A look back at 2020: Headlines and highlights from western Garfield County
Looking back at 2020, the city of Rifle and western Garfield County saw their fair share of interesting stories. Here’s a trip down memory lane as as we take a look back at some of the headlines from the Citizen Telegram in 2020:
BIG PLANS FOR DOWNTOWN
After visiting reconstruction concepts and receiving public feedback, the city of Rifle made final plans in February to revitalize downtown with a new project slated for 2021.
The project is driven by the need to fix poor drainage on Railroad Avenue and Third Street.
Craig Spaulding, city of Rifle civil engineer, said storm drain pipes under the road have holes in them, which cause ruts in the road.
“Because of the importance of Railroad Avenue and Third Street to Rifle we are trying to be a little proactive and not wait for it to completely fail,” Spaulding said.
To help with costs later down the road the city is planning to replace all utilities including the waterline, which isn’t expected to fail but is near the end of its life expectancy.
“Based off of that, people were excited about the landscaping and beautifications, but didn’t want to sacrifice parking,” Spaulding said. “With that we scaled it back, actually gaining spots to the original plans by moving things around.”
Re-2 GOES VIRTUAL
At the start of COVID-19, a stay-at-home order prompted Garfield School District Re-2 joined districts statewide and moved ahead with board meetings electronically through Zoom as they prepared to launch distance learning for students.
The district had to work at feverish pace with instructional coaches, department heads and teacher leaders to train staff as they prepared to launch distance the following week.
CRFR STATION CLOSURE
Colorado River Fire Rescue saw one of its stations close this past year.
In early September,a dwindling budget, predicted upcoming revenue shortfalls and the voter’s denial of its mill levy proposal, CRFR announced the closure of Fire Station No. 43 south of Rifle at 419 Last Chance Drive.
However, Wildland fire crews currently still store equipment, and apparatuses, such as fire engines and ambulances, in the building.
“Basically, I’m laying myself off as a result of our budget situation,” Callahan said earlier this year. “But I took this job in the interim, so we always knew I would leave sooner rather than later.”
The budgetary constrictions came on the heels of Colorado’s diminishing extractive resources industry, and in May, voters said no to a mill levy that might have funded the six positions CRFR needed to staff Station No. 43, now-Chief Leif Sackett explained.
NEW CHIEF, NEW CEREMONY
Despite the shuttering of Fire Station No. 43, that didn’t stop CRFR from welcoming incoming Chief Leif Sackett. His predecessor, Chief Randy Callahan celebrated his retirement from interim CRFR chief of two years and a career in firefighting that lasted 45 years.
“The time has come for me to climb down the ladder,” Callahan said during a speech prior to Sackett being sworn in.
The December moment was notched during the department’s first ever change of command ceremony.
Sackett would praise Callahan during the ceremony.
I’m very excited that we get to start this journey together,” he said. “From the desires and aspirations of what we envisioned CRFR to become, our foundation has been set to for the building blocks of tomorrow with the leadership of chief Callahan and what he’s done for the last two years with us.”
After George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis Police officer, calls for police reform erupted across the country and the world.
Rifle was no exception, and saw two large-scale protests during the summer.
Perhaps the most recognizable moment, however, came during the second protest in late June. As Black Lives Matter protesters hoisted “Equality and Peace” signs, counter-protesters — some openly carrying assault rifles and pistols — responded with Donald Trump and Blue Lives Matter flags.
A BLAST FOR BOEBERT
If there’s one thing that a gun-toting political upstart can truly teach us, is that when there’s a will there’s definitely a way.
Lauren Boebert, owner of downtown Rifle restaurant Shooters Grill, a place where servers deliver hot food to patrons while openly wearing a firearm, managed to beat out longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in the GOP primaries for the 3rd Congressional District in late June.
By November, the staunch Donald Trump supporter went on to victory with a win over Democratic challenger Diane Mitsch Bush.
At a pre-general-election rally in front of her downtown Rifle restaurant, Boebert spoke of the Democratic response to COVID-19.
“Look at what this pandemic has shown us – how much control they will take over our lives,” she said. “They want to disarm you. They want to tell you who’s essential, who’s not, where you can shop at what time of day – how old you have to be at what time of day – what you have to wear… They don’t want you to be free citizens – they want you to be subjects.”
CHECKING THE OIL
Western Garfield County was given a tough pill to swallow in September when a natural gas drilling company operating within the Battlement Mesa community declared bankruptcy.
Ursa Resources’ chapter 11 announcement was met immediately with concern that the drilling company wouldn’t make good on its debts.
Members of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance lamented to the Garfield County Commission that Ursa could skip out on paying the $5.3 million owed to the county. The funds were to be allocated toward local library, school, fire and hospital districts.
Some residents would also criticize the county for spending $1.5 million in oil and gas mitigation funds to participate in and challenge portions of the ongoing Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s rulemaking related to the implementation of Senate Bill 181.
MAKING A SPLASH
This year, many Rifle residents made a splash in the newly renovated Rifle Municipal Pool.
Opening its doors in mid-June, the $8 million facility came equipped with a new 6-lane lap pool, and a zero-depth entry pool with a play structure, a flow channel and family whirlpool in addition to the existing slide and plunge pool.
The pool began operations while under state and county COVID-19 guidelines, allowing groups of 75 for a 1 hour, 45 minute session.
The new facility replaced the half-century-old pool.
RIFLE VETERANS HOME OUTBREAK
In late November and early December, the Colorado State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Rifle saw two of its residents — 98 and 96, respectively — succumb to COVID-19 complications.
By that point, more residents and staff were reported to have contracted COVID-19.
Outbreaks were also reported then at three other nursing homes or independent senior living facilities in Garfield County, including the neighboring E. Dene Moore Care Center in Rifle. Renew Roaring Fork in Glenwood Springs and Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale have also had a smaller number of cases reported among staff and residents.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Of course, COVID-19 didn’t fully impose an adverse affect on local high school graduations. Though the pandemic caused schools to close in March, it didn’t stop Garfield County education institutions from celebrating milestones.
She’s now taking up a double major double major in International Affairs and Political Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Meanwhile, Rifle High School would go on to celebrate in-person graduation July 25.
THAT’S NO BULL
Another big accomplishment came by way of rodeo.
Rifle native Colten Fritzlan, 20, competed for the first time at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association National Finals Rodeo in Arlington, Texas earlier in December.
The Rifle High School graduate told the Citizen Telegram at that point that he was ranked one of the best bull riders in not just the country but the entire world.
“All the bright lights and bucking chutes is everything he’s dreamed of since he was 7,” said Velvet Fritzlan. “And for him to step out there is just surreal.”
After the event, Fritzlan was named olten Fritzlan was named the 2020 Resistol Rookie Bull Rider of the Year and the NFR average winner for bull riding.
When a 93-year-old woman fell in front of her Rifle home in freezing cold weather, Sitka the dog didn’t waste any time.
Out on an early-morning walk with her owner, Stacey Wilz, Sitka kept pulling on the leash and stopped in front of the house of Jane and Dot Holt. The dog’s rather abnormal behavior during such an otherwise normal morning walk led Wilz to see that Dot, who has dementia, had fallen in front of her house.
The dog leading the human to trouble helped save Dot Holt from freezing to death.
“It couldn’t have been much longer, it was like 15 degrees,” Jane Holt said of the situation. “I’m so in love with this dog, and I always have been. He is such a great dog.”
• Longtime Rifle High School baseball coach Gordon Cooper is inducted into the Colorado Dugout Club Baseball Hall of Fame.
• For the first time in its history, the Rifle High School drama club is selected by the Colorado Thespians for their modern musical, “Matilda.”
• After leading a family of morning walkers to trouble, hometown dog hero Sitka saves a Rifle woman who fell in front of her house.
• Capitol Deli in Rifle moves to a new location.
• Rifle man Jamie Babcock’s charged with attempted murder after shooting at a man.
• Garfield Re-2 School Board cuts ties with former superintendent Brent Curtice.
• Garfield County Commission finalizes $600,000 grant for new animal shelter in Rifle.
• Colorado Mountain College cancels all spring graduation ceremonies due to COVID-19 precautions.
• Coal Ridge High School teacher Tim McNulty takes home Locals Choice Gold as the top teacher
• Parachute native John Loschke puts together face shields for Western Slope hospitals.
• Rifle City Council welcomes a brand new chamber, which includes the addition of a new audiovisual system.
• Social media page started in Battlement Mesa, Parachute brings communities together amid COVID-19.
• Premier events at the upcoming Garfield County Fair are canceled.
• After voters decline a mill levy, Colorado Fire River Rescue firefights begin addressing upcoming cuts.
• De Beque rancher Nick Ranthum runs cattle through the streets of Rifle.
• The first of two Black Lives Matter protests is held in Rifle.
• Outdoor eating decks are installed in downtown Rifle to promote social-distance dining.
• Construction on Grand River Health’s new care center halts temporarily after COVID-19 outbreak.
• Rifle Regional Economic Corporation requests the city start a loan program for small business affected by COVID-19
• Rifle High School holds outdoor, socially-distanced graduation ceremony at Bear Stadium.
• Garfield County Fair contests adjust to virtual fair.
• Middle Colorado Watershed Council celebrates completion of new interpretive center at Lion’s Park in Rifle.
• Firefighters control major wildland fire at Rifle Falls Hatchery Fire.
• Parachute welcomes a new bussing service that helps connect Western Garfield County riders to Roaring Fork Transit Authority services.
• U.S. Forest Service names new pack mule after Hilda Sykes, whose family contributed to the history of the Rifle area.
• The Rifle Humanity Restoration Crew hosts their “Hello Rodeo” event, an effort to promote smiles and good vibes in Rifle amid COVID-19.
• The Ute Theater holds a Halloween showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” its first live event since COVID-19 restrictions began.
• Coal Ridge High School runner Mikalya Cheney qualifies for the 3A state cross country meet; the Grand Valley boys cross country team also qualifies for a 2A state tourney appearance.
• Rifle City Council addresses possibility of breaking away from county-wide paratransit service to slash costs.
• Sweet Coloradough announces plan to open a full bar at their Rifle location.
• Rifle city leaders mull transfering $1 million from parks and rec account to capital investments to help pay city workers amid COVID-19.
• A procession of first responders visits the Colorado Veterans Community Living Center to celebrate the 100th birthday of resident Robert Harper.
• Grand River Health receives its first COVID-19 vaccination, produced by Pfizer.
• With idle time caused by COVID-19, Rifle Parks and Recreation Department starts to assemble food kits to those in need.
Coal Ridge High School sernio Taylor Wiescamp signs on to play college volleyball at Northeast Junior College in Sterling.
Top five online stories of 2020
1. 1,761 pageviews: “Around the Corner: Saying goodbye is the hardest part”
2. 1,733 pageviews: “One night only, Vegas-style gambling comes to the Rifle’s Ute Theater”
3. 1,151 pageviews: “Blues musician Coco Montoya will sizzle at the Ute Theater”
4. 1,081 pageviews: Superintendent Brent Curtice retiring from Garfield Re-2 after 2019-2020
5. 832 pageviews: Rifle initiative urges people to smile more at each other
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Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein announced his resignation Friday, effective at the end of the school year, saying he will take “a personal sabbatical” next year.