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Ski slope wetlands has huge biodiversity

Allen Best

TELLURIDE – Something of an outdoor museum in Telluride’s new intermediate expansion area, Prospect Bowl, is being monitored by a wetlands expert. The wetlands, called fens, are 10,000-years-old. And, although only a few acres in size, the fens support 20 percent of all plant species in Colorado, says Dr. David Cooper of the University of Colorado.

“They support an unbelievably high proportion of the biodiversity in Colorado given their miniscule area,” Cooper told The Telluride Watch. “For plants, but for animals as well.”

Like peat bogs, fens are created over a long time, in this case at a rate of about eight inches per thousand years. Unlike peat bogs, however, fens are fed by groundwater constantly and completely, so that oxygen does not reach the plant waste, thus preventing decomposition. Hence, the great biodiversity.

One part of Cooper’s work is to determine whether the ski area expansion is affecting the fens. Ski runs cross the fens, and so the snow is compacted. As such, the snow becomes a conductor and the soils begin to freeze. “These soils may not have frozen at any time in the last 10,000 years,” Cooper said. “We’re concerned with how it may affect plant growth.”

Nonetheless, Cooper said he is sure the ski area development has not jeopardized the fens. “They have done a phenomenal job of altering their plans and approaches in ski area development and landscape management,” he said of the ski area operator, Telluride Ski & Golf Corp.

The ski area was required to pay for Cooper’s work, at $100,000, as part of a court-supervised settlement for an intrusion to wetlands elsewhere near Telluride. A county government and two towns are also chipping in $5,000 each.

Water woes could trip Intrawest

WINTER PARK Intrawest’s plans for a base-area village at Winter Park could be imperiled by lack of water. That’s the not-so-surprising report being given to public officials by Mike Wageck, the district manager for the Winter Park Water and Sanitation District.

Wageck says he can guarantee only a few hundred more taps beyond the 1,150 now in service. Intrawest is planning on roughly 1,000. Also affected is Lakota, a higher-end subdivision located across Highway 40 from the ski area. The project has 107 taps, and had originally indicated need for 259 units. Lately, the developer has talked about 512.

During the drought of 2002, there was some fear there would be would be too little water to keep the ski area’s toilets flushing. The problem in the future is compounded not only by increased development, but also plans by Denver to take significantly more water from the Fraser Valley, notes the Winter Park Manifest.


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