2018: A look back at the year that was in Garfield County, Pt. 1 | PostIndependent.com

2018: A look back at the year that was in Garfield County, Pt. 1

Each year has its memorable stories, and 2018 was no exception in Glenwood Springs and throughout Garfield County.

From local students joining in national protests over gun violence following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February … to teacher rallies for better pay and state education funding in the spring … to a visit by top state officials for the topping off of the brand new Grand Avenue Bridge in June … to a lingering drought that led to one of the most destructive and disruptive wildfire seasons in recent memory — these are the stories people will likely remember far beyond year’s end.

The Post Independent today begins a four-part look back on the year that was, starting with the period from January through March.

On Saturday, reporter Alex Zorn will revisit the top stories during the period from April through June; Monday, reporter Matthew Bennett highlights the July through September stretch; and on Tuesday, New Year’s Day, reporter Thomas Phippen covers the more-recent newsworthy events from October through December.

Want to revisit the original stories? Read this and subsequent articles at postindependent.com, which will provide links for greater context and a little trip down the 2018 memory lane.

Don Vanderhoof remembered

Former Glenwood Springs mayor and businessman Don Vanderhoof was remembered by family and others who knew him well for his many contributions to the community, following his death on Dec. 31, 2017, at age 86.

Vanderhoof graduated high school in Glenwood Springs after his family, including older brother and former Colorado Gov. John Vanderhoof, relocated here. John and their dad, Roy, opened what was first known as Glenwood Industrial Bank.

Don, after working for the state Highway Department in Grand Junction, came home to work at the bank. He became involved in several community institutions, and was elected to the Glenwood City Council in 1995. He served until 2003, including two years as mayor.

“The thing that brought him the most pleasure was his desire to give back to the community. That was always one of his big missions,” said his son, Steve Vanderhoof, who worked alongside his dad at what became the Glenwood Independent Bank.

Another notable resident who departed in January 2018 was longtime Elks Lodge member, Kiwanian, volunteer and newsman Al Maggard.

Vacation rentals visited, revisited

After offering an amnesty period in late 2017 for residential property owners to register their vacation rentals with Glenwood Springs for taxing purposes, the City Council began looking at ways to make it easier for people to rent their homes on a short-term basis.

The move brought scores of properties onto the books that were being listed online at places like airbnb.com and VRBO.com. But it also opened up other issues.

By year’s end, the city had placed a moratorium on new short-term rental permits, in an effort to address neighborhood concerns that were cropping up.

Facelift for GSES ‘Old Main’

Following the summer 2017 completion of the brand new addition at Glenwood Springs Elementary School ­— part of a larger Roaring Fork School District bond issue — the new year saw the completion of a full-scale renovation of the historic “Old Main” building at the downtown school.

In addition to new classroom and teacher work areas, the renovated 1921 structure houses a revamped gymnasium and new cafeteria.

“It’s pretty overwhelming,” said fifth-grade teacher Scott Anderson, who went to elementary school himself in the historic old GSES building in the early 1990s, and whose daughter now attends there. “What a huge addition to the community, and what an amazing asset to the education of our kids.”

South Canyon hot springs controversy

Controversy arose over a proposal by Glenwood Springs tourism entrepreneur Steve Beckley to lease and develop the city’s run-down South Canyon hot springs site.

Beckley approached Glenwood City Council in January with the idea to lease city-owned land in the area just west of town and develop the hot springs along with a pair of campground sites.

However, the proposal quickly drew criticism from South Canyon residents and others, who argued the area would be best left as undeveloped open space, citing concerns including traffic and wildfire hazards.

The idea was later dropped by Beckley and his associates.

New owner for old library

YouthZone, a youth advocacy nonprofit that had been looking for a new building in Glenwood Springs, extended a $900,000 offer to buy the city’s old library building at Ninth and Blake. The city ultimately accepted.

Numerous uses had been proposed for the vacant facility, which had been empty since the new Glenwood Springs Library opened in fall 2013.

YouthZone has long resided at 803 School St., but that property became part of a land swap deal between the city and Roaring Fork School District as the city looks to redevelop the entire confluence area west of downtown.

Headed into 2019, a major renovation project at the new YouthZone location was well under way.

Trauger leaves Glenwood council

Now-former Glenwood Springs City Councilor Kathryn Trauger announced in February that she would be stepping down from her elected post nearly three years into her four-year term. A new job in neighboring Pitkin County would prevent her from giving her all to the council job, she said.

“This was a very, very tough decision … and it has been very special for me to serve the community,” she said in a tearful statement to her fellow council members.

Council later appointed Jim Ingraham, a member of the city’s Financial Advisory Board at the time, to fill the vacant position.

South Blake apartments get go-ahead

Glenwood Springs City Council approved a controversial 79-unit apartment project planned for a 6-acre site on the hillside north of the Walmart store in south Glenwood Springs.

“We really need to do what is best for the entire city,” Councilor Kathryn Trauger said in what would be one of her last formal votes before stepping down from the council.

Combined with previous approvals for more than 200 new apartment units at Glenwood Meadows and in West Glenwood, city leaders saw the approval as a step toward providing a greater mix of competitive housing options.

Morgridge Commons space opens

Bolstered by the largest Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District grant ever awarded ($750,000), Colorado Mountain College and the Garfield County Library District opened the new upstairs portion of the Glenwood Springs Library building, known as Morgridge Commons.

The 13,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art conference space has since hosted numerous public gatherings, meetings and major speaking events.

Sales lagged during bridge construction

The final numbers for 2017 came in by mid-February, confirming what Glenwood city officials had been bracing for — a near 2 percent drop in retail sales caused by disruptions from the major Grand Avenue Bridge project.

The city collected about $685,000 less in sales taxes than it did in the prior year. “It could have been worse. We were prepared for a decrease of as much as $1.1 million,” city finance director Steve Boyd said at the time. “The general strength of the economy helped the bottom not completely fall out on us.”

Students join in national solidarity

Dozens of Glenwood Springs High School students walked out during lunch break on Feb. 21 in support of the 17 victims in the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, and rallying for stricter gun laws.

Students lined Grand Avenue in front of the high school. Some carried signs with slogans such as “Enough is enough,” and “Tell your parents: DON’T vote for people who accept $$ from the NRA.” They participated in chants such as “School zone not gun zone.”

The debate sparked responses from Garfield County school officials about how student safety and building security was being handled locally. Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario also weighed in on the issue, saying the focus should be on security and addressing mental health concerns, not limiting access to guns.

The walkouts also prompted Roaring Fork Schools officials to clarify policies around student activism and the repercussions if they miss class. A second, more coordinated walkout on March 14, a month after the Florida tragedy, involved students from numerous other middle and high schools in the area.

Rifle city manager dismissed

Rifle City Council finalized a severance deal with former City Manager Jim Nichols, who was released in early March by the city under a mutual separation agreement after just three months on the job.

The city agreed to pay Nichols three months’ compensation, or $36,000, based on his contract salary of $144,000. Nichols had signed on for a two-and-a-half-year term with the city in November 2017, following an extensive search to replace former manager Matt Sturgeon.

Rifle later tapped Scott Hahn to become the new city manager.

GarCo settles tax dispute with gas company

Garfield County commissioners in March signed the second of two property tax abatement agreements with oil and gas companies over misreported production revenues.

The county agreed to a $1.1 million refund for Caerus Piceance, LLC, related to errors identified by the company in the volumes and revenues of natural gas the company reported to Garfield County for properties acquired in 2014.

Caerus had overpaid $1.1 million dollars in property taxes to the county and other local governments and school districts. The company agreed to waive $155,000 in interest, but that was not the case in a $5.7 million settlement announced by Garfield County earlier in the month involving a similar reporting error by Encana. In that instance, taxing entities in the county were also on the hook for $858,000 in interest, which Encana refused to relinquish.

Former UW, LIFT-UP director remembered

Amy Barr, who had directed the LIFT-UP poverty relief organization for a few brief months and had been the area United Way director for many years before that, died after a recent cancer recurrence. She was 64.

The Carbondale resident was remembered by friends and colleagues as a “witty champion of the needy … funny, feisty and a feminist with a laugh as big as the outdoors.”