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Community profile: Canoeist still paddling after stroke

Lee Snyder just finished hiking the final segment of the Colorado Trail at age 68.

It’s more impressive knowing that he undertook the project after suffering a major stroke in 2017. He and his wife, Susan, starting hiking segments in 2018.

After his stroke he had to be attentive when holding things or he’d drop them.

But that was early on. It’s not such an issue anymore. 

He attributes that to a combination of learning how to compensate and his body rebuilding itself.

Still, there have been some changes.

“It makes his voice almost hoarse,” Susan said.

“I think he’s different, but one thing that’s the same is his sense of adventure,” his daughter Jess Kramer said.

That’s what he’d rather talk about; and, canoeing in particular. 

He even took three weeks off from his Colorado Trail hiking this summer to canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with his brother. 

“We get along pretty good,” Snyder said.

Well enough that he paddled a tandem canoe with him instead of taking two solo canoes.

He said he likes to go to Hoare Lake, which he pointed out on a Boundary Waters map that showed portages between lakes. 

There is no portage to Hoare Lake.

Adventurous spirit

Snyder has a history of doing things the hard way.

In mid-July 1975, when Snyder was 23, he embarked on a 29-day trip from Thompson to Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson’s Bay. He, Dick Davidson and one other covered between 600 and 700 miles.

In mid-June 1979, when Snyder was 27, he made a canoe trip of 900-1,000 miles, which he could have called the Yukon to Yukon excursion. He, Davidson and two others started in the Yukon Territory off the Dempster Highway the first year it was open to the public, and ended up on the Yukon River at the North Slope Haul Road, now better known as the Dalton Highway.

“We didn’t have any trip advice about that, we just kind of did that on our own. We made our own trail, that was good. That was back in the days of compass and maps and making your own trail,” Snyder said.

While he says the trip was fun, it didn’t start out so well.

“The first nine days were the toughest,” Snyder said.

Considering they had canoes but no navigable river, that’s not surprising.

“The only problem was our starting point was 20 miles off the road so we had to portage to that,” Snyder said. 

The trip report written by Davidson describes the portaging the group faced on day 1.

“About 85% of the tundra this day (and the days to follow) was a ‘bad news’ type of tundra. Unstable, mushroomlike grass clods surrounded by quagmire. These clods rise 3” to 28” above the quagmire, and the quagmire was 2” to 15” deep before footing was reached,” Davidson wrote.

On days 3 and 4, at least there was some water to follow.

“We walk, lift, push, drag and plow the canoes through the willows. The lead man attacked the willow with the machete,” Davidson wrote.

On day 8 they lost the machete, but no longer had a need for it as they began to canoe the McFarland River. They canoed the McFarland to the Whitestone, which eventually joins the Miner which becomes the Porcupine, which flows to the Yukon River. 

The trip took “34 days with no nights,” as Davidson put it, not including the 12 days of driving time.

Journey to Glenwood

At the time, Snyder was living on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota bordering Nebraska. During the Hudson’s Bay trip he was working at Standing Rock bordering North Dakota.

“I had a social case worker job,” he said, which worked well when he was in his 20s.

“You’re kind of socially conscious; it was good work, it fit my values good,” Snyder said.

In his spare time he could canoe the tributaries of the Missouri River.

Lee and Susan Snyder at home in Glenwood
Charlie Wertheim / Post Independent

He had just met his wife, Susan, and she watched his dog, Blue, for him while he was gone on the Yukon trip. Actually, she didn’t see much of the dog, but she’d leave food out for him. She saw Blue when Snyder returned 46 days later.

Two years later, Lee and Susan married, and they moved to Glenwood Springs in 1989. 

Snyder, a licensed clinical social worker, worked for 18 years as a therapist in Glenwood Springs for Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center (now Mind Springs), and for seven years as social service director at the veterans home in Rifle.

Along the way he coached Little League and soccer for his kids. His son, Matt, was a senior on the football team during Glenwood’s illustrious undefeated state championship season. Snyder offers what may be even higher praise than that: “He’s a good paddler,” he said.

Like father like son.

Kramer said of her father, “He’s always the fastest one out there, and we’re all trying to keep up. Even when he takes my high school friends on a trip, we’re all younger and most of those guys are pretty muscular, but we’re all struggling to keep up.”

Susan said she’s never done a 900-mile canoe trip, but “most of the 10-day trips I’ve gone with him.”

She mentioned several locations, like numerous trips on the Niobrara in Nebraska; Quetico in Canada, which borders Boundary Waters; and Banff.

“He’s dragged us on a lot of trips,” Kramer said.

And he might even “drag” Susan on a Canada canoe trip for their 40th wedding anniversary in May — though she’s hoping for the French Riviera.

Trail time

Susan also joined him for 430 miles of the Colorado Trail hikes before she needed to give her feet a rest.

After a particularly hard day Susan was exhausted. Lee was indefatigable.

“He comes up to me and he goes, ‘Livin’ the dream,’” she said.

Snyder said he and Susan had no particular difficulties out on the trail.

“Her blistered feet and toenails were the only problems,” he said.

One advantage of hiking this summer was being away from the Grizzly Creek Fire.

“It was good to be down south, to tell you the truth,” he said.

COVID managed to have an impact on the hike to a certain degree.

“This year, we didn’t meet any international people. Usually you can meet people from a lot of places,” Snyder said. 

After 486 miles of adventures on the Colorado Trail, does Snyder prefer canoeing or hiking?

“I’d rather paddle,” Snyder said.


Ruedi Reservoir inspectors reel in highest number of mussel-contaminated watercraft in Colorado this season

Inspectors in Colorado this season intercepted a record number of watercraft showing signs of invasive mussel infestations as reservoirs across the state saw surging numbers of boaters. 

Ruedi Reservoir, near Basalt, recorded the state’s highest number of intercepted boats carrying mussels. Officials said that is probably due to the reservoir’s relative proximity to Utah’s Lake Powell, which has been dealing with a mussel infestation for years.

As public health experts have urged people to maintain their distance and avoid enclosed spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, one logical response for many Coloradans has been to take to the water. Boating, kayaking and paddleboarding have exploded in popularity this year, according to reservoir managers across the state. Riding the wave of that trend are invasive mussels, attaching themselves to watercraft.

“With more opportunities … for a boat to be transporting something into our waters, there is, of course, a little bit more risk,” said Robert Walters, an invasive-species specialist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

By mid-September in Colorado, where the boating season officially will close in November, the state had already recorded more than 600,000 boat inspections. In an average year, it conducts about 475,000. At least 94 boats were intercepted with confirmed adult mussels, the highest number recorded in the state since it began boat inspections in 2008.

Native to Eastern Europe, zebra and quagga mussels have infested waters around the world. The creatures, each wrapped in a hard, sharp shell, cling to surfaces in fresh water and quickly breed. Mussels can devastate aquatic ecosystems and damage infrastructure such as pipes and hydroelectric equipment. The larvae of these aquatic nuisance species — as they are designated by the state — have been detected in several Colorado reservoirs over the years, but adult mussels have never emerged. 

Mussels pose a particularly high threat in Colorado because of the state’s position upstream of other watersheds. Scientists suspect that zebra and quagga mussels would have difficulty establishing in a high-elevation river, but it’s still possible that they could be distributed downstream.

“We are at the top of the watershed,” Walters said. “So if something were to happen in one of our headwaters or really anywhere in the state of Colorado, it would have significant potential to impact those downstream of us.”

Keeping up with the crowds

CPW regularly tests the state’s reservoirs for mussel larvae, and so far there are no signs that the increased boating activity has spurred an infestation, which is a testament to the state’s thorough inspection program. Still, keeping pace with the increased boat inspections has been a challenge for many agencies, especially those dealing with pandemic-induced budget constraints.

“I think we’re pretty fortunate that we were even allowed to hire our normal staffing,” said Mark Caughlan, district manager at Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of Fort Collins. “But don’t get me wrong, it still wasn’t enough staffing to handle that massive influx of visitation that we saw.”

According to Caughlan, Horsetooth Reservoir normally gets around 1.2 million visitors a year. This year, the reservoir saw a 30% to 40% increase in visitation, much of which was boaters. The volume of visitors, the limited staff and the need to carefully inspect boats meant that some people waited hours to get on the water. Most reservoirs, including Horsetooth, put inspection stations at every boat ramp, making it improbable that any boat will touch the water before it’s checked out.

Adult mussels can stick to the outside of a boat or be sucked into the ballast tanks of wakeboard boats and ski boats. If mussels are found, inspectors spray the boat with a high-powered water jet to clear them off. The ballasts have to be emptied and washed to ensure that no larvae are inside. The full decontamination process can take up to 30 minutes depending on the extent of the infestation.

Even before boating exploded in popularity during the pandemic, the threat of mussels slipping through the cracks was increasing. In 2017, CPW intercepted 26 infested boats, which was a record at the time. That number increased to 51 in 2018 and to 86 in 2019.

Reservoir managers attribute the increase to surrounding states’ growing number of bodies of waters with mussel infestations, in particular Lake Powell, which became fully colonized by mussels in 2016. Boats leaving Lake Powell are required to undergo inspection by the National Park Service, but many boats slip through. Nearly 70% of the mussel-infested boats intercepted in Colorado come from Lake Powell. 

Ruedi on the frontlines

The impact of Lake Powell’s mussel colonies on Colorado is most striking at reservoirs closest to the Utah border. Ruedi Reservoir, in the Fryingpan River Valley above Basalt, has seen more boats containing invasive mussels than any other body of water in Colorado, with 17 interceptions this year. Ruedi is particularly vulnerable to mussels. The turbines and pipes inside its hydroelectric dam are difficult to clean and could be destroyed if they are colonized. Mussels are also a filtering species, meaning they feed off the microinvertebrates, such as plankton, in their ecosystem. These microinvertebrates make up the base of the food chain, which helps sustain the renowned fishery downstream of the reservoir on the Fryingpan River.

“Given our proximity, I think we share a lot of the same boaters with Lake Powell,” said April Long, executive director at Ruedi Water and Power Authority. “Their mussel population is increasing, and I don’t believe that their ability to inspect is also increasing.”

Due to the pandemic, Ruedi delayed opening to boaters until June 1, but Long said the number of boats inspected there has still nearly doubled in 2020. Inspectors worked overtime hours through June and July to keep up. 

Despite the long waits, inspectors across the state say most boaters are cooperative. Long worries that this could change if long lines become the norm, and she said the RWPA is discussing expanding its inspection staff next year.

“If they get frustrated with the amount of time that it takes to do these inspections or decontaminations, we may see some compliance shift to noncompliance,” she said. “We don’t want that to happen.”

While long lines could aggravate some boaters, Walters said boaters, generally, are invested in keeping the waters where they spend time healthy. The mussel colonies at Lake Powell have served as a firm warning for many Colorado boaters.

“If there is anything positive that I can say of the infestation out there at Lake Powell,” he said, “it’s that Colorado boaters love to go out there and seeing something like that happen to one of their favorite waters has really hammered home what this could potentially look like if it happened here in Colorado. From what I’ve seen, I think that’s made the boaters much more supportive of the program and that they don’t want to see that happen at their home waters.” 

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. 

Glenwood Turkey Trot canceled due to ongoing coronavirus concerns

Glenwood Springs’ traditional Thanksgiving Day foot race, the Turkey Trot 5K, will take a hiatus this fall due to ongoing concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19, especially involving large gatherings.

“With an expectation of over 500 people at the golf course, the COVID restrictions in place and the current upswing in cases, we feel this is the safest and, really, the only course of action,” race director Steve Vanderhoof said in a Wednesday statement.    

“We will continue our tradition next year, and have already secured the golf course for 2021,” he said.

The Turkey Trot will continue to support the Glenwood Springs High School boys and girls swim and cross country teams, and the Sopris Barracudas club swim team through the acceptance of donations in lieu of the race fee this year, Vanderhoof said.

Aspen Skiing Co. experiencing no problem finding job applicants during pandemic

There are plenty of challenges for Aspen Skiing Co. in operating this winter amid a pandemic, but finding enough employees is not one of them.

The number of individual applicants is up 70% at this point over last year, and last year was the previous record, Caleb Sample, Skico’s director of talent acquisition, said this week. Some of the increase is because the company streamlined its online application process, but mostly it’s because people want access to the great outdoors.

“Folks are wanting to come to the mountains,” he said.

The quality of the candidates is also high. He said applicants are often over-qualified for positions. It hearkens back to the days when chances were good a lift operator or a waiter had a master’s degree.

Sample said there has been a surge of applications from college students who aren’t sure they are getting the bang for their buck this year from remote learning or feel the risks of being on campus aren’t worth it, so they’re taking a gap year.

“They’re chasing us down,” he said. “People’s drive and desire is much higher. They need a job this time around.”

In many cases, the job hunters have a connection to Aspen. They visited before with their families or they’ve aspired to visit the resort town they have heard so much about. Now, they are taking the opportunity.

Skico typically needs to fill about 1,200 seasonal positions going into each winter, Sample said. The company employees between 4,200 and 4,500 workers at peak season. The figure changes year to year depending on the strength of the economy, snow conditions and other factors. Returning workers who are residents of the Roaring Fork Valley fill most of the positions.

Skico CEO Mike Kaplan said last month the surge in applicants is “not that surprising given levels of unemployment in the country.”

For seasonal workers, finding housing is proving to be a bigger challenge than ever, Sample said. Skico has between 750 and 800 beds between its own housing inventory and master leases it has signed. Skico’s new affordable-housing complex at Willits Town Center won’t be finished until spring.

After consulting with public health experts, the company is taking a different tactic with housing this year. Employees of a specific department, such as lifties, won’t be housed together. “Basically, the professional advice is, if you work together, you can’t live together,” Sample said.

Skico is also splitting up specific groups of friends into different departments as part of its strategy.

Sample said Skico is in good shape filling positions at this point, but there will inevitably be openings to fill throughout the season. Workers leave for a variety of reasons during the season.

Some workers, especially older ones, have expressed concerns about “guest-facing roles,” but most fears have eased once prospective employees learn about Skico’s efforts to keep staff and visitors safe, Sample said.

One change has been fewer face-to-face guest service workers, such as ticket office personnel. Instead, Skico is hiring more service workers who interact with customers by phone on ski pass and lift ticket sales as well as trip planning.

“It changes the mix of employees,” Sample said.

He believes some of the rearrangement is permanent.

“The pandemic is the catalyst to speed some of this up,” he said.

A federal restriction on J-1 and H2-B visas for foreign workers hasn’t proven to put Skico in a bind. President Donald Trump eliminated the programs, but a California court recently overturned the decision. Sample says it is mainly a moot point. Many countries have travel restrictions that prohibit workers from coming for the winter anyway because of the pandemic.

The surge in applications has also come without the benefit of job fairs. They were eliminated because of social distancing requirements. Skico will also hold training sessions online and will eliminate a preseason gathering held annually to fire up employees.

The company’s minimum wage remains at $15 this season, though many employees make more.

Sunlight ski resort keeping things bright despite uncertainty

At this point, you wonder if  snowboarding and skiing regulars at Sunlight Mountain think COVID-19 is a new black diamond run. 

Pass sales are good as they’ve ever been, even after Sunlight enjoyed three of its best years in the resort’s 50-year history of the last four, said Troy Hawks, sales and marketing director for Sunlight. The virus, so far, doesn’t seem to scare them, or perhaps they are counting on the fact that skiing is much better outside, where the virus isn’t nearly as potent.

“We are trending ahead of last year, and last year was the best on record, and the season before that was the best,” Hawks said. “That’s really encouraging.”

Hawks says that, of course, but the success of the slopes rise and fall on the fickle Colorado weather. COVID-19, after all, isn’t a ski run, and cases continue to climb this fall. This winter could bring a second (or third) wave of cases. 

“There’s a lot of unknowns,” Hawks said, “but we are making the best plans we can.”

Whether Sunlight closes at all is really up to the local, state or federal governments, Hawks said. In the meantime, Sunlight will do its part by limiting the numbers of patrons indoors the same way other businesses are and maintaining social distancing in lift lines.

“Those lines may be longer and probably will stretch out farther than to what people are used to seeing,” Hawks said. “We know people want to hit those lifts on powder days, but we really want to encourage people to maintain that distance between each other.”

 One change this year is Sunlight allowing a $49 down payment on season passes, so skiers could take advantage of the good early-season deals without committing too much in what’s been a rough year for many. Hawks calls that one of the good things to come out of the pandemic. Another is the assurance of 50% discounts on next year’s season passes if Sunlight is open less than 50% of this year’s ski season. If it’s open up to 74%, the discount drops to 25%. 

Even with pass sales remaining strong, ultimately a great year comes from good snow and a good economy. Hawks understands that both may be hard to come by this year, if fall is any indication. Sunlight isn’t making any projections as a result. Sunlight was having a terrific year until COVID-19 hit and closed its spring break. Revenue was down by as much as 25% as a result, but season pass sales helped cushion that number. Hawks remains optimistic about this year. 

“If we can stay open all season and have average snow, we will be in good shape,” he said. “But that’s a capital I on both of those ifs.”

Sunlight’s relatively small size is an advantage in weathering the pandemic, Hawks said, as the resort isn’t as reliant on ski school sales or other revenue generators. He compares the resort to a Jet Ski that can scoot through choppy waters as opposed to an ocean liner that can’t change its course. Two years ago, for instance, Sunlight still made a profit despite a horrible snow year. 

“We couldn’t predict that, but this hit we were able to see coming, and we were able to cut back,” Hawks said. 

At this point, the resort isn’t limiting numbers of lift tickets, but Sunlight will watch them, especially on traditionally crowded weekends such as President’s Day, Christmas and, of course, spring break. 

“Right now we aren’t at that point,” Hawks said. “We don’t want to restrict mountain access, but we may have to take those sales into consideration.”

Sunlight probably still will be less crowded than its neighbors in Aspen and Vail as well as those in Summit County, which helps explain why season passes continue to spike in recent years. 

“We hear that daily,” Hawks said. “We come across people every day who still value that old school experience of driving and walking right to the lift. Frankly some of it was long overdue, as we are in between two world-class ski operations. We are seeing more and more out-of-state license plates.”

Hawks also hopes the pandemic doesn’t hurt Glenwood’s local businesses, as they’ve been a part of Sunlight’s success. One example is the “soak and ski” package offered in partnership with the hot springs. 

“It’s community-wide, and there’s plenty of positivity seen out there,” he said. “We’ve done some nice things here, but frankly we owe a lot to our local businesses.”

Colorado voters weigh whether to bring back the endangered gray wolf

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While other Colorado residents spent their stay-at-home days binge-watching Netflix shows or trying to bake Instagram-worthy loaves of bread amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Larry Desjardin developed an obsession with wolves.

More specifically, Desjardin, a conservationist in Routt County, wanted to know how bringing wolves back to Colorado would impact the environment and what would be required to ensure a balance in the ecosystem.

Those are among the top questions posed by Proposition 114, a ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves, specifically the gray wolf, to Western Colorado. It marks the first time voters get to decide whether or not to bring back an endangered species, a decision that usually falls to wildlife managers. This has become a major point of contention for naysayers to the proposition, who claim it turns what should be a science-based approach into a political campaign.

The debate over wolf reintroduction has become one of the most controversial issues facing Coloradans, on par with polarizing opinions over climate change or gun laws.

“Even among the conservation community, people are split,” Desjardin said.

Proponents say wolves could improve the environment by restoring natural order and help to bring back an endangered species that once roamed freely across the West.

Opponents, particularly ranchers and hunters, worry about the threats to livestock and wildlife. Some also point to the natural migration of wolves into Colorado, contending that human intervention is unnecessary. Earlier this year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed the presence of a group of wolves in Moffat County near the Wyoming border.

People’s perception of wolves, either positive or negative, is often shrouded in some degree of myth. Those in favor of wolf reintroduction tend to see them as symbols of unadulterated wildness and their return to the landscape a way to reclaim a world tarnished by human intervention.

Opponents, on the other hand, believe wolves prey ruthlessly on livestock and pets.

At the same time, both sides claim their arguments are rooted in science and hard facts. All of this makes for a complicated, contentious debate that, ultimately, will be decided at the ballot box.

A brief history of wolves in the West

Before the arrival of Europeans, wolves lived in abundance across North America. As settlers moved across the continent in the 1800s and 1900s, looking to carve out farmland and build communities, they decimated wolf populations.

The wolf emerged as a barrier to creating a civilized society. Even President Theodore Roosevelt, a man heralded for his conservationism, called the wolf a “beast of waste and desolation.”

By the 1940s, with the help of government-subsidized wolf extermination programs, the animals were almost extinct, disappearing entirely in Colorado.

With the birth of the modern conservation movement, public perception of the animals warmed. Wolves were one of the first species protected with the passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. At the time, most packs lived in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

When U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials started reintroducing wolves back to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, it marked the first deliberate effort to return a top-level carnivore to such a large habitat. It has been largely successful, with wolf populations thriving and once again spreading across the West.

Understanding Proposition 114

This year, Coloradans garnered enough support for wolves to put the matter to a public vote in November. Proposition 114, if approved, would task the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, a governor-appointed citizen board that sets regulations and policies for state parks and wildlife programs, with devising a plan to reintroduce gray wolves on land west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023.

The plan must include a system to pay fair compensation to livestock owners for any losses due to wolves, according to the proposal.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission opposes intentional wolf reintroduction to the state. In a 2016 resolution, the commission said it recommends allowing the animals to return naturally.

Parks and Wildlife, the agency that carries out the commission’s regulations, has decided to restrict its role in the matter to providing scientific information about wolves without expressing an opinion on the ballot initiative.

Many questions remain about how the program will look or operate, which will not be answered until, and if, the proposition passes.

State wildlife officials estimate the reintroduction and compensation programs would cost about $5.7 million during the next eight years, but it is not clear where Colorado would get the money. It also is not clear exactly where in Colorado the wolves would be introduced.

For now, wolf management is under the jurisdiction of Fish and Wildlife. This will continue to be the case until the species is delisted from the Endangered Species Act.

In the Northern Rockies, reintroduction programs have fostered sustainable populations to the point that wolves already have been delisted as an endangered species. Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have since allowed wolf hunting to keep the predators in check.

President Donald Trump has announced plans to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List by the end of the year and return authority to the states, but the move has faced strong opposition. It is uncertain how long the process could take, and implementation of any final decisions could face lengthy lawsuits.

Nonetheless, Coloradans have a choice before them, so it is important to understand the potential effects of Proposition 114.

Effects on wildlife and hunting

How wolves could impact Colorado ecosystems is top of mind for both proponents and adversaries of wolf reintroduction.

During his days of pandemic-caused isolation, Desjardin devised a mathematical-based simulation to measure some of these effects.

“Newton invented calculus while he was in lockdown for the plague. I only built this wolf simulator,” joked Desjardin, who also serves as president of Keep Routt Wild.

In a presentation recently to the Routt Board of County Commissioners, he claimed it is the only quantitative evaluation on the impact of wolves in Colorado.

Dr. Matt Holloran, a biologist who grew up in Routt County and now works on the Front Range, worked with Desjardin to develop the simulator. Both said they are taking a neutral position on Proposition 114.

What their simulator essentially shows is that Colorado could accommodate wolves, but it would require a reduction in hunting for the animal’s primary prey, namely elk, deer and moose. If 100 wolves were introduced, the state would need to decrease the number of hunting licenses for elk by about 5% to offset the number killed by wolves, according to their data. Bringing more wolves would require a proportional decrease in hunting, Desjardin said.

Less hunting would mean less revenue from hunters. Using data on the value of the hunting industry in Colorado, Desjardin estimated wolf introduction could cost $24 million in lost economic output.

This data is speculative, but Desjardin said his simulation was able to predict elk population and hunting rates in Montana. From 1995 to 2018, elk populations in the state increased by about 50%, while the number of elk killed by hunters rose just 20%.

It is important to note that, when it comes to economics, states that allow wolf hunting generate additional revenue through those licenses. In the 2016-17 hunting season alone, Montana raised $393,000 from wolf licenses, according to an annual report.

There also could be money generated from wolf-centric tourism. One study from 2008 estimated that wolf-watching activities in Yellowstone National Park generated a combined $35 million annually for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

In a report, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said wolf impacts on big game are variable from year to year and from one habitat to another. In some areas, elk herds have decreased since wolf reintroduction, while in others they have grown or stayed about the same.

“Wolf predation by itself does not initiate declines in prey populations, but it can exacerbate declines or lengthen periods of prey population rebounds,” according to the report.

Eric Washburn, a local hunter and proponent of wolf reintroduction, claims the animals can improve game herds. A couple years ago, he had to dispose of a mule deer buck he shot after it tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The contagious neurological disease has been documented in at least 27 Colorado counties.

Because wolves tend to target sick or dying prey, some experts believe they could help reduce the number of infected big game. Others are more skeptical, arguing that adding more predators would cause further stress to ailing herds.

Wolves’ benefits to the land are far-reaching, Washburn claims. By changing big game herd behavior, other species, from willow trees to songbirds to beavers, have better chances to thrive.

He also attributes a rise in hunting revenue for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming at least in part to the existence of wolves.

“The story is really only good,” Washburn said.

Effects on ranching

The story does not sound so good to rancher Jeff Meyers, a member of the Routt County Cattlemen’s Association. He argues Proposition 114 poses “unacceptable levels of risk” for local ranching families.

As Meyers told the commissioners, losing livestock to wolves is not a likelihood — it is a certainty.

“The question is will the compensation be fair,” he said.

Though Proposition 114 would establish funding to compensate ranchers, Meyers is skeptical it will actually offset the cost of losing his Angus cattle. As he explained, raising the animals in a high-altitude climate is no cheap task, and a statewide compensation program might not offer payments commensurate with all of the work he puts into the meticulous breeding and rearing of his livestock.

Particularly as ranchers already are struggling with rising taxes and water shortages, Meyers worries what an added stressor would do to local agriculture.

Even a reintroduction proponent like Washburn concedes wolves will kill some livestock, but he argues the losses are comparatively small.

In 2015, for example, wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho killed 148 cattle, 208 sheep, three dogs and three horses, according to a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a tiny fraction of the millions of livestock lost each year due to non-predator causes, such as illness or weather.

As some agricultural leaders argue, the number of livestock lost to wolves likely is underreported because it can be difficult to prove.

What bothers Meyers is that, in his view, the majority of people supporting Proposition 114, namely people in urban areas or on the Front Range, would not be directly affected by it.

“It’s not your calves that are going to be killed. It’s not your lambs. It’s not your colts. It’s not your border collie,” Meyers said. “You will be voting to be killing someone else’s lambs, someone else’s calves, someone else’s best friend.”

Only time will tell

In the end, it is impossible to know exactly how Proposition 114 will affect the state.

While Idaho, Montana and Wyoming provide a certain degree of similarity to Colorado, each state manages wolves differently. The success of reintroduction in one state does not guarantee its success in another. Wildlife management does not exist in a vacuum, and a multitude of environmental, social and political forces could sway outcomes.

The public seems to be in wide support of the measure. An online survey last year conducted by Colorado State University showed 84% of residents would vote in favor of wolf reintroduction, while 16% would vote against.

Groups supporting Proposition 114 have deep pockets, with the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund raising more than $1.7 million in the past two years, mostly from out-of-state donors.

On the opposing side, two groups, Coloradans Protecting Wildlife and the Stop the Wolf PAC, have raised about $700,000 collectively.

November will show whether the numbers speak for themselves.

Scout Trail clean-up in Glenwood Springs could be model for future projects

The recent trash cleanup off of Boy Scout Trail created a model that could be replicated for similar projects in the future.

The city of Glenwood Springs joined forces with ECOS Environmental & Disaster Restoration and Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) to clean up abandoned encampments just above the Scout Trail trailhead.

On Friday ECOS removed hazardous materials and bagged trash for removal, and on Monday city parks superintendent Dan Roper, RFOV program manager Daniel Benavent and nearly a dozen RFOV volunteers hauled out the trash bags.

The city has used ECOS for cleanups before, but that was for areas easily accessible by vehicle, Roper said.

The big difference this time was the remote nature of the cleanup on a steep hillside with no vehicle access, Roper said.

That remoteness drove costs up.

The city paid ECOS about $3,000 for its work, but it would have been about $9,500 if ECOS had hauled all the trash bags out, Roper said.

“That’s actually why we went the route we did,” Roper said of using RFOV volunteers to keep costs down. “This is the first time we’ve partnered with RFOV on a project like this.” 

It probably won’t be the last.

“The hope is we could use this model in the future moving forward with other areas,” Roper said.

“This is the first time RFOV and the city and ECOS have worked together in this fashion, and it seems like it’s beneficial for the community to pursue this,” Jacob Baker, RFOV communications and outreach coordinator, said.

RFOV’s expertise is providing community stewardship, Baker said, defining stewardship as “caring for the places we care about.”

“Getting the residents of Glenwood Springs on the ground and taking charge of the stewardship of their community really reinforces the concept of stewardship,” he said.

In all, about nine cubic yards worth of trash were hauled away, Roper said.

While the trash cleanup is complete, there is still more work to be done.

“We’re going to help reclaim that spot, too, to remove that platform bench area and all that. It’s not a matter of just removing it but then to help mitigate the issues that came from building that platform up there,” Roper said.

Cleanups are nothing new for RFOV, though this project brings the group back to its beginnings.

“We started as a trails organization on the Scout Trail 25 years ago,” Baker said.


Carbondale filmmaker’s journey down the Potomac to be featured in 5Point festival

About three years ago, Carbondale-based filmmaker Michael C.B. Stevens came up with the idea to return to his roots near Washington, D.C., and make a film exploring the mighty Potomac River, which effectively ran through his childhood backyard.

Fast forward to this week, when that film is set to be part of the 5Point Adventure Film Festival, and you would think it all went as planned. That, like any good adventure, is far from the truth.

“Nothing went as I expected. Absolutely nothing. It went awful,” Stevens said. “We just totally sandbagged ourselves and got into big trouble. I don’t want to give anything away, I guess, but we basically bit off way more than we could chew. Being out West we have all these rivers and you think, ‘I’ve got what it takes.’”

The 13th edition of 5Point’s flagship film festival runs Wednesday through Sunday. Like most everything else these days, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the festival to go online-only this year, instead of its usual in-person affair in Carbondale.

The film that Stevens, now 28, made of his 2018 trip is about 12 minutes long. Not only is it about the nostalgia of returning to one’s roots — Stevens’ childhood friend Grant Horton was his compatriot on the adventure — but it focuses on the Potomac’s extensive pollution problems.

“It shows you the power of story and that’s what 5Point is about. I’m over the moon. I can’t even tell you,” Stevens said about getting into the 5Point festival. “I literally told a friend, ‘Hey, I finished the film, no one will ever watch it.’ … And I went home and I got into my first festival. And then a month later got into 5Point, which was always the dream. This film was made for 5Point.”

The original trip itinerary had been to paddle roughly 130 miles of the Potomac to Chesapeake Bay, and then bike back. Without giving away too many details, let’s just say Mother Nature and some poor planning made that easier said than done for Stevens and Horton, who rarely look like they are enjoying themselves in the film.

Despite everything, 5Point thought it a worthy candidate for its festival and Stevens said he is proud with how the film turned out.

“It was probably the right way it should have happened anyway,” Stevens said. “It was an incredible trip. The whole reason was to draw awareness to the pollution in the river, and I think we do that in the film, and to connect people with a sense of nostalgia. Use that sense of nostalgia to inspire people to try to protect something they love. At least that’s what we hope to do.”

The film, titled “Beyond the Backyard,” is scheduled to show Sunday in the festival’s fifth and final program, which it calls “Changemakers.” For more on the festival, visit 5pointfilm.org. For more on the director and to see the trailer, visit michaelcbstevens.com.

Decision time for Aspen skiers and riders — passes go on sale Wednesday

Aspen Skiing Co. has been taking a beating on social media in recent weeks over its ski pass options and pricing for 2020-21.

Regardless of how skiers and snowboarders feel about the changes, they will have to make decisions starting Wednesday when Premier Passes with the chamber of commerce discount and new pass products go on sale. Purchases must be made through Nov. 13 to get the lowest prices.

The majority of commenters on Skico’s Facebook page have lamented the loss of options such as the Classic Pass, Double Flex and Flex and have accused the company of price gouging by raising the price of the Premier Pass by $320 with a chamber of commerce discount.

“Skiing and exclusivity just went up another level,” valley resident Maria Wimmer wrote on Skico’s Facebook page last week. “Bring back the Highlands-only ski pass.”

But Tripp Freeman wrote Skico had to make tough decisions due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

“Let’s be honest, short of making March ‘No Texas month’ there’s just about nothing Ski Co. could do in this situation that wouldn’t have someone whining,” Freeman wrote.

Skico officials said the new ski pass strategy is necessary to spread out customers and manage capacity during the coronavirus pandemic. The new options are designed to create the best chance for managing flow and remaining open the entire season. An anonymous Skico worker or workers have tried to answer questions and respond to comments on Facebook, though the nastiest verbal shots are ignored.

Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications, said Tuesday there was confusion among some customers when they initially looked at the new pass options and pricing. However, he believes the options benefit people once they do the math.

Skico has an FAQ page dedicated to ski pass issues on its website. Hanle also urged customers to call and consult with a service agent. They have access to customers’ past pass purchases and how they were utilized. They can provide suggestions on the best options for this season given the usage history, he said.

Instead of the one-day, two-day and new sales of four- and seven-day Classic passes, Skico is promoting the new Valley 7-Pack and Valley Weekday Passes for 2020-21.

“We do not know if the 7-Pack is permanent, but we do plan to sunset the Classic Pass as it exists today,” Hanle said. “There are all sorts of possibilities (with future pass products). We’ll have to rethink everything. It has to work with the mix.”

The Valley Weekday Pass is for residents only. It costs $899 for chamber members and $999 for nonmembers.

The Valley 7-Pack, which can be used any day of the week, is also only for valley residents and costs $399.

Blackout days apply to both passes Dec. 26 to Jan. 2, and Feb. 13 and 14. However, skiers and riders can pay a fee to access the slopes on those days. In addition, days can be added to the passes for a validation fee that will vary through the season.

Skico regularly charged validation fees over the holidays well into the 1990s but eliminated the practice until this year.

The Premier Pass doesn’t have blackout days. The price is $1,799 for chamber members through Nov. 13. That is an increase of $320 from last season’s early-bird price.

A Premier Senior Pass, for ages 65 to 69, is also $1,799 while the Premier Silver, for customers 70 years of age and older, is $649 during the early sale period.

Terri Cowan Ziets wrote on Skico’s Facebook page last week that the increase for the Silver Pass was a “slap in the face to all of us long-time senior devotees and supporters of the local ski culture.”

Matthew Hunt questioned the elimination of the one- and two-day per week passes.

“What’s the reason behind removing flex passes other than trying to get more money?” he wrote. “Yeah, you could get the 7-day local and buy day tickets at 50% off, but that ends up being much more money if you ski 15+ days a season.”

Other commenters said Skico should limit the number of Ikon Pass users if it wanted to manage the flow on weekends and other busy periods. However, the Ikon Passes were sold starting last ski season, so conditions couldn’t be changed.

Dependents of Skico employees also will continue to receive a Premier Pass without restrictions, Hanle said.

Skico’s FAQ page on pass issues is at aspensnowmass.com. Lift ticket prices will be released in late October.

Denver graduate student finishes project to summit all 58 fourteeners for disaster relief

Prior to her first summit July 10, Brittney Woodrum had never climbed one of Colorado’s fourteeners. But, less than 80 days later, the University of Denver graduate student would reach the top of all 58 peaks as part of her “Fourteeners Project” to raise money for ShelterBox, a global aid organization.

“This project is a result of not just my work, but the work of so many people. And one of the things I never expected when I started this project was just how much traction it would gain and the huge community that would rally behind this,” Woodrum said earlier this week. “I had never done a fourteener before this project. I felt confident I could do it, but did I actually know? No. And a lot of people were doubtful from the get-go. I think I allowed some of that doubt to seed in my own approach. But overall a lot of astonishment, joy and lots and lots of gratitude.”

Woodrum, a 27-year-old Kentucky native, is working toward a degree in humanitarian assistance at DU after studying nonprofit administration and Spanish as an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky. Upon moving to Denver a year ago, she immediately set out to find a way to give back and wanted to combine it with her love of the outdoors.

ShelterBox was the first to reach out to Woodrum. Known for its big, green box it sends out to those across the globe in crisis, its ambassadors have a reputation for going on great adventures with the box to raise awareness for its mission. Woodrum decided to tackle the fourteeners all while carrying one of these boxes, hoping to raise $1,400 per mountain, or a little more than $80,000.

After reaching the top of her final peak — Crestone Needle in the Sangre de Cristo Range — on Sept. 26, Woodrum said she had raised about $85,000 for ShelterBox’s COVID-19 emergency relief fund.

“There is a sense of relief, because obviously every day it went on there was a huge concern for weather and all these other things,” Woodrum said. “So I feel really relieved that everything kind of worked out in my favor. There were a lot of moving pieces that had to go right for me to be able to complete it.”


While Woodrum did say her favorite climbs were those around Lake City in the San Juan Mountains, notably Handies Peak, the “majestic” Elk Mountains around Aspen certainly struck their own cord.

“Capitol was probably the first mountain I saw that I was like, ‘Yeah, that one looks like a fourteener.’ That’s what you would expect a fourteener to look like,” Woodrum said. “It was so majestic and the basin you hike into and the lake, that was such a special hike.”

Capitol Peak, located not far from the Snowmass Ski Area, is arguably the state’s most notorious fourteener and certainly one of its deadliest. That reputation had Woodrum a bit concerned, being a newbie to climbing 14,000-foot peaks.

Not to mention, the day she began her hike toward Capitol happened to be the same day the Grizzly Creek Fire broke out near Glenwood Springs, making for one of the most unique nights of her project.

“It was almost surreal because there was a meteor shower that night and then being up on top so high, you could just look across the valley and because of the fires you could see orange everywhere in the distance, which was wild,” Woodrum said.

“I was really scared to do it,” she continued, in reference to climbing Capitol. “But then I got up there, and this was something I found on every single mountain I did, it’s just about embracing the trudge. It’s more of a mental than a physical game. Get yourself to put one foot in front of another and you’re eventually going to make it. Sometimes you have to do a couple more technical moves than others, but Capitol for me, it was super fun. By the end of the project I found I really welcomed those technical climbs.”


With her project completed, Woodrum is looking forward to a little bit of rest. She’s taking a short break from her graduate studies and will soon become a Leadville resident, a community she really latched onto during her treks.

However, most of her work is just beginning. She already has her eyes focused on possibly doing a similar project next year, and sees her nonprofit work as a career, not a one-off summer adventure.

“I feel very service-oriented in general. I know that’s what I want to dedicate my life to. I feel very privileged with everything I have ever had in my life,” Woodrum said. “The best thing I can do with my life is pay some of that forward and help others who by no fault of their own have had the worst day or year of their life.”

For more, find Woodrum’s project website at http://www.shelterboxusa.org/fourteeners or search “The Fourteeners Project” on Facebook.