson come in as the favorites, but could see a challenge from Coal Ridge’s Parker and his teammates, and a trio of strong runners from CRMS, including seniors Bryn Peterson and Finn Leahy.


Hundreds of dead birds in Vail, Eagle County as massive die-off sweeps western states

When nature writer David Gessner published his most recent book on Aug. 11, he mourned our disappearing bird populations.

“As I type this, it is being reported that we have almost a third fewer birds in the world that we did in 1970,” Gessner writes. “Take a moment and consider this fact: our birds are disappearing.”

Within weeks of the book’s release, a massive die-off would begin to sweep the western United States, with an uncountable number of birds plummeting from the sky in mid-flight. Ornithologists say hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of birds have been lost over the last month.

Similar reports have come out of Garfield County and New Mexico, prompting a researcher to ask the public to help by providing photos and observations of the birds.

Many are realizing now just how wide-spread the event has been, as social media has helped bird watchers and avian ecologists connect the dots.

Facebook post on Eagle County Classifieds saw more than 75 reports from locals who have seen dead birds near their homes.

“I saw easily a dozen dead songbirds along the Riverwalk bike path and in nearby yards the day after that cold front blew through a week and a half or so ago,” wrote Tim O’Donnell. “The very strong wind was destructive to limbs and trees.”

Wilson’s warbler

In Eagle County, the most commonly reported dead bird has been the Wilson’s warbler, which is yellow. Dead yellow-rumped warblers have also been a common sight.

Vail resident David Pleshaw, who photographed a yellow-rumped warbler that had died outside of his home, said the bird felt like it was of a weak composition.

“Seems like it’s just features and bones, not much muscle at all,” Pleshaw said.

And in a separate observation, “Last year at this time, I had those big mosquito bugs at my house by the river,” Pleshaw said. “I haven’t seen any this year.”

Local bird watcher Mark Vodopich has been observing different species of birds in the Eagle River Valley for nearly three decades. He agreed with Pleshaw’s logic.

“Warblers eat insects. They’re not seed eaters,” Vodopich said. “If the cold snap affected their food sources, where they would normally be able to stopover for a day or two and fatten back up, and they can’t do that, then they’re in big trouble.”

Vodopich said he saw a Wilson’s warbler fly into a window and die right in front of him the other day while visiting a home in Lake Creek.

Birds flying into windows was a common thread in the local comments; others reported seeing birds falling from above.

It also sounds like the die-off is not yet over.

“This morning I was driving on I-70 and saw a crow literally drop out of the sky,” local Elizabeth Boles wrote on Saturday. “Had to confirm what I saw with my boyfriend.”

‘They may have inhaled smoke’

In other areas of the West, however, the reports of bird die-offs were coming in well before the Sept. 9-12 cold snap.

“In August, large numbers of birds were found dead at White Sands Missile Range and at the White Sands National Monument in what was thought to be an isolated incident,” reported the Sun News in Las Cruces, New Mexico. “After that, however, came reports of birds behaving strangely and dying in numerous locations in Doña Ana County, Jemez Pueblo, Roswell, Socorro and other locations statewide. The affected birds have included warblers, sparrows, swallows, blackbirds, flycatchers, and the western wood pewee.”

For ornithologists like Martha Desmond, professor at New Mexico State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology, the fact that the die-off was happening before the cold snap is a disturbing sign.

“We started seeing this before the weather event happened, that in itself is troubling,” Desmond told WBUR Radio. “It brings up the question: What else is contributing to the odd behavior we’re seeing in birds, and the large number of deaths we’re seeing in birds? And so it could be related to the fires, some birds may have had to change their migratory routes, they may have been forced to leave early, they may have inhaled smoke and had some damage to their lungs.”

Desmond is leading the research team documenting the migratory bird die-off in New Mexico and wants to hear about dead birds in Colorado, as well. People with photos are encouraged to start an account at inaturalist.org/projects/southwest-avian-mortality-project to contribute.

“What we’re trying to do is get an idea of the scope, so we have a platform where people can contribute what they’ve seen,” Desmond told the Glenwood Post Independent.

No 5G in Eagle County, yet

One thing that is not killing the birds over Vail is 5G cellular service in Eagle County. That technology is not yet here.

While the town of Vail has towers that could provide 5G, that level of cellular service is not being utilized in those towers. And on the other side of Dowd Junction, the towers are not yet equipped for 5G.

But as attorney Haley Carmer pointed out to the Avon Town Council at a 5G work session in August, those towers are probably coming soon.

“Taking action now to prohibit installation or make it more difficult to install it would basically just result in the town getting sued,” Carmer said.

Avon IT Manager Robert McKenner said 5G is probably a year away in Eagle County.

“Sprint, right now, is advertising 5G, but there is no 5G in the valley yet,” McKenner said. “Aspen has 5G, and it is coming this way.”

Eagle County high schools to play football this fall

Football is back in Eagle County.

Vail Christian opted in for football on Thursday. Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley joined the Saints on Friday, via a statement issued by Eagle County Schools.

“The Eagle County School District announced today that they are choosing to play fall football during the A season this fall. This district has notified CHSAA, and CHSAA has indicated they will assist in the making of schedules for teams who opt-in on Monday, September 21, 2020,” the statement said.

Though Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley have been holding voluntary workouts, official practices will start Thursday and the seven-game slate begins Oct. 8-10.

“I am a football mom and I have had to put my football-mom self away during this whole process and focus on what’s good for the kids,” Battle Mountain athletic director Gentry Nixon said. “I’m excited to see the kids play.”

In fairness, Tom LaFramboise, Eagle Valley’s athletic director, is very much a football dad to his sons and has also been a football coach both in Gypsum as well as at Norwood. He’s pumped.

“Absolutely,” he said, while watching Eagle Valley softball play on Friday. “I’m thrilled for the kids, the families and the coaches.”

Staying healthy

As the situation progressed this week, schools had to consider playing football in the age of COVID-19. CHSAA altered variances to allow 50 people maximum on the sidelines. Players and coaches must be masked when not actively participating in the games.

“I think with the safety precautions CHSAA has implemented, it’s as safe as it can be,” LaFramboise said. “I’ll be honest. No one knows the outcome. You worry now. You would worry if you play in March.”

Nixon believes that football teams will toe the line with safety, knowing that their seasons depend upon it.

“I’m confident our coaches will follow the protocols,” Nixon said. “They all understand how fragile this is. One slip-up and they can lose everything.”

Toward that end, both athletic directors do not have plans yet for spectators — who gets in, how many people will be able to attend and who can sit together, etc. The Devils, Huskies and Saints, for that matter, don’t have schedules yet, much less know when home games are.

Both LaFramboise and Nixon said the first priority was working with public-health officials to get the green light for the season and that they will address the fan situation during the next three weeks.

Tear up your schedule(s)

Yet another tricky aspect of 2020 high school football is setting a schedule. The Devils, Huskies and Saints have already built a 10-game and then seven-contest slates.

Rip up both of those. The schedule will still be seven games — the “6+1” plan, meaning six regular-season games plus the first round of the playoffs or a seventh game against another team not qualified for the postseason.

The Devils, Huskies and Saints must first figure out their league schedules, if they exist. In the 3A Slope, Palisade said Wednesday that it would play. Glenwood Springs has chosen the spring. Steamboat Springs and Summit have yet to decide about fall or spring. So the 3A Slope is looking a little skimpy right now.

What’s more is that the obvious choices for geographically convenient nonconference play like Rifle, Basalt, Roaring Fork and Coal Ridge have all elected to play spring ball. (Aspen has yet to decide.)

So Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain will obviously play each other and Palisade seems to be an obvious choice, but that leaves four open dates and likely a fifth for the plus-one spot.

For Vail Christian, in theory, its six games in the “6+1” would all be within the Northwest League. But (and there’s always a but these days) only Hayden and Rangely have committed to the fall as of press time. Soroco, West Grand, Plateau Valley have until Monday to declare their intentions.

So the local schools’ schedules likely won’t come into focus until after everyone has decided on fall or spring.

Soccer and volleyball

The sports are staying in Season C. Soccer and volleyball will have a March 4 start date. Both Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley strenuously objected to those sports not being moved back to their traditional fall spots.

LaFramboise called the situation “a travesty.”

Nixon added, “I am incredibly disappointed that we weren’t given the opportunity to play volleyball and soccer. I am disappointed that the governor’s office have not approved those variances and not let all fall sports play.”

Rifle, Coal Ridge high schools to stay with state’s plan for spring football season

High schools in the Garfield Re-2 School District will join other area schools in sticking with the state’s previously announced modified spring football season, instead of the new fall option allowed just this week, the district announced Saturday.

The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) on Wednesday agreed to allow schools to decide whether to play football in a shortened fall season — with strict safety measures in place related to the COVID-19 pandemic — or wait until the optional Season C when it’s possible some of those measures could be relaxed.

That season is slated to begin with formal practices on Feb. 22, followed by game schedules and playoffs running through May 8.

CHSAA’s announcement gave districts two school days to decide whether to ramp up for a fall season to begin in early October.

Given numerous concerns with the fall option, Re-2’s two high schools, Rifle and Coal Ridge, will wait until spring to play football, the district announced in a Saturday letter sent out to student-athletes and parents.

The decision comes on the heels of those by the Roaring Fork School District (Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt) and Garfield District 16 (Grand Valley High) to also wait until spring.

Re-2’s decision does not impact the cheer/spirit season that CHSAA also said could begin on Monday, which will go forward.

“First and foremost, we are saying yes to football. Garfield Re-2 athletes will be playing football in the spring,” the letter advised.

“The first priority of the Garfield Re-2 School District is to keep as many of our students learning either in person or via distance learning as possible. The safety measures we have put into place for in-person learning are being successful.

“The benefit of bringing athletics back incrementally is that schools can test and refine their safety practices,” the letter continues. “We continue to introduce the activities of ‘traditional’ education back gradually so that we can keep as many students in-person as possible.”

The letter was jointly signed by Re-2 Superintendent Heather Grumley, and the principals and athletic directors of the two high schools.

It notes that the required safety elements that would have to be followed at this point in time “would greatly impact the authenticity of the game.”

Those measures include social distancing on the sidelines, mask-wearing, transportation limitations and extra costs, prohibited locker room use, roster limits, laundry requirements and cleaning protocols.

“In addition, local public health regulations would severely limit the number of spectators, if they were allowed at all,” the letter also points out.

“A large part of the football experience is having our community in the stands supporting their kids, their friends, and their high school. We have hope that our bleachers will be able to be full in March.”

The safety measures necessary for the fall season to be played may or may not be in place in the spring, depending on the risk levels at that time for the spread of COVID-19.

Over the last two weeks, Garfield Re-2 has already had nearly 200 students and some 20 staff members pivot to online learning and quarantine status due to positive COVID-19 cases.

“Our cohorts have held and our processes for informing families seem to have been successful,” the district also stated in its Saturday letter.  “Introducing other variables increases the odds of more students and staff moving to quarantine status.”

Many families and students had also already planned their school-year schedules around the spring football season, so changing now would have created a hardship, the letter also noted.

“Rushing into the football season suddenly and without proper time to work out logistics would not set our athletes up for success,” it also concluded.

“We are working closely with other teams in our leagues, including District 16 and Roaring Fork, so that we can offer a competitive football season for each of our schools next spring as currently provided in the CHSAA schedule, even if that means playing teams in other conferences. We are all eager to give our kids opportunities to resume normal activities.”

Glenwood, other Re-1 schools stick with spring football

After a week of mixed messages and increased pressure from coaches, players and parents, the Colorado High School Activities Association announced this week that the fall football season was back on, should schools choose to take part.

But the Roaring Fork School District Re-1, which includes high schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, announced in a news release Thursday afternoon they were opting out of the fall season and will play football in the adjusted spring season.

“We are working closely with other teams in our leagues so that we can offer a competitive football season for each of our schools next spring as currently provided in the CHSAA schedule, even if that means playing teams in other conferences,” the news release said. “We are all eager to give our kids opportunities to resume normal activities but we cannot make decisions that jeopardize our students’ or staff members’ safety.”

Glenwood Springs plays at the 3A level in a league that includes Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley in the neighboring Eagle County School District, as well as Palisade, Steamboat Springs and Summit.

Basalt plays at the 2A level with Rifle and Coal Ridge high schools in the Garfield Re-2 District. No decisions had been made as of Friday morning by those schools.

Cedaredge, which plays in the Class 1A Western Slope League with Grand Valley and Roaring Fork, and is a frequent non-league opponent of other area teams, announced on Twitter late Thursday it had voted to go ahead and play football this fall.

Roaring Fork plans to return to varsity play after a two-year hiatus, but at the 1A instead of 2A level where it had been classified previously. That will now wait until spring.

Schools have until 8 a.m. Monday to decide if they want to play this fall, which is dubbed Season A, along with softball, cross country, golf and boys tennis.

Football schools still have the option to play in Season C, with games beginning in March, which had been the original plan for football in the new four-season approach CHSAA opted for during this pandemic-influenced school year.

Teams are not allowed to play in both the fall and spring, and CHSAA said a state champion will be crowned for each season.

Aspen High School is also still weighing its decision. AHS Athletic Director Martha Richards spent a good chunk of the day Thursday talking with other Western Slope AD’s, as well as AHS Principal Sarah Strassburger and Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh, although too many questions remained for them to make a declaration.

“We are looking at everything and taking everything into consideration,” Richards said Thursday evening. “For us, we are still evaluating everything and trying to let the dust settle and see where we are as a district.”

According to a report by The Denver Post, CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Adam Bright “said early estimations are that 75 to 80 percent of Colorado high school football teams will play in the fall.”

Boys soccer and volleyball, both traditionally fall sports along with football, were not part of CHSAA’s announcement Wednesday night and won’t play until the spring. Field hockey and sideline spirit, however, were given the go ahead to participate in fall activities along with football.

Football teams that decide to opt in for the fall were allowed to begin practice Thursday, with games starting as soon as Oct. 8. The first round of the eight-team playoffs would begin Nov. 21, with the state championship games scheduled for Dec. 5.

Season C in the spring, which seems to be where much of the 3A and 2A Western Slope is putting their focus, will start practice Feb. 25 with the first competition scheduled for March 11.

While weather can be a major hurdle for spring sports in the mountains, Richards is adamant they can make it work.

“We are very fortunate in Aspen to have a new state-of-the-art turf field, and we are accustomed to preparing it every spring for boys and girls lacrosse and girls soccer,” Richards said. “So if we play boys soccer and football in Season C, it won’t be an issue because we get our field ready for lacrosse and girls soccer every year during this same window of time. For schools with grass fields, it may be more challenging. However, I really believe that if they have a girls soccer team that they get their field ready for every spring, that they’ll be able to get their field ready for football and boys soccer.”


Post Independent reporter John Stroud contributed to this report.

Forest Service names pack mule in honor of Rifle woman

The timeless image of a lone forest ranger winding through a mountain pass, trailing a string of pack mules is as ingrained on Western culture as the cowboy riding into the sunset. 

Next to Smokey the Bear and fire lookout stations, the pack string is nearly synonymous with the history of the U.S. Forest Service. 

And while the blinding speed of technological progress has left nearly every icon of the Wild West in the dust, pack strings are just as instrumental today for the Forest Service’s work along the Rocky Mountains as they were 100 years ago, Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Clare Dewey said.

Assigned to the Rifle Ranger District in 2013, Dewey explained mules and horses provide the agency with the ability to traverse swaths of public land inaccessible by motor vehicles.

One of the USFS pack mules nibbles on grass at the Rifle Ranger Station. before heading out into the field.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“We use these animals throughout the summer and fall for trail maintenance, our range program and law enforcement,” Dewey said. “Without them, there’s no way we could accomplish the scope of our work on foot or with our current staffing levels.”

Acquiring and maintaining pack animals requires significant resources and planning, but this year, the Rifle Ranger District added a new mule to their team. And, Dewey decided the animal’s name should reflect the importance of another icon in the area’s history, the Sykes family.

“We named the mule Hilda, after Hilda Sykes, whose family has worked these lands as far back as most can remember,” Dewey said. “It’s also a wonderful way to pay homage to the strong, sturdy women who helped build the town we live in today.” 

Family history

At 88 years old, Sykes has lived in Rifle her entire life, and her land boasts one of the town’s oldest structures — a cabin nestled on the south side of the Colorado River.

“My grandfather, Walter Egbert, homesteaded in Parachute near Wallace Creek,” Sykes recalled with the help of her son, Dennis. 

Sykes’ father, a farrier, moved the family to Rifle before she was born to work for Union Carbide, a defunct ore milling corporation.

“We always had horses, and once, I rode a cow,” Sykes remembered. “We had a milk cow we had to take to a pasture a quarter-mile down the road. I wasn’t very old, but one day, Dad picked me up and put me on the cow, and I rode her down to the pasture.”

USFS Law Enforecement Officer Clare Dewey removes packs from the mules and horses at the Rifle Ranger Station.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Since Dewey moved to the area, the Sykes have taken a shine to the native Montanan. 

“Clare is one of the family,” Sykes daughter-in-law and Rifle Ranger District visitor information specialist, Cindy George, said.

Through their relationship, Dewey learned about Sykes’ father, Larry, who earned a measure of respect throughout the Western Slope as a horse trainer.

USFS employee Amanda Crow leads the pack horses and mules down a road near the Rifle Ranger Station.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“My dad trained this one horse to stand on a wooden stool for a fellow in Grand Junction,” Sykes said. “He stood on that stool with all four feet, and I got to ride him on there.” 

When the ranger district needed a name for their new mule, Dewey said she immediately thought of Sykes.

“I think it’s a wonderful way to keep her history alive and well for years to come,” she said. 

Hilda Sykes looks at new USFS pack mule Hilda who was named after her to pay tribute to her family’s contribution to the history of the Rifle area.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The gesture amused Sykes.

“I don’t know that it’s an honor — having a mule named after you,” she said, chuckling. “But, I don’t mind it.”

Into the field

Pack strings enable the Forest Service to tote heavy materials deep into the wilderness, facilitating bridge construction, law enforcement and recreation projects.

“On an average trip, they carry 200-300 pounds of equipment for us, which we would otherwise need to carry in and out by hand,” Dewey said. “We’re working with smaller crews these days, and these animals allow us to keep up the pace of our work.”

USFS Law Enforcement Officer Clare Dewey ties a load to a pack horse at the Rifle Ranger Station.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

For law enforcement, Dewey said the pack string is commonly used to carry out caches of supplies left by campers and hunters.

“Usually, these caches are hung in trees, hidden under rocks or they bury it and cover them with branches,” she said, explaining people store the gear for later trips into areas accessible only by foot or horseback. “The big impact of these caches is the bears can get into them, and they can spread the trash and stuff for miles.”

Bears can become habituated to an area where they find caches regularly, creating concerns of potential interactions between them and the people who return to claim their gear. One stretch of land, near Meeker, is so littered with supply caches Dewey refers to it as “Walmart.”  

“Aesthetically, it’s horrible,” she said. “You hike in 10 miles, thinking it’s going to be pristine, and instead it’s littered with trash.”

On the range

As useful as the animals are for law enforcement and trail maintenance, they fall under the direction of the range management program, said Lydia LaBelle de Rios, the Rifle Ranger District range program manager.

“When I started 15 years ago, I had six seasonal workers and one full-time staff member, and now, I just have me,” LaBelle de Rios said. “The staff we do have, it’s critical we’re being efficient with our efforts, and that’s where the pack string comes in.”

USFS employee Katie Krauth walks from the shed to help unload packs from the mules at the Rifle Ranger Station.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The range program manages allotments used by ranchers for grazing. Most of the land in LaBelle de Rios’ program is wilderness, so motor vehicles are prohibited.  She often uses the animals to pack in gear for days-long trips as she checks in on various allotments. 

LaBelle de Rios said her range program was one of the largest in the White River National Forest with 19 allotments being used by about 30 families across 350,000 acres.

Hilda is the newest addition to LaBelle de Rios’ team, which includes three horses and another mule. 

“It’s kind of a big deal to be able to add another animal to the team, right now, given our staff situation,” she said. “But our other mule is retiring, so we needed Hilda to replace her.”

No matter how useful, however, LaBelle de Rios said the pack string is but one of the tools the Forest Service uses to accomplish their mission.

“Our motto is caring for the land, serving the people,” she explained. “And, I feel like we need to serve people in order to better care for the land.”