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Colorado mountain towns get serious about addressing Postal Service problems

In recent years, Gypsum has attempted to find solutions to the challenges of its local Post Office, which hasn’t been able to keep up with the town’s growing population.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

While mountain towns in Colorado have long relied on post offices in lieu of home delivery from the U.S. Postal Service, the recent explosion of the towns’ populations and online shopping orders as well as insufficient funding and postal service staffing challenges have all led to significant consequences at local post offices.

And while some of the problems aren’t necessarily new, many have gotten worse. Many Eagle County post offices are experiencing longer waits, staffing challenges, space constraints, lost mail and overall confusion on how to use PO boxes — with the challenges varying town by town.

“There’s been complaints about the post office for years, but they really ramped up once COVID hit,” said Avon Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes. “For our local post office, we’ve heard complaints about really long lines; filthy, dirty facilities with mail and overflowing boxes. The mailboxes where you put your letters being crammed full, so there’s privacy concerns about mail falling out of the boxes and being left all over the place.”

Specifically, Smith Hymes noted that the increased reliance on online shopping and services like Amazon have “overloaded the ability of our rural post offices,” calling the situation a “nightmare.”

“This has just added a whole new set of challenges for what was already a stressed infrastructure,” she said.

For Avon, these challenges are compounded by the sheer number of individuals the post office serves. In addition to those that live in Avon, the town’s post office also provides services for Beaver Creek, Arrowhead, Bachelor’s Gulch and EagleVail.

Similar challenges are present in Gypsum, where Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann cited inadequate space as the catalyst for a number of its post office problems.

“Gypsum’s post office is one of the smallest in the county — post offices in Wolcott, Bond and McCoy are smaller of course — but Gypsum has the largest population of any municipality in Eagle County,” Rietmann wrote in an email to the Vail Daily.

He went on to list that the main concerns for the Gypsum post office include parking lot traffic flow and safety concerns; long wait times for counter service; inadequate building space, both for package delivery as well as the interior space for mailboxes, customers, mail sorting, customer service provision and staff; and a building and parking lot that are in poor condition and in a state of disrepair.

“These problems are growing due to population growth and increased online ordering and purchasing through internet retailers,” Rietmann wrote. “Package delivery through Amazon and other similar retailers flowing through the local Post Office compounds the problem because customers must go to the counter to receive their packages, and there’s just not enough space and staffing to make retrieval an efficient process.”

The Vail Post Office has experienced similar challenges to other Eagle County Post Offices, but it also may be looking to downsize the building’s size.
Vail Daily Archive

Vail has nearly the opposite problem as Gypsum in that its post office seems too large for the service and population it provides. Vail Town Manager Scott Robson said that Vail has recently come to learn that its post office was initially built as a regional distribution center, but no longer serves this function.

“As we look at that post office in Vail, it does seem like a much bigger footprint of a space than the services they provide now versus say 20 years ago,” Robson said.

Still, Robson said that the town hears similar complaints and concerns.

“We’re seeing extended times for mail to arrive, certainly more lost packages and lost mail than I think our community is used to seeing; it’s just not arriving at all,” Robson said. “We have some real concerns with the physical state of the building, the landscaping, the parking lots; just some of the basic elements of the physical structures seem to be lagging behind from a deferred maintenance standpoint.”

Robson said he has seen these problems, and the complaints, in Vail escalate in the last three years.

“It’s an important service, but it’s not at the level of quality and speed that I think our citizens are used to,” he said.

Eagle County manager Jeff Shroll said that the commissioners have heard from several town managers expressing concern and frustrations. In listing these concerns, he said “that most of our facilities in all the towns are not appropriately sized and staffed for today’s times; they simply cannot keep up with demand; lines are long, service is slow.”

“My own observation living in the valley for 30 years is that as we have grown by about 20,000 people in this county, none of the USPS offices received much if any kind of upgrade to keep up with population growth. Home delivery services have shrunk rather than been expanded,” Shroll said.

A quick search of the word post office on the Eagle County Classifieds Facebook page will drum up a number of posts, some with a hundred or more comments, where people vent and air their grievances with not only local post offices, but postal service in the community. Many of these reiterate concerns about late or missing mail as well as long wait times. Often, posters are looking for advice on getting packages delivered to a post office. Plus, many posters express gratitude for the local postal workers.

Similarly, in discussing challenges, Smith Hymes, Rietmann, Robson and Shroll were all quick to point out that many of these problems are representative of systemic challenges, and not reflective of local staff.

“In Gypsum’s case, it’s been my experience that local postal staff is trying their best, but they’re resource constrained,” Rietmann said. “The local team appears to be doing their best with the tools they have in really trying circumstances.”

James Boxrud, Postal Service spokesperson for the Western Area of the United States, wrote in an emailed statement that “the challenges in our mountain communities have been consistent.”

“Staffing has been and continues to be our biggest challenge. The cost of living and lack of affordable housing are a large contributor not only for the Postal Service, but all employers,” he continued. “The advent of the pandemic, the increase of consumer use of ordering necessities online and the national employment challenges have exacerbated this for our mountain communities.”

As these challenges worsen, these local municipalities are now attempting to take matters into their own hands.

Local action

Avon is ready to address some its local Post Office challenges.
Ali Longwell/Vail Daily

However, enacting local change with a federal agency is no easy feat. While many of the challenges are reflective of larger systemic problems with the Postal Service, each post office is run individually and thus the solutions also exist individually in some cases.

“USPS itself has communicated that they don’t find it all that helpful to receive generalized complaints about ‘multiple town’s’ problems with mail services because (in their view) the problems and solutions are different in each case and need addressed separately,” Rietmann said.

Gypsum has been trying to address its challenges since around November 2020.

“Direct communication with the USPS is extraordinarily difficult, but I think we’re finally making progress,” Rietmann said.

Since 2020, the town has tried a number of approaches, including discussing challenges with the local postmaster; sending letters to all members of its congressional delegation (copying the commissioners in these communications); encouraging residents and giving them the tools to write to congressional representatives; having discussions and checking in regularly with congressional field staff to keep effort focused on the problem; keeping new developers informed of post office challenges; brokering conversations between new and existing property owners with local post office staff to keep discussions going on new locations for a facility; and having a dialogue with regional Postal Service staff.

Of the challenges in enacting change, Rietmann said, is “it’s difficult to communicate effectively with an entity the size of the United States Postal Service. Getting routed to the right people to have the discussion with is the first challenge, the second is keeping our needs consistently in front of the USPS so that our needs are prioritized, and a solution can be developed.”

In these discussions, Rietmann said that alternatives like cluster boxes and full home delivery have been contemplated. But even this, the town has little control over.

“Both delivery options are progressively more expensive for the Postal Service than operating a Post Office location. Given the Postal Service’s poor financial condition, those options don’t look very likely, but we’ll continue to make the case for them,” he said. “It’s up to the Postal Service to decide how to serve different communities and what delivery model to use. For our part, we’ll continue to communicate Gypsum’s needs and the problems we’re observing and what solutions we think might help alleviate them.”

With all this communication, there has been some movement from the Postal Service. Gypsum is scheduled for a “space constraint study” in the next 60 days, Rietmann said. “This is the Postal Service’s first step towards evaluating the needs of a postal location and working towards solutions.”

Still, “the process isn’t a swift one,” Rietmann said. And as the town continues to try and move forward in addressing challenges, he noted that citizens shouldn’t feel shy about communicating their service concerns to local postmasters.

“But they should do so respectfully and treat postal employees how they would like to be treated,” he added.

Other municipalities have not made as much headway as Gypsum.

Vail, Robson said, has just started a process to rethink its post office.

“It just feels like an appropriate time to really revisit what the operational and size needs are of a facility like that and maybe there’s a win-win here where we could rethink how that very large site is utilized while still ensuring that there’s a central post office here in Vail,” Robson.

Specifically, the town has begun to think how the Postal Service site could possibly better serve the town’s housing needs.

“Given it’s next door proximity to Timber Ridge Apartments, there’s certainly been a fair bit of conversation around whether the town of Vail may be able to partner with the U.S. Postal Service down the road to potentially utilize that parcel for something like affordable or attainable housing,” Robson said.

The Timber Ridge apartments are currently scheduled for redevelopment in 2023. With this close date, in addition to the rising service issues, working with the Postal Service on a solution has “risen to the top of some of the priorities,” Robson said, adding that the town is hoping to work with the Postal Service in 2022. But so far, little movement has been made.

“We’ve been challenged to find the right contacts at the federal level to really get movement on this, so we have been relying on some of those contacts through Congressman Neguse’s office, Sen. Bennet and Sen. Hickenlooper to help us narrow in those conversations with the right folks,” Robson said.

While at this point Avon has yet to make much headway, Council member Amy Phillips is ready to take on the challenge. There were a few things that made Phillips want to address some of the issues, but her main “trigger” was the introduction of the federal program to deliver free at-home COVID-19 tests to residents via the Postal Service.

“All I could envision was pallets of COVID tests on the back dock of the Avon Post Office,” Phillips said.

Phillips has some ideas for possible changes, including increasing education for new residents, trying to engage the county commissioners in solutions, looking into ways to add more package boxes as well as implement a seasonal janitorial service. But first, she said she’d like to start by meeting with the local postmaster.

Recycling bins overflow at the Avon Post Office in January. Cleanliness has been one of the main complaints heard by Town Council members.
Ali Longwell/Vail Daily

Plus, she said she’s appreciative of the work Rietmann has been doing in Gypsum.

“I’m glad someone’s been on top of this because then I have someone to piggy back off of — we’re not starting from scratch,” she said.

Smith Hymes added that she feels it’s time to ramp up the pressure.

“Given this new climate we’re in where the post office has become much more critical in terms of delivering goods — not just mail, but goods, they’re kind of a juggernaut — I think putting pressure on both our elected representatives and on the management of the Postal Service, by exerting pressure and demanding a response, and demanding better service, is all that we can do at this point,” she said.

On the county level, Shroll said that up until this point the county hasn’t been engaged in addressing local post office challenges, and that it has no plans, at this time, to engage with the Postal Service to address them.

Shroll did note that the commissioners are hoping to speak to Colorado’s senators and representatives about the issues at a National Association of Counties in February, “making sure they are aware of the issues with the USPS at the local level in our county; Simply more resources are needed including people and capital improvements.”

For the Postal Service, Boxrud wrote in his statement that “We continue to monitor staffing and we flex our available resources, augmenting from other locations around the region as necessary.”

In addition to attempting change in their own localities, both Vail and Avon have also been part of a collective effort by the Colorado Association of Ski Towns to address greater challenges.

Collective action

The Colorado Association of Ski Towns — which represents 40 municipalities, counties and resort associations in Colorado — has been monitoring the situation with the Postal Service for over a decade now. In Eagle County, Vail and Avon are both part of the association.

In October 2021, the president of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns, Dara MacDonald, wrote a letter to Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, calling for “a systematic change in the way the USPS operates in our mountain communities.”

“The inadequate level of USPS service has been of concern in mountain communities for many years and CAST has engaged on this issue for over a decade,” MacDonald wrote in the letter.

The letter cites a number of challenges facing many of these post offices including delivery times of two to three weeks to arrive in post office boxes; average wait times of 30 to 45 minutes; insufficient numbers of PO boxes and parcel boxes to accommodate demand.

“There aren’t that many issues that rise to the level of CAST putting together a joint letter from all the ski communities, but this was certainly something that resonated for everybody,” Robson said.

In response to the letter, Bennet and Hickenlooper did reach out to the U.S. Postal Service and received a response from Cory Brown, a Postal Service government relations representative.

In the response, Brown wrote that Colorado-Wyoming district officials “assured us that they are working to address the concerns raised by the local municipal authorities.”

The letter goes on to state that “they are establishing a monthly videoconference meeting to maintain the lines of communication between district postal officials and representatives from Western Slope communities.”

The letter also references Gypsum — which, interestingly, is not a part of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns — and says that the Postal Service district officials will conduct a site visit there, as well as in Crested Butte “to assess the facilities.”

According to Smith Hymes, Bennet also had a recent meeting with the U.S. Postal Service on Thursday, Jan. 13. The Vail Daily reached out to Bennet’s office to discuss the outcome of the meeting, but received no response as of Jan. 27.

Moving forward, Smith Hymes hopes that this collective effort will lead to “real solutions and better funding levels.”

“The ultimate goal is that the U.S. Postal Service is appropriately funded to serve the communities they’re supposed to serve,” she said.

While Rietmann said he was told by the Postal Service that problems need to be addressed individually by municipalities, he is hopeful that this collective effort will also bring some change.

“Municipalities, county commissioners, our congressional delegation, and membership organizations like CAST (Colorado Association of Ski Towns) have an obligation to listen to their constituents and communicate the collective concerns they hear along to the USPS,” he said. “Collective action will highlight the issue and perhaps drive attention within USPS to getting them solved, but the solutions at the community level will all need to be tailored to the problems that exist at each location.”

Horrifying funeral home allegations prompt bill that would give Colorado regulators more power to inspect

Rick Neuendorf, 63, with a portrait of his wife Cherrie, who was 67 when she died Dec. 11, 2013, poses for a portrait outside his home on Oct. 24, 2018, in Montrose. Rick and his daughter, Chrissy Hartman, are part of a group fighting to find the locations of their loved ones’ remains that were sold by Megan Hess of Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors & Donor Services in Montrose, Colorado. Cherrie’s entire body was sold then shipped right after her open casket funeral, the FBI told him. Unfortunately at this time, the family does not know where the remains were sent.
Joe Amon/The Denver Post

With a federal trial looming for two Western Slope women accused of selling body parts around the world without families’ consent, Colorado lawmakers are looking to bring state inspection of funeral homes up to speed to prevent such alleged atrocities from happening again.

HB22-1073 would allow the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies to inspect funeral homes and crematories if the agency receives a complaint about the business. Currently, the department has no authority to inspect these businesses without the consent of an owner.

The bill has been shaped by two horrifying stories of alleged funeral home malpractice in Colorado, prompting lawmakers in their jurisdictions to take action.

At the Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors in Montrose, owners Megan Hess and her mother Shirley Koch allegedly deceived hundreds of families by giving them fake ashes or cremated remains that belonged to other people while discretely selling bodies snd body parts without telling loved ones.

Read more via The Denver Post.

ECO Transit reduces schedule amid staffing shortages

Passengers board an ECO Transit bus in Vail.
Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily archive

A driver shortage forced ECO Transit to reduce bus times this week from the expanded winter schedule it typically offers during the high season.

The staffing shortage combined with the return of passengers after a large, COVID-19-related dip in ridership has led to an uptick in delays, cancellations and crowding for Eagle County’s transportation authority, ECO Transit Director Tanya Allen said in an interview Monday.

“We went into this season really optimistic,” Allen said. “We were able to increase our driver salaries. We were in a good funding position because of the sales tax revenue that we’ve had in the county that funds our system. And we were really hoping to be able to have a full and effective schedule for the winter season.”

ECO Transit’s ridership is back up to 80% of pre-COVID-19 levels, Allen said. Ridership data shows that the bulk of these riders are commuters who depend on the bus service to get to work.

The bulk of commuters ride eastbound buses around the 6 a.m. hour, peaking at an average of 41 passengers on the Highway 6 line and 18 passengers on the Valley Commuter, according to data from December provided by ECO Transit. Commuters then travel home on westbound buses around the 4 p.m. hour, peaking at an average of 37 passengers on the Highway 6 route and 26 passengers on the Valley Commuter route.

This does not represent the highest number of passengers recorded at these times, but rather an average of ridership recorded during these peak times.

In addition to morning and evening commute times, ECO Transit also sees a spike in ridership, leading to occasional overcrowding, on the westbound buses that leave Vail at the end of the night. This bus serves as a safe way home for people who have been out on the town.

A graph of ridership data provided by ECO Transit shows peak commute times with commuters heading east in the early mornings and back west in the early evenings.
ECO Transit/Courtesy photo

Many commuters are seasonal workers employed by Vail Resorts, which is one of ECO Transit’s largest customers as the company often subsidizes the cost of a bus pass for its employees, Allen said.

Vail Resorts did not respond to questions regarding the challenges ECO Transit is currently facing.

The agency expected ridership to increase further in the high season and began the hiring process to bring on new drivers to support the transition to the service’s expanded winter schedule at the end of November, Allen said. However, despite raising its starting wage to $23 an hour, requiring no experience, and tacking on a $3,000 bonus, ECO Transit was unable to meet the staffing quotas it set out for itself.

“It’s certainly disappointing …” Allen said. “But I think the focus here is really on making sure that that service is consistent and reliable, and we think that this is the step we need to take to do that.”

ECO Transit is struggling to hire for many of the same reasons as the rest of the local service sector — the cost of living is high and finding housing is extremely challenging, Allen said.

“… But also, bus driving is an extremely unique and high-pressure job and it’s a job that’s been made even tougher during the COVID period,” she said.

“Across transit agencies across the state and the nation, this is a problem,” said Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney, who also serves on the ECO Transit Board. “So, no one has cracked it yet to say, ‘This is what we need to be doing.’”

Staffing shortages have been reported across industries from private sector businesses to local law enforcement.

“When it comes to the public transit that’s helping those employees get to work having staffing issues, it becomes a double whammy,” said Steph “Sunshine” Samuelson, an information services representative with ECO Transit.

The result can be quite challenging for both commuters and drivers.

Delays and crowded conditions

“Lately, the buses have been very late…,” said one ECO Transit rider, whose comments were translated from Spanish. “Also, every day we have to travel standing up because there are more than 65 people on the bus.”

“All of this got worse about two months ago,” the rider said. “Sincerely, this has impacted me in arriving late to my job and now, with the weather, it is getting worse, and I am afraid of getting sick because we all ride crowded together.”

Passengers crowd into an ECO Transit bus in a photo submitted by a rider who said he worries about getting sick given the crowded conditions on some bus lines.
Courtesy photo

Another rider said she chooses to board the Valley Commuter bus line at an earlier stop in Eagle so she can get a seat on her morning bus to work as the bus is often “standing room only” by the time the next stop comes around. The bus is “often overcrowded” leaving the Vail Transportation Center on her commute home from work as well, she said, citing one instance when she had to wait an extra hour to board the bus due to staffing issues.

Her biggest complaint, however, was other passengers failing to wear proper face coverings on the bus, something that is very challenging for bus drivers to enforce while also fulfilling their primary job functions.

“I do appreciate the bus drivers and having ECO bus be so convenient,” she said. “I love not driving.”

Other riders complained of being left behind during peak commute times as the bus they planned on taking filled up before they could hop on.

ECO Transit has a team of “road supervisors” who drive around monitoring for these kinds of issues as the schedules run each day, Allen said.

In situations where riders are left behind, road supervisors will contact drivers and move resources around to try to get a “shadow bus” to follow the other driver on the route, picking up stragglers that did not make it onto the full bus, she said.

“For example, a driver may have just finished a shift and is bringing a vehicle back. We may ask that driver to take on a couple of extra hours of work, assuming the driver hasn’t hit a maximum number of hours set for safety purposes,” she said.

Other times, road supervisors, who are licensed and are often former drivers, may hop in a bus themselves.

Lately, these kinds of course corrections have been happening “frankly almost every day,” Allen said.

“It’s such an invaluable service to be able to ride the bus,” Samuelson said.

“But then to have the question of, ‘Gosh, is my bus coming this morning?’ as the temperatures are dipping into single digits and you’re standing outside … and that’s how you’re beginning your day and then to have that passenger starting their day off poorly and taking it out on a driver, which I see quite often, is hard,” she said. “And then the driver gets discouraged beyond measure and it’s just a cycle kind of feeding on itself when it’s like, wait a minute, what are we doing to really support one another as a workforce?”

A group of ECO Transit users wait to board a bus at the Vail Transportation Center.
Courtesy photo

‘We’re doing our best’

Rather than continue trying to keep up with precariously staffed schedules, Allen said she and other members of ECO Transit’s leadership decided that having consistency and reliability in the service was more important even if it meant making a few cuts.

Reductions in the schedule were made based on the routes and times that were identified as being the most “underutilized” or “unproductive” based on ridership data collected, Allen said. She said she anticipates that the new modified schedule will run through the rest of the winter season.

The lack of other public transit options in Eagle County places more pressure on ECO Transit, but “we’re doing our best to take care of our part,” Allen said.

Samuelson is someone who “truly believes” in public transit. Her love for her job and her community is what earned her the nickname “sunshine,” which adorns the placard on her desk at the Vail Transportation Center.

“Our drivers get through everything — construction, weather, bad drivers, crashes and breaking down buses,” Samuelson said. “Our drivers get it all from every angle and they still show up for work, which is amazing to me. I mean, truly amazing.”

Driving a bus is a difficult job to begin with, as every spring “orange cones pop out of the concrete,” but driving a bus in the mountains with more unpredictable weather and road closures adds another layer, Samuelson said.

On top of that, the pandemic brought mask mandates, making drivers responsible for regularly checking their rearview mirrors to make sure all passengers are complying while keeping their eyes on the road. This is perhaps the most common complaint from drivers that gets communicated up the chain of command to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners.

“We are actually trying to reach out to our federal partners to see when that mandate will be lifted and if we could get it to be a locally controlled issue,” said McQueeney.

Drivers do not make decisions around mask mandates, construction, road closures or bus schedule changes, but they are often the ones fielding frustration from riders whose days are impacted as a result, Samuelson said.

Commuters are left waiting outside an ECO Transit bus with a sign that reads “bus full/next bus please,” as the vehicle has hit its maximum capacity and cannot accept more passengers.
Sean Naylor/Vail Daily

Samuelson often fields complaints herself and refers those interested in providing positive or negative feedback to leadership, but she said the department might consider creating another option for collecting feedback directly from riders and drivers.

“What I’d like to highlight honestly is the huge opportunity to remember that we’re all in this together, that drivers are our front line and are committed public servants that are trying their best to help,” Samuelson said.

Looking to the future

Improving ECO Transit’s offerings is a priority for Eagle County government as it connects directly to the county’s goals to support the local workforce and reduce the climate impact of greenhouse gases generated by having more commuters in individual vehicles, McQueeney said.

Eagle County is in the early stages of beginning a regional transportation authority with more buy-in from the county’s municipal governments and other private transportation jurisdictions such as Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek. Allen said this could create more opportunities to improve the services offered by ECO Transit and alleviate staffing issues.

In January, the county held its first meeting of the “formation committee” that will guide the creation of this new regional transportation authority or RTA.

“There will be an opportunity to share maintenance facilities and resources, even drivers if we get that far down this path,” McQueeney said. “So, I do see this as being something that could help us alleviate the driver shortage, especially by just enticing people to come and be part of something that’s exciting and new.”

Continuing efforts to increase the availability of workforce housing in the county will also be key to attracting more drivers, Allen said.

“This staffing challenge is something we’re going to have to incorporate into our service planning for the summer season,” Allen said. “We’re going to have to be really honest with ourselves about what that looks like, what numbers we think we can hit and then be planning our summer schedule around those numbers.”

Time Machine: 60 years, ago pilot bore ordered for tunnel to carry I-70 under Continental Divide

It would be another 10 years before the Eisenhower Tunnel opened to carry Interstate 70 traffic under the Continental Divide, but in 1962, the State Highway Commission directed the Colorado Department of Highways to drill the pilot bore for the tunnel.
Vail Daily archive

5 years ago

Week of Jan. 26, 2017

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced plans to redirect $76,000 from the the Water and Land Conservation Fund to aid Eagle County’s effort to acquire public access points to the Colorado River.

A fundraiser sponsored by a group called Changing Minds raised $36,000 toward its goal of educating people about mental health issues.

The annual Free Family Fun Fair was planned at the Eagle River Center.

10 years ago

Week of Jan. 26, 2012

In presenting the proposed Haymeadow project to the Eagle Town Board, developer Ric Newman stressed the planned 979 residential units would be built over a 20- to 30-year period.

Six members were appointed to the newly created Eagle Marketing and Events Committee.

The Gypsum Town Council was slated to begin review for the proposed 56-acre Dotsero Station at Sweetwater Ranch annexation petition.

20 years ago

Week of Jan. 24, 2002

The town of Eagle and Adam’s Rib developer Fred Kummer were close to settling a lawsuit that would allow Kummer to proceed with his golf course development plan at Frost Creek.

Although the 2002 election was months away, county candidates were already lining up. The list included clerk and recorder candidates Teak Simonton and Earlene Roach and sheriff candidates Joe Hoy and Bruce Campbell.

Ranchers reported cattle rustling incidents near Burns. Pat and Nickie Luark were missing 11 cows and 11 calves.

30 years ago

Week of Jan. 30, 1992

Cats were disappearing in Gypsum. Four felines from the Red Hill Drive and Beacon Road areas were reported missing by their owners, who feared someone was trapping, killing and hiding the remains of the family pets.

Members of the Eagle Valley High School Rodeo Club received a $500 donation from the Tom Whitehead Junior Golf Foundation of Vail. The foundation donated the money so the club could purchase trophy saddles for its first-ever rodeo competition, planned in September.

The Eagle County Public Library asked for donations from patrons to expand its 900-item videotape collection.

A Boy Scout troop from Gypsum staged a dog team race at Yeoman Park. The Scouts themselves teamed up as the “dogs” to pull sleds around the snow-covered fields. About 60 boys participated.

40 years ago

Week of Jan. 28, 1982

A long-simmering debate over the operations of Avon town government spilled over during a Town Council meeting when a group of citizens presented a petition calling for the immediate removal of town manger Al Alpi. Alpi served as both the town manager and Avon mayor.

County officials predicted the Edwards area could grow by more than 700%. The community had 645 dwelling units in place, but 4,352 additional residential units had been approved for the area.

The Jerry Ford Celebrity Cup ski races were held at Beaver Creek, and participants included Clint Eastwood, Ahmad Rashad and Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm.

Linda Hoza Taylor, of Eagle, won a sewing machine as her prize in the 1981 Make It Yourself with Wool Contest.

50 years ago

Week of Jan. 27, 1972

The United States Army announced it was reopening its recruiting station in Glenwood Springs.

Glen Moore, of Moore’s Sporting Goods in Eagle, was elected president of the Eagle Valley Rod and Gun Club. The club hosted a trap shoot as part of its annual meeting. Moore, Fred Collet and Terry Nunn earned the top prizes at the event.

“Who remembers the Bledsoes?” asked a front-page headline in the Eagle Valley Enterprise. A woman from Berthoud, Colorado, has contacted the newspaper when she found a dog-eared, leather bound family Bible in the drawer of a dresser she had purchased at an antique auction. The Bible had family tree page that chronicled the Bledsoes. The family had resided in the Gilman area during the 1930s and 1940s.

The Rev. Bill Bowden and the Rev. Don Simonton announced plans to sponsor a youth group for the local Methodist and Lutheran churches.

60 years ago

Week of Jan. 25, 1962

Jake Lucksinger, chairman of the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, announced the schedule for official fallout shelter inspections. A Fort Collins-based architecture firm was tasked with completing a survey of the shelters in the county.

The State Highway Commissioner instructed the Colorado Department of Highways to proceed with drilling a pilot bore for a tunnel that would take Interstate Route 70 under the Continental Divide.

The Eagle County Farm Bureau presented a 50-star flag to Eagle County to replace the out-of-date 48-star flag that was on display at the county courthouse.

70 years ago

Week of Jan. 24, 1952

“Local crowds are enjoying the good skiing course in Eagle,” the Enterprise reported. The course had a 3-foot base, and fresh snow was falling daily. “The tow is in operation every Sunday with last Sunday seeing its largest crowd out on the slats.”

A herd of approximately 20 elk had taken up winter residence at the Stephens Ranch near Sweetwater. The elk moved in beside cattle in a feeding area, bedding down with the cows and sharing their fare.

Frank Fisher sold his Castle Peak Dairy operation to Martin Swartz, of Dwight, Kansas.

80 years ago

Week of Jan. 23, 1942

In accordance with rationing orders from the federal government, for the month of January, Eagle County was allotted four passenger car tires and three inner tubes and 17 truck tires and 11 inner tubes.

The federal Undersecretary of War advised the American people that veterans of World War I could enlist for military service if they could met the physical requirements. The Army agreed to lift its 18- to 35-years-old age limit for veterans. The war department was particularly interested in welcoming former officers back to military service.

The nine members of the Wolcott Willing Workers club met to discuss their Red Cross efforts. They launched their meeting with a spirited singing of “God Bless America.”

Attempt to ban mountain lion hunting in Colorado thrills animal activists, troubles hunters

A proposed bill that would ban mountain lion hunting has stirred opposition from the hunting and wildlife communities. (Provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

When Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioners in January 2021 allowed hunters in some areas to lure mountain lions with electronic calling devices, animal rights groups reacted with a new plan: asking lawmakers to ban hunting of Colorado’s wild cats.

“That was it for us,” said Aubyn Royall, the Colorado director of the Humane Society of the U.S. that has spent the previous several years asking state wildlife officials to ban mountain lion hunting. “We have been working through the appropriate channels and not having any success so we decided we needed to work through legislation.”

Senate Bill 31, introduced last week by four Front Range lawmakers, all Democrats, would ban hunting of mountain lions, Canada lynx and bobcats.

Sen. Joann Ginal, of Fort Collins, pulled her name from the measure on Thursday, saying not enough stakeholder work had been done. That leaves Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, of Boulder County, Rep. Judy Amabile of Boulder and Rep. Monica Duran, of Wheat Ridge, carrying the bill. It has no Republican sponsors.

The legislation has rallied hunters and anglers across the state. An online post by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers urging members to oppose the hunting ban spurred more than 20,000 emails to Colorado lawmakers.

Read more via the Colorado Sun.

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.


Dropping reservoirs create ‘green light’ for sustainability on Colorado River

This photo from December 2021 shows the infamous “bathtub ring” at Lake Mead due to declining water levels. The lower basin states are planning to save water in the reservoir through the 500 + Plan.
Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Some Colorado River scholars say that a plan by the lower-basin states to leave more water in Lake Mead embodies a principle they explore in a recently published article: Dropping reservoir levels have opened a window of opportunity for water-management policies that move the river system toward sustainability.

In December, water managers from California, Nevada and Arizona signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, to spend up to $200 million to add 500,000 acre-feet of water in both 2022 and 2023 to Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, which has dropped precipitously low due to climate change and drought.

Water managers developed the program, known as the 500+ Plan, in just four months — lightning speed for something that requires the cooperation among (and millions of dollars from) each participant.

Water experts say part of the reason the plan came together so quickly is because it got a push from last year’s record-bad conditions. Water managers have watched reservoir levels in lakes Powell and Mead slowly dwindle for the past two decades, but 2021 was a wake-up call for many. A near-normal snowpack translated to just 31% of normal runoff, which was the second-worst inflow into Lake Powell ever.

“We had no idea how bad 2021 hydrology would be,” said Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “We knew it was a dry year, but when it turned out to be 31%, it was an eye-opener.”

It wasn’t until June that water managers realized how bad the situation was, and talks about the 500+ Plan began in August, Hasencamp said. That quick turn-around tracks with the findings of a new article by John Fleck, a writer-in-residence at the Utton Center at the University of New Mexico, and Anne Castle, senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center at the University of Colorado. Their paper, “Green Light for Adaptive Policies on the Colorado River,” was published in December.

The paper says that frenzied media attention, dramatically dropping reservoirs to their lowest levels ever and the first-ever shortage declaration by federal water managers, created an opening for the political will necessary for an innovative solution. Rapidly dropping reservoirs create a “green light” scenario for river management where conditions shift from a situation to be monitored to a problem that needs to be solved.


“That visceral experience we have with low reservoirs and seeing the snowpack not end up in them last year is part of what’s created this moment of opportunity,” Fleck said. “When we look at those reservoirs — which have been our safety for a long time, they have been our security blanket — and they’re gone, you see political leadership lurching to the issue.”

500+ Plan builds on previous work

But since political will can be fickle and fleeting, it’s important that policy solutions — usually the product of years of careful crafting — are ready to be implemented quickly when the timing is right and the “green light” window of opportunity opens. Although formal discussions about the 500+ Plan were only four months long, much of the groundwork had been laid over previous years.

“We know the technocrats behind the scenes, the people working at NGOs and government offices, they are thinking about this stuff and producing policy before we need it so they can attach it onto a problem when a problem arises,” said Elizabeth Koebele, a researcher at the University of Nevada and who studies how government policies get made collaboratively.

The lower basin is taking action after modeling showed that Lake Mead’s surface elevation could drop below 1,030 feet, which is a critical threshold identified in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. The reservoir is currently at 1,066 feet elevation.

This graph shows the decline of water levels — reflected as the reservoir’s surface elevation — since 2000. Record-low levels in 2021 prompted lower basin water managers to launch a planto leave 500,000 acre-feet in the reservoir.
Laurine Lassalle/Aspen Journalism Source: Bureau of Reclamation

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The basic way the program will work is by municipal water providers paying irrigators not to use water, so it can be stored in Lake Mead. It will be funded by $40 million from the Arizona Department of Water Resources; $20 million each from the Central Arizona Project, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority; and $100 million in matching funds from the federal government.

The 500+ Plan is resonant of the System Conservation Pilot Program, which ran from 2015 to 2018 and paid upper-basin farmers and ranchers to voluntarily fallow fields in order to boost levels in Lake Powell.

“These were ideas they didn’t have to make up from scratch,” Fleck said. “I was amazed at the speed with which (the 500+ Plan) came together. It was very impressive, because it built on work that had been going on behind the scenes for a long time.”

Upper-basin lessons?

Although the MOU lays out where the money for the 500+ Plan will come from, the details of where the water will come from are still being worked out, Hasencamp said. Water providers will save water through their existing conservation programs, as well as creative new ones that will be announced soon, he said. The program is likely a stop-gap measure aimed at keeping reservoir levels high enough until new operating guidelines can be negotiated in 2026.

Still, the lower basin’s program could contain lessons for the upper basin — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — as the four states continue to explore the possibility of their own program to save 500,000 acre-feet, known as demand management. The upper basin, led by Colorado, is investigating the feasibility of temporarily paying irrigators to use less water in order to send water to Lake Powell as an insurance pool against shortages.

With thousands of individual agricultural water users and lingering questions about how to verify water savings, the process is more complicated in the upper basin, and discussions have been slow-moving.

This photo from December 2021 shows one of the intake towers at Hoover Dam. California, Nevada and Arizona recently penned a deal to keep 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead to boost the declining reservoir levels.
Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, said in an email that she generally supports the lower basin’s efforts to take less water out of Lake Mead.

She pointed out challenges with shortages and water saving in the upper basin: Water users don’t have large reservoirs on which to rely the way that the lower basin does. Emergency releases from upper basin reservoirs last summer and fall to prop up Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower have harmed local businesses and left the reservoirs low, she said.

“Given the drastic shortages already occurring in the upper basin, coupled with these emergency releases, it is unclear how much more Colorado can provide,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said that the upper basin states use only about half of what they are entitled to under the Colorado River Compact, and the lower basin states use far more than their share.

But with climate change continuing to rob the river of flows, the amount of water promised to each basin in the century-old agreement may no longer exist. Fleck said the other reason why the lower basin was able to come up with the 500+ Plan seemingly quickly is because water managers there have been having difficult conversations for years that acknowledge the river’s hugely diminished flows — something upper basin water managers still seem averse to.

“(The upper basin states) have to have those difficult conversations with water users who don’t want to hear it, but they might not get what the compact promised,” he said. “Those are conversations we just need to be having in the upper basin right now, and we are not having them.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with the Vail Daily and other Swift newspapers. For more, go to AspenJournalism.org.

Colorado’s outdoor industry rallies to keep Outdoor Retailer trade show in Denver

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis looks over a nano daypack offered by SeatoSummit of Boulder at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in the Colorado Convention Center Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Denver.
David Zalubowski/AP

The outdoor industry flexed its newfound political muscle five years ago by leaving Utah and taking its twice-a-year Outdoor Retailer trade shows to Colorado.

Outdoor brands and advocates, irked over Utah’s push to dismantle protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, moved their annual gatherings — which draw 85,000 visitors and stir an annual impact of around $110 million — to Denver’s Colorado Convention Center.

Now, as Outdoor Retailer owner Emerald X negotiates a new contract with Denver and the annual Snow Show is set to begin in a week after skipping last year, Utah is lobbying to get the trade show back. And Colorado is not letting go.

“The leaders of the outdoor industry have spoken with an articulate and strong voice that this cornerstone event belongs in a state that shares its values on public land and recreation,” reads a letter sent by Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to Emerald X executives on Wednesday. “Colorado is the perfect match to continue as the home of the Outdoor Retailer Show.”

The last five years have not been smooth for Denver and the Outdoor Retailer shows. The original plan when the shows moved from Utah was to hold three gatherings a year: a Snow Show in January, the Summer Market in June and a new Winter Market in November. Visit Denver, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau, said in 2018 that it had moved several other trade shows to accommodate Outdoor Retailers’ need for three dates a year through 2022.

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

Gravity Haus Vail completes renovation of its gym, spa, lounge area and coworking spaces

Gravity Haus Vail, a new membership-based hotel and lifestyle company, has completed its renovation of the former Vail Athletic Club and is now fully operational in Vail Village.

Gravity Haus is a growing hospitality concept that is designed for outdoor enthusiasts. The company was founded in 2019 by entrepreneur Jim Deters, who previously co-founded the Denver-based technology and education company Galvanize. After stepping down from his role as CEO at Galvanize in 2017, Deters was interested in creating a way to empower people to live an active and sustainable lifestyle.

“My biggest passion — besides empowering entrepreneurs — is really for the planet, and wellness, and fitness,” Deters said. “The premise was how to build a community and enable a lifestyle to live this crazy, wonderful life, connected with outdoor adventures and people, and staying healthy and fit so that you can have these great experiences.”

The downstairs lounge area of Gravity Haus Vail.
Carolyn Paletta/Vail Daily

Deters came up with a concept to put all of the amenities that support an active lifestyle in one location, while giving outdoor adventurers a place to connect and share meaningful experiences. Out of that vision, Gravity Haus was born, opening its first location in Breckenridge in 2019 and its second in Vail in 2020.

The brand has since expanded to two more locations — one in Winter Park and one in Truckee, California, in the Lake Tahoe area — and Deters said this is only the beginning of what he hopes will become a global community.

A campus for mountain living

Deters purchased the building that used to house the Vail Mountain Lodge, Vail Athletic Club and Terra Bistro restaurant in December of 2019.

He said that the space was a perfect fit for Gravity Haus, because it had long served as a central hub for the local community.

“We got super lucky, because we got to take something that was already well-established and just modernize it to how people live today,” Deters said.

The Gravity Haus Vail location features 22 rooms and fully-renovated gym and spa amenities, coworking spaces, a game room, hot tubs, and a restaurant and coffee shop.

Members get discounts on food and beverages at the internal Slope Room restaurant and Unravel coffee shop, as well as discounts on spa treatments.

The recently completed remodel features a restructured fitness space, with cardio and strength equipment, an indoor turf field, a pilates and yoga studio, professionally instructed fitness classes and open gym times. Classes are available for free to most membership levels.

The newly-renovated Dryland Fitness facility has a variety of strength and fitness equipment and an indoor turf field.
Gravity Haus/Courtesy Photo

The spa area includes a sauna, steam room, cooling bath and salt therapy room, as well as access to hot tubs and a range of self-massage guns for post-activity relief.

Jen Razee is the director of Dryland Fitness and the spa. Razee has worked at many wellness centers in Vail, and was formerly the director of the Vail Athletic Club.

“I think the piece that’s really different with Gravity Haus and the way we’re looking at this is that it’s more about building a community,” Razee said. “It’s not just a gym membership. When someone is truly taking advantage of the events that we offer, the discounts at our spa, the discounts on food and beverage, then they really see that it’s so much more than a fitness facility.”

There is also a Haus Quiver available with most memberships, which allows members to reserve top-of-the-line equipment and use it for free on their mountain adventures. This enables members to try new activities and gear without paying the high costs of renting, shipping or buying. During the winter, members can choose from a wide range of skis, snowboards, touring setups, snowshoes and more, while in the summer they’ll find kayaks, fishing gear, hiking gear and camping equipment, among others.

Complete with locker rooms and showers, Gravity Haus is intended to be a home base for an active lifestyle in Vail.

“Every property we build, first and foremost we think about how we can be an asset to the local community. The transient guest is not the first thought,” Deters said. “It’s this idea of seamlessly moving from getting to work, working out, grabbing your ski gear, getting on the mountain, coming back and changing, going to meet someone for coffee or a dinner meeting — we think about it as a campus for this lifestyle.”

Coworking spaces and board rooms are available for member use at Gravity Haus Vail.
Gravity Haus/Courtesy Photo

There are four membership options, and all but the Explorer option are offered in both individual and family packages. The Local membership option, which starts at $150 per month for an individual and $300 per month for a family, gives unlimited access to all of the Gravity Haus amenities and events, and members can add Haus Quiver access for an extra $50 a month.

The full spread of membership options is available on the Gravity Haus website.

Empowering exploration

With four Gravity Haus locations and a growing number of hotel partnerships around the world, Deters is also enabling members to travel to new destinations in a simpler and more affordable way.

Some membership levels get significantly reduced rates at all Gravity Haus locations — 50% off on Sunday through Wednesday, and 25% off on Thursday through Saturday — as well as up to 50% rates at sister properties in Denver, Costa Rica, Telluride and Silverton.

Deters drew on his personal experience as a family of five trying to get out to the mountains, and wanted to come up with a better way for people to travel to new adventure locations.

“I know it from the Front-Ranger perspective of how hard it is to raise three kids and truck them back and forth,” Deters said. “We have a mobile key and check-in platform, so you can really move around the property like it’s yours. And it’s way better than people buying up housing and turning them into Airbnbs, which has turned into a disaster in pretty much every resort community on the planet.”

Members get discounts on spa treatments, as well as all food and beverage at Slope Room restaurant and Unravel coffee shop.
Gravity Haus/Courtesy Photo

Gravity Haus also hosts numerous member events each month. Among those on the list for this January are a climbing night, avalanche training course, moonlight skin, pasta-making class and sunrise run. All are designed to bring members together while exposing them to the wide range of activities available in their mountain communities.

A global community of outdoor enthusiasts

Deters has now moved full-time to Vail with his wife, Alicia Deters, and son, and is using Gravity Haus every day in precisely the way he imagined it.

“This is my home,” Deters said. “The whole genesis was about how do we make this easy for our own family and our own lifestyle, and making that easier for other people.”

Gravity Haus recently purchased the Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee, and Deters has an eye out for new locations to add to the growing network of Gravity Haus locations.

“There are a lot of cool legacy properties in mountain towns all over North America,” Deters said. “They need to be modernized, and they don’t need to be modernized by The Four Seasons or Marriott — they need to be modernized by authentic people that live the lifestyle.”

Having opened the first location just over two years ago, there is a lot of room for Gravity Haus to grow, and the Vail community is one of the first to fully experience Deter’s vision.

“I’m just personally so grateful that somebody had a vision for the VAC,” Razee said. “To have an ownership group that came in and saw a different way to use the space — to have a modernization for the vision and realize what an athletic club for Vail could be — I think is awesome, and I’m super grateful for that.”

Gravity Haus Vail is offering tours to prospective members, which can be scheduled online at their website. They are also offering a free two-night stay at their new Cedar House location in Truckee for anyone who joins this month.

For more information about Gravity Haus and to join as a new member, visit GravityHaus.com.

Colorado sees graduation rates dip slightly year over year during pandemic

Sophia Rinn gives the senior address during Eagle Valley High School’s 2021 graduation ceremony.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

The class of 2021 was the first graduating class that finished high school after a full year of pandemic learning, which included balancing remote learning, hybrid schedules, masks, changing activity schedules and more. Despite the challenges of last school year, recently released data from the Colorado Department of Education shows that while there were some changes, students still graduated at a similar rate to previous years.

The state’s overall four-year graduation rate dropped only slightly — with 81.7% graduating compared with 81.9% in 2020. According to the department, this is the first time the rate has dipped in over a decade.

“We know how tough it was for everyone last school year due to the challenges brought on by the pandemic with schools going to remote learning and others offering hybrid models,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado’s education commissioner, in a release. “It is a relief that the graduation rate is nearly the same as it was the previous year. With the state’s dropout rate also nearly unchanged, it is a concrete display of the dedication and determination of Colorado’s students, parents and teachers, especially during these tough times.”

Similarly, Eagle County Schools’ graduation rate only saw a slight drop, with 83.8% of seniors graduating in 2021 compared with 84.8% in 2020 and 84.7% in 2019. While not a significant drop, it is the first time the district has posted a decrease in this rate since 2017. In 2017, its four-year graduation rate dipped to 70.8% from 79.4% in 2016.

The district has been steadily increasing its graduation rate since that last dip in 2017. It saw a significant increase in 2019, when the graduation rate increased to 84.7%, up from 74.9% in 2018.

“We have worked hard to create systems of support as well as credit recovery systems. By identifying and working with students who are in danger of failing, we are able to help them stay on track for graduation,” wrote Dr. Katie Jarnot, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “We started using Edgenuity, which is a dynamic resource to provide credit recovery and summer school in 2020. We used it during the school year in spring of 2021, and continue to use it for summer school. This has helped us to enable students to focus on the standards they did not meet in order to gain the credits they need.”

Equity and graduation rates

Despite the pandemic, Eagle County Schools’ graduation rate remained relatively steady in 2021.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

In recent years, Eagle County Schools has made a district-wide push to increase equity across its schools. A main goal within this is to ensure that demographic factors — such as race, gender and socioeconomic status — are not predictors of academic success, including graduation.

“We continue to work to make sure that student outcomes are not determined by demographics,” Jarnot wrote. “We want all students to have the same opportunities to succeed.”

Across its demographics, there are still gaps in graduation rates between genders and races at Eagle County Schools. In 2021, white students had a graduation rate of 92.4% and Hispanic students (which make up 51.7% of its student body) had a graduation rate of 76.7%. Between genders, female students had a graduation rate of 87.1% and male students graduated at 81.3%.

Eagle County Schools’ Hispanic male students were one of the only groups whose graduation rate increased from 2020 to 2021. In 2021, Hispanic males had a four-year graduation rate of 74.5% compared with 70.5% the previous year. This is also higher than the statewide graduation rate for Hispanic male students, which was 69.1% in 2021.

The district’s white male students were the group that saw one of the biggest drops, with a four-year graduation rate of 89% in 2021 compared with 92.4% in 2020.

In order to close these gaps, as well as prevent dropouts, Eagle County Schools provides students with a number of systems of support.

“We have had a system for many years that tracks our ‘at risk’ students using these factors. We also rely on district-wide testing, especially in our lower grades, to identify and progress monitor students who are struggling academically,” Jarnot said. “We have Multi-Tiered Systems of Support at all schools to support students academically and socially-emotionally. We are currently focusing on interventions at the secondary level and have made some great improvements. We will continue to support with curricular resources and professional learning.”

Jarnot added that some specific ways the district helps students graduate and complete high school is by providing multiple pathways with its post-secondary readiness team, provide AVID (college and career readiness) in its secondary schools, provide students with access to counselors to help plan their pathways including access to prevention coordinators that work with students on at-risk behaviors and issues.

“Both high schools have created positions to help support at-risk students, although these have been difficult to fill. We have robust credit recovery programs, and we have an alternative school, (Red Canyon High School), to support students who are not finding success in the traditional high school model,” she added.

These at-risk factors, Jarnot said, go beyond classroom performance and include discipline, attendance and social-emotional challenges.

Different schools, different metrics

The Red Canyon Class of 2021 graduates in May.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

Perhaps the greatest differences between graduation rates come between the district’s high schools. For the class of 2021, while Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley and Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy all have four-year graduation rates that exceed 90% — 93.4%, 93.6% and 100%, respectively — Red Canyon has a graduation rate of 36%.

According to Troy Dudley, the principal at Red Canyon High School, the reason that the school’s rate is significantly lower is that it is designated as an alternative education campus by the state of Colorado and as such, relies on different metrics for its accountability process. Instead, the state rates the school for academic achievement, academic growth and post-secondary and workforce readiness as well as student engagement.

This, Dudley said, makes it complicated to compare Red Canyon to traditional high schools.

“It is still one of the highest performing AECs in the state, and we believe it is benefited by having a campus both up and down valley,” Dudley wrote in an email.

“For example, instead of the normal graduation rate, which is calculated on a 4-year schedule. Red Canyon High School is rated by the state using a completion rating,” he added. “This scale includes students that graduated in their 5th, 6th or 7th year of high school. For this metric, Red Canyon rates as ‘exceeds’ when compared to other AEC schools. On the last School Performance Framework, RCHS had a 70% completion rate.”

In comparison to other alternative education campuses, Dudley said this completion rate was “impressive.”

Red Canyon’s main area of concern when it comes to its performance rating is its drop-out rate. The school, Dudley said, has taken steps to address and focus on factors that lead its students to drop out. This includes a student that is habitually truant prior to dropping out, a student that is behind on credit, a student that is older and no longer is willing to attend classes, or a student that needs to work and can no longer attend a traditional schedule.

There are a number of ways that Red Canyon is working to prepare its students for life after high school, including providing multi-tiered systems of support, offering additional credits to catch up, including a credit recovery program, offering a high school equivalency diploma program to help students that are far behind on credit obtain a GED, and by encouraging and supporting students that need to work and attend school at the same time.

Moving forward

The district is hopeful that its efforts to support students, especially those who are considered at-risk, will not just keep graduation rates steady, but hopefully help them increase in future years. However, Jarnot wrote that graduation rates don’t show the entire picture of students and their success.

“Our goal is to help all students to be prepared for whatever they want to do beyond high school,” she wrote, adding that it does so through a number of programs including CareerX, dual enrollment and AP classes, Pathways in Technology Early College High School, Individual Career and Academic Planning and more.

While the class of 2021 did not see any significant impacts to graduation rates, schools and students have certainly been impacted by the pandemic. According to Jarnot, we won’t have a full picture on how the pandemic impacted students for many years to come.

“Education has been disrupted for all students. Until our current kindergarteners graduate, we will probably be seeing the results of the pandemic,” Jarnot said. “It is also important to remember that it is not just our students in our district, but students across the state, the nation and the planet. We feel lucky that we’ve been able to have students learning in person more than many other districts. By being proactive with interventions and support we can continue to move students forward.”

Wildlife Roundtable: How animals survive cold, snowy Colorado winters

Bighorn sheep are well adapted for winter. Even so, they often migrate to lower elevations and south facing slopes to find the food they need to survive.
Rick Spitzer/Courtesy photo

There is no bad weather in Colorado, only bad clothing choices. For humans, we have learned how to deal with a variety of weather conditions. We use wool, fleece and all kinds of insulation in our clothing to keep the cold at bay.

In recent years, we have added chemical heat packs for gloves and boots. There are also electric vests, gloves, socks and boots. We still enjoy most days outside.

Skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, bike riding, skating and fishing are all things that we enjoy in winter weather. We can do that because we have options and we can always bail out and go home when things get really tough.

My boys were in a Boy Scout troop that camped every month of the year. One two-night trip on the back side of Pikes Peak was rugged. The high temperature was 14 degrees and the low was -15 degrees.

This moose has long legs, an adaptation that helps them survive areas with significant snow depth.
Rick Spitzer/Courtesy photo

When we got home the question was: “Where is our next trip? The only complaint was when they got the 0 degrees patch. They wanted it to be a -15 degrees patch! How did we survive those trips? The good old Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared!”

Wildlife does not have all the options we have. Whatever the weather animals are experiencing is what they must work with. In addition, all animals need food, water and shelter for survival. During the winter, that becomes much more difficult for wildlife.

How do they survive?

Animals can move to some kind of shelter when things get bad. Some animals can move into the burrows they dig, cavities in trees and logs, caves, behind rocks and outcrops to escape cold temperatures or wind. Others may seek cover in forests or under trees.

Coyotes and other scavengers may do better in winter months than the rest of the year because of other animals that do not survive due to deep snow and lack of food.
Rick Spitzer/Courtesy photo

Some animals dramatically decrease their activity and enter a state called torpor. Torpor occurs when the physiological activity in an animal decreases for short periods of time. This usually includes a drop in body temperature and a reduction of their metabolic rate. Torpor usually refers to a period of decreased temperature and metabolism that lasts for 24 hours or less.

Birds including hummingbirds, some rodents, and bats will enter torpor during the night to conserve energy. This can create a situation where the animal is exposed to predators and cannot detect them and cannot flee.

Some animals are like some part-time folks here — they leave town. Migration occurs when animals move to a different environment to escape bad environmental conditions or to find better food availability. Migration is cyclical, usually happening on a seasonal basis.

When the snow falls, deer, elk, and moose migrate to lower valleys to find food. The flatter terrain allows them to move about and expend less energy.
Rick Spitzer/Courtesy photo

In our environment, winter causes a significant drop in available food. Plants dry up and may be buried under snow. The cold kills off insects. Some birds head south to find better food resources.

For other birds, this is the winter stop. Raptors like rough legged hawks and some geese and swans move from the far north to our area for the winter.

This behavior may be triggered by photoperiodism, which is the response of an organism to seasonal changes in day length. Weather conditions and changes in food supplies may also stimulate animals to migrate.

A bacteria filled stomach generates heat as digestion occurs. That built in “furnace” can help many animals like this elk survive cold weather. Heavy fur insulates this elk so well that the frost has not melted on its back.
Rick Spitzer/Courtesy photo

Animals that migrate include mammals, birds, fish and insects. Some species travel thousands of miles from north to south. Birds are well known for this and so are some species of butterflies.

Other species like some ungulates will move from higher elevations to lower elevations or to areas that see less winter snow. Migration impacts the food sources in the winter habitat as well as predatory behavior of the resident predators. It can also transport diseases.

Some animals check out all together — they hibernate. Hibernation is a prolonged version of torpor. Hibernation is characterized by the lowering of body temperature, slowed breathing and heart rate, and a much lower metabolic rate. Hibernation is most common in winter months.

Feeding birds in winter can help them survive and improves their breeding success in the spring. They may also allow you to see some species that are not very common in our area, like this grey-crowned rosy finch.
Rick Spitzer/Courtesy photo

We often think of it as a deep sleep. Hibernation functions to conserve energy when food supplies are reduced or are not available. It may be for just a few days or extend to many months. It is common with many rodents.

Bears, however, don’t have the same drop of body-temperature, slowed breathing and heart rate, or lower metabolic rate. They may awaken during the winter and leave their dens.

A good example of a hibernator is the yellow-bellied marmot. These animals live in high elevations where swings in temperature and snowpack are extreme. They survive by hibernating for as much as half their lives. They pack on the food during the summer and dramatically increase their body weight. In September, they enter their dens and stay in hibernation until April or May.

Marmots survive winter by entering their burrows in the fall and sleeping through the entire winter months.
Rick Spitzer/Courtesy photo

The body temperature of a marmot will drop to as low as 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Their heart rate drops from around 190 beats per minute to as low as 30 beats per minute. They may only take a breath every minute. These physiological changes allow them to survive winter and reproduce each spring.

Animals that stay here and do not hibernate have adaptations to help them survive. They need to build a good fat reserve, they develop a thicker winter fur, they have arteries and veins in their legs that are close together to exchange heat. Blood traveling to the toes warms the blood flowing back to the body. That reduces heat loss.

There are many other adaptations that help animals survive the winter. Ungulates have multiple stomachs. Bacteria in one of the stomachs helps to digest the food the animal eats. That process generates heat. Blood vessels around that stomach help to move the heat around the body.

This rough-legged hawk will breed in the summer in the arctic. In winter, the raptors migrate south to open fields, prairies and deserts in the U.S. They are one of the most common winter hawks in Eagle County.
Rick Spitzer/Courtesy photo

What can you do to help ensure wildlife survival in the winter?

Feeding birds with high fat seeds in winter months helps them survive. Do some research on what food the birds that visit your yard need. Buy seeds that are high in those food sources.

Putting out feeders from March through the end of November can cause problems because they can attract bears. Studies have shown that feeding birds in the winter improves their breeding success. Those birds produce more eggs, and their chicks weigh more. In harsh winters, this can help birds that are facing other extreme challenges.

Climate change is having an impact on food sources and is disrupting seasonal changes. Migrating animals arrive to a location and the seeds, plants or animals they depend on for food are ahead or behind their normal life phases and these animals cannot find the foods they need for survival. Do all you can to help reduce climate change.

Land that is developed will be habitat that is lost forever.​ When wildlife stops using some of their historic ranges, that may doom them. These animals may not have the option of going somewhere else, and that will cause their death. Those animals may be lost forever. Work with local land use people to help reduce habitat loss that is critical for different species at different times of the year.

It is illegal in Colorado to intentionally place or distribute feed, salt blocks or other attractants for big-game animals. This causes those animals to concentrate in a small area. That may increase stress on these animals and spread disease.

These animals are more likely to be chased by dogs and hit by cars. They are more likely to damage plants in your yard and your neighbors. This concentration may also attract mountain lions.

Supplementing ungulate diets with grain, corn, apples or hay may not be good for them. It may not contain the nutrients the animals need, or the animals may not be able to properly digest the food provided. This could cause them to die on a full stomach. Do not provide food for deer and other large mammals.

During the winter, wild animals need to spend a lot more time trying to find the foods they need to survive. If these animals alert to your presence, they are not eating. An excessive amount of disturbance may cause them to starve. Anyone who travels into the backcountry on skis, snowshoes or snow machines should be aware of this fact.

In addition to the backcountry, there are many areas in the county, like golf courses, that people are using for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter bike riding. People are beginning to use these at night during full moons and even with high-powered lights.

Some of these areas like the golf courses in Eagle are used by the elk at night to rest or feed. Some herds come down at dusk, get water, rest up and then head back up the valley in the morning. Others stick around throughout the day in the wetland areas.

These are the historic areas used by elk before humans arrived in the valley. Fencing in and near these areas can restrict the routes elk use to move and that increases the number of calories they burn following indirect routes or jumping over the fences that block their way.

The bikers riding after dark may risk their own safety if their presence disturbs the elk to the point where they stampede. When the elk don’t run off, the disturbance isn’t good when they’re trying to conserve calories to survive the winter. For any cow elk that is pregnant, conserving fat reserves to last the winter is important so that they have the nutrition necessary to nurse their young in the spring.

If you encounter wildlife as you travel, day or night, do all you can to avoid any disturbance to the normal behavior of the animals.

Winter weather is something that wildlife adapted to long before humans entered the scene. Humans are changing that environment. We need to do all we can to mitigate those problems.