A look back at the year that was in Garfield County, Part 2
oLYMPIC SKIER VISITS HOMETOWN HILL
New Castle native Alice McKennis — fresh off success in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics where she took fifth in the women’s downhill, followed by a third-place showing in a premier World Cup event — paid a visit to her old haunts at Sunlight Mountain Resort outside Glenwood Springs.
During the visit, a new ski run was named in her honor, called Aligator Alley, on the mountain’s East Ridge. McKennis’s Instagram handle is @thealigator.
McKennis and her dad, Greg McKennis, were Sunlight regulars starting before she had even turned 2 years old.
“I have memories on pretty much every trail … I have a vivid memory of tomahawking down one of those steeper trails,” she said of her love for the steep terrain on Sunlight’s east side.
One way, then the other in Silt mayor race
The April mayoral election in Silt was one to remember, as three candidates vied for the open seat that wouldn’t be decided until nearly two weeks later.
The vote initially appeared to favor candidate Jay Barner by just two votes, but a double recount ended in a one-vote win for the man who has been seated as mayor for the past eight months, Keith Richel.
Richel, who served on the town board as a trustee for six years prior, replaced Rick Aluise, who served a single four-year term as mayor before deciding not to seek reelection.
In New Castle, the much-less-contentious four candidate race for three open seats ended when Brandy Copeland was named to town council after receiving just one more vote than first-runner up Joe Urnise.
And, in Carbondale, voters selected Lani Kitching to join appointed and then elected incumbents Erica Sparhawk, Luis Yllanes and Heather Henry on the town board for a two-year term. Dan Richardson ran unopposed for reelection as mayor.
Eagles Club, a Glenwood institution, disbands
One of Glenwood Springs’ oldest social and benevolent organizations disbanded in early April and ultimately sold its historic building. The 115-year-old Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 215 made the decision amid declining membership and mounting costs to keep the building up to snuff.
“We’ve tried for three years to avoid it. But there’s a time when you’ve got to stop,” said Jess Hankins, who has worked with the aerie under the direction of the national organization. “The last thing we want to do is lose the aerie in Glenwood Springs.”
Teachers join rallies for better education funding
Teachers across Colorado rallied in April demanding higher pay throughout the state. More than 30 local teachers stood in front of Glenwood Springs High School on a chilly Monday morning as they rallied support from the community they serve.
They were among thousands of high school teachers across the state, almost all wearing red in solidarity, standing in protest of low pay and “the lack of funding for education in the state.” Together as one unit, the public education instructors in Colorado wanted to see statewide funding loopholes for public education changed.
Less than eight months later, Garfield County’s Re-2 School District passed a mill levy override to get its staff salary schedules more competitive with neighboring districts. Neighboring Roaring Fork Schools had passed a similar measure in 2011.
That same election saw Amendment 73, which would have increased statewide public school funding, shot down by voters 53.6 percent to 46.4 percent as teacher funding remains a critical problem for Colorado without an obvious solution.
New New Castle manager named
“We felt it would be wise to do an internal search first before looking outside the area,” New Castle Mayor Art Riddile said of the decision. Hiring internally allowed the town to feel secure in its choice, he said.
FBI sting nabs Carbondale man in Kansas City
Carbondale-area resident Ryan Edward Mausner, 42, was charged by federal investigators for allegedly attempting to solicit sex with a minor in May. Posing as a single mother living in Kansas City, an FBI agent reportedly lured Mausner to travel to Missouri for Memorial Day weekend with the intent of engaging in illegal sexual activity with a fictitious 7-year-old girl.
Mausner pleaded not guilty on June 4, but still faces up to 10 years to life in prison for one count of online enticement of a minor and up to 30 years for one count of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual contact.
His federal court trial has been scheduled for March 25, 2019.
Locals, law enforcement combine to close case
When an Amber Alert came through on phones across the state in early June, four Rifle citizens didn’t stop at just disabling the alarm on their phones. Instead, their efforts assisted law enforcement in finding the culprit and getting the 12-year-old girl back to safety.
Ben Wood, Sean Kemberling, Ashley Cid and Jason Miller were all recognized by the Rifle Police Department and their city council at a June Rifle City Council meeting, as each played a role in the arrest.
“This is the community we work in and we’ve got to make it safe and keep it safe,” Miller said. “I think we all prefer to work in a safe environment.”
Miller noticed a suspicious vehicle outside the coffee shop he worked at and alerted police which led to valuable information.
The suspect, Jody Kyle Haskin, 47, was wanted for the abduction of his 12-year old stepdaughter. He ultimately decided to take his own life in the south Rifle area near Walmart as police were closing in.
Active fire season predicted
In early April, Garfield County fire officials were getting the word out about what they were anticipating to be a very active fire season. Their concerns were justified during the summer, as numerous area fires sparked in the dry conditions.
Extremely low snowpack in the high country in the spring kept fire officials cautious throughout 2018.
“The combination of a low snowpack and an expected dry, hot summer put Glenwood Springs and surrounding areas at a greater risk for wildfires this summer, Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said before the April 14 meeting.
The state’s snowpack shrunk to as low as just 66 percent of normal for early April, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Just over a month before the Lake Christine Fire broke out, Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire crews met with members of the press to preview what they expected to be an active fire season on the nearly 6 million acres of public land they cover.
“We just want to make sure folks are doing what they can, but we must take precautions,” UCR Deputy Unit Fire Management Officer Josh Tibbets told the media. “The smallest spark could cause a huge fire.”
Moisture content levels on local vegetation showed dead fuels around the county were ready to burn.
The Glenwood Springs area would get its first test in late June, when an electric line failure near the Oak Meadows subdivision up Four Mile road sparked a wildfire that quickly grew, but fortunately did not burn any homes.
Rifle rallies to help resident in need
When one Rifle resident woke up one morning to discover that her car had been stolen overnight, the community around her didn’t let her down. Sometime between 1:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. on the night before her last round of radiation treatment for breast cancer, somebody stole Pamela Nelson’s Honda SUV, which had a handicapped sticker on the dash and a walker in the back.
On June 18, her story was shared on Rifle Connected and in 13 days, 10 people raised $685 for her and her dog Maggie through a Go Fund Me campaign.
On June 21, Nelson received word from Grand Junction police that her car had been recovered.
“It was very humbling to have this kind of support,” she said. “It brought me to tears several times. “
While the Go Fund Me campaign was set up to help Nelson purchase a new vehicle, with her car’s recovery those that supported her said she should use it for any repairs she may need.
Carbondale bans tobacco sales for under 21
The Carbondale Board of Trustees first looked to raise the age limit for buying any and all tobacco products from 18 to 21 years in April, following similar ordinances passed by nearby towns in Aspen and Basalt.
The ban was later approved by the board, unanimously, in late July.
The decision to ban tobacco for ages 18-21 grew out of concerns about the rise in teenage use of electronic cigarettes and the practice of vaping.
“It really brought my awareness up about how vaping has exploded in the last couple of years,” Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson said in regards to a recent education session presented by Mandy Ivanov, Eagle County Public Health’s schools liaison, at Roaring Fork Schools in Carbondale, Basalt and Glenwood Springs.
The board knew it wouldn’t be able to prevent teenagers from smoking tobacco completely, but as Trustee Marty Silverstein said at the time, it sends a strong message.
New Grand Avenue Bridge topped off
State transportation officials and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper were on hand for the official topping off of the brand new, $126 million Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs.
The bridge spanning the Colorado River and connected state Highway 82 to Interstate 70, had officially opened to the traveling public in November of 2017, but work on some of the fine details continued through June of this year.
Hickenlooper used the term topophilia to describe the new bridge at a June 22 celebration and placing of the time capsule in one of the bridge’s south piers. Defined by Collins English Dictionary the term equates to “the love of or emotional connections with place or physical environment,” the governor said.
The new bridge was paid for out of the state’s Bridge Enterprise Fund. It took the better part of five years to plan, design and construct. City of Glenwood Springs, Garfield County and state officials acknowledged the “Grand Partnership” between the different entities that resulted in the final product.
Murder in Glenwood’s homeless community
A well-known Glenwood Springs homeless man was charged with the murder of acquaintance Keith Wayne and has been held on $1 million bond while awaiting trial or some other resolution of the case.
Trevor David Torreyson, 42, faces life in prison or possibly the death penalty for the beating death of Wayne, age 56. Wayne died sometime late June 19 or early June 20 in West Glenwood, possibly during a night of drinking, based on Torreyson’s statements to police after his arrest.
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Between Thursday and Saturday morning, local law enforcement arrested nine people accused of soliciting children for sex as part of a sting operation.