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Your Morning News - February 11th, 2015

Feb 11, 2015

Aspen Development Proposal to Go to Ballot

The Aspen City Clerk says a proposed charter amendment about development in Aspen will be on the ballot this Spring. That follows the collection of enough signatures by Aspen residents. Ballots for the mail-in election will go out in the spring. Election Day is May Fifth.

Providing Pot to Teens Gets Silt Man Arrested

The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office arrested a man, last week, for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The marijuana Hector Ruiz purchased from two dispensaries in Silt ended up in the hands of teenagers. Law enforcement found out about the marijuana after school officials at Coal Ridge High School in New Castle reported a student getting sick from a cookie infused with marijuana. Another student had brought the cookie to school. Over the next few days, school officials and law enforcement discovered nine students were involved in distributing, purchasing or consuming edible marijuana products. The adult arrested, Hector Ruiz, had purchased the products from the Silt dispensaries High Q Dispensary and Green Cross Dispensary. Ruiz faces an additional charge of possessing marijuana or marijuana concentrate in excess of the legal limit.

Wilderness in Peril: Permit System and Limiting Time in Wilderness Under Consideration

The changes the White River National Forest is considering to minimize crowds in wilderness areas have been successful in other forests. Last week, Forest Service officials began an informal outreach effort around how to bring back solitude to busy trails and backcountry camping.

Aspen Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer is delivering a presentation to a packed house in Aspen. She’s working to educate people about problems in the forest and solicit feedback.

“As we go through this slideshow together, I’d like you guys to think about this one question I have. What would you like the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness to look like 50 years from now?”

Her slide show focuses on the 183,000-acre Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness. The popular area is seeing overcrowding at spots like Conundrum Hot Springs, the Four Pass Loop and on a short trail from Maroon to Crater Lake.

“In two separate days in September of 2014, we had over 1200 people a day, hiking that trail. Now, if you’re going to wilderness to experience solitude, that’s probably not where you want to go.”

The crowding leads to ecological degradation. Campers leave behind trash, human waste and illegal campfires. Some don’t store food adequately.

“In August of 2014, we were forced to close all of the sites, the camping sites around Crater Lake, and we were forced to close them for the remainder of the season because there had been so many bear-human conflicts up there. It was becoming a very serious, dangerous situation.”

The crowding isn’t a surprise. In 2007, the Forest Service pulled together a focus group that examined Colorado’s 35 wilderness areas. The group pinpointed three with “magnet areas,” where average daily visitor use levels are the highest. The Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness was one of them. Martha Moran is with the White River National Forest.

“They made all these recommendations that we were already using in the Maroon Bells Wilderness.”

The group had 14 suggestions to control crowds, like implement dog policies and manage human waste. The White River has done them all — except for two: implementing rules around length of stay and limited entry permits.

“We are at the end of our tools in the toolbox unless we say you can only go so many days in the wilderness, which is an untrammeled characteristic we don’t want to deal with and the limited entry system.”

One question posed to those at Thursday’s meeting was “Would you support a limited use permit system for Conundrum Hot Springs or the Four Pass Loop?”

“Oh yeah, definitely.

That was Aspen resident David Kashinski. He says he’s seen permit systems work on other public lands.

“I was in California last year where they’re working with a permit system that works for the people to be able to have access to it and use the resource, which makes it better in the long run, I think.”

Darlene Liss of Aspen knows about crowding first-hand. She spends her summers volunteering at a visitors center near Maroon Lake.

“I am in favor of permits, as long as it goes along with education. There has to be a lot of education about what the wilderness is, how to preserve it, how to keep it, how to respect it.”

Local resident Morgan Boyles, who’s in his 20s, doesn’t favor “knit-picky” rules, but with population growth, a permit system may be needed. But, he doesn’t want to see anyone who wants a wilderness experience kept out.

“If there’s a permit system I wouldn’t necessarily want it to harm those feelings of wilderness that you gain because I think those are becoming rarer and rarer in our culture nowadays.”

One national forest that’s had success with limited use permits is in Oregon. The Willamette National Forest limits the number of people allowed in parts of its wilderness. Before the permits, people were pitching tents everywhere and impacting the vegetation, says Matt Peterson, the forest’s recreation program manager.

“There really was a decrease in the amount of barren ground, ground that had been impacted by camping. Because of the decreased amount of use, there really was a chance for the natural resource out there - the vegetation and meadows — to recover from the impacts.”

The White River National Forest isn’t making any hard and fast changes. A permit system would need to go through a lengthy government process. At this point, forest officials are just getting a feel for the kinds of management changes the public would favor.

Base 1 Lodge: It Came Down to a Tree in the End

Aspen will see its first new affordable hotel in many years. On Monday, Aspen City Council approved a proposal by Chicago transplant and major landowner Mark Hunt. But at literally the 11th hour, a tree came close to derailing whether the project could move forward.

It’s a 70-year-old cottonwood sandwiched in the middle of the sidewalk just in front of Johnny McGuire’s deli. Gail Mason is walking by. She’s a resident of the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I mean if it’s alive and it’s healthy it should be incorporated into the project.”

Aspen City Forester Ben Carlson said Monday night the tree is doing well.

“The cottonwood tree has good structure, it’s a healthy tree, it’s the type of tree that we don’t have very much of, in the downtown area.”

It’s at the southeast corner of the lot in question, just feet away from the property line. Hunt and his team had asked to cut it down, but Carlson’s office denied that request, saying the city considers the tree a public amenity that should be protected.

Developers asked City Council to weigh in on the matter Monday night. Council seemed a little flummoxed on what to do, and Hunt and his planner looked deflated. Councilmember Dwayne Romero pushed them to find a way to make the project work around the tree.

“You’re saying the deal is going to die on presence or the preservation of a tree? That’s what you’re telling me?”

Mayor Steve Skadron was a little more diplomatic.

“My preference is that we could maintain the tree. Mark, you know, we laugh about it. We just spent, at 11 o’clock at night, a half an hour discussing a tree. But the principle is much more important. And I think it’s fundamental to the roots of the community.”

Yes, pun intended. There was some irony to the discussion, as the city of Aspen has approved the removal of 30 trees in another part of town. That’s to make way for more city offices.

In the end, on Monday night council approved the affordable hotel. But that included requiring the developer to do everything possible to make room for the tree, so it can survive construction.

Local resident Brennen Connor parks in front of the tree. That spot might go away to make sure tree has enough room.

“I’m usually a bus guy. I’m just getting a haircut right now.”

Connor says if the parking spot gets eliminated, he’d be fine with that.

Those finer details for the new hotel and its companion city tree will be ironed out in the coming months.

Hotel Jerome Sold for $69.1 Million to Auberge Board Member

The historic Hotel Jerome sold for $69.1 Million on Monday according to Pitkin County assessor records. The sale makes it one of the largest commercial real estate transactions for a single property in downtown Aspen in recent years.

The new owner is Houston businessman Dan Friedkin. He is the majority shareholder of Auberge Resorts Collection – the company that manages the Jerome, along with other high-end hotels. Friedkin also purchased an adjacent property, the former Aspen Times office, for $3.35 Million.

The seller was Chicago-based Don Wilson, the managing partner of DRW Real Estate. He bought the 93-room hotel on Main Street out of foreclosure in 2009 for between $25 to $36 Million, according to conflicting media reports. DRW then invested over $20 Million on a major renovation of the 113,000 square foot building in 2012.

Tony DiLucia is the hotel’s general manager. He says he couldn’t more pleased to have Friedkin as the new owner.

“So, here is a guy that truly wants to be in the hospitality, hotel business. Again, it’s handing over stewardship. Don did his magic with his team and re-did this whole hotel which we are so grateful for. They are into the whole what this hotel means to our community.”

All operations and staff will remain the same at the Hotel Jerome.