| VailDaily.com

Vail Veterans Program takes on a new program to help injured vets

The Vail Veterans Program isn’t going to let a pandemic stop its work to help our nation’s injured veterans and their families.

The COVID-19 pandemic was just starting to hit home in Eagle County when the veterans left March 6 from the program’s most recent winter program in the Vail Valley. Soon after, the local nonprofit group decided it had to suspend in-person programs at least through August.

Rethinking the group’s mission led to the creation of “Our Mission Continues,” a different way to reach out to program alumni and others.

According to a release about the program, Our Mission Continues “will enhance the well-being of wounded veterans at home and wil let them know that we are here for them as they continue on their journey of healing.

Vail Veterans Program founder Cheryl Jensen said the pandemic compelled the group to “look hard at how to support our alumni.”

The group started virtual programming in April, which included newsletters focused on health, wellness, behavioral health and other topics.

That virtual program has been “very successful,” Jensen said, but Our Mission Continues aims to do more.

Aid and comfort

The program provides direct grants to veterans and families for emergency financial assistance, mental health support, caregiver support, family experiences and more.

Applicants are vetted, of course, and most are program alumni. Those people, Jensen said, are forever and always part of the Vail Veterans Program family.

“You think about those vets who feel like they’re in isolation — the world weighs heavy on them,” Jensen said. That weight only increased with the onset of the pandemic and the shutdown of much of the nation’s economy.

A lot of veterans are in some sort of financial bind, from job loss to bills coming due and the stress that comes with all that.

A little aid from Our Mission Continues can ease some of that stress.

But a lot of veterans who have applied for aid aren’t asking for anything for themselves. A lot of vets who wrote in asked for support for spouses and family members.

“It’s really beautiful to read these letters,” Jensen said, adding that people are writing in to ask for something as simple as money to hire a babysitter a couple of times. The response often is, “how about six times?” Jensen said. Other families have received funds for a proper vacation, a way to take a break from the pressure of everyday life.

Alumni were asked if they had college or high school graduates. Those graduates were presented with either an iPad or Surface tablet, engraved with best wishes from the Vail Veterans Program.

Helping the helpers

The program this year had to cancel a summer program for caregivers, who are often spouses or family members. Most of those caregivers are women.

“They just need a break,” Jensen said, adding it’s important to understand just how important it is to care for caregivers.

There’s a lot of personal contact with program alumni. That’s important, too.

Jensen recalled a phone conversation with a Black veteran that soon turned into a psychological discussion about how to raise three sons in the country’s current racial strife.

Through tears, Jensen couldn’t say much more than “tell your boys to stand strong.”

That veteran needed someone to talk to, and hearing that message from Jensen was important.

“I just needed to hear that from a white woman,” Jensen recalled the veteran saying.

“That’s the beauty of contacting (veterans) personally,” Jensen said, adding that simple conversations often take a deeper turn.

Mission expanded

As the pandemic restrictions ease, Jensen believes Our Mission Continues will continue to be an important part of the Vail Veterans Program. She hopes program supporters allow that work to continue.

“This community truly loves what we do,” Jensen said. “We feel so connected to our veterans in general.”

Jensen noted that most of the valley’s nonprofit groups have had to adjust to the current pandemic restrictions. But, she added, changes including Our Mission Continues can be silver linings in shadow of the pandemic.

 “We want to have our in-person programs back,” Jensen said. There are plans for a fall program, although it may be limited to those who can drive to the valley.

 And even if the next winter program runs with only half as many participants, that still counts as veterans and families to support and love.

And there will be Our Mission Continues.

“We have a clear direction now,” Jensen said. “It’s so important, for the people we serve and our donors.”

Providing old and new programs is going to require the organization to dig deep, and probably ask more from donors.

That seems to be a pretty easy request.

Jensen said donors live throughout the country, and not just in the Vail Valley.

“One of our donors lives in New Jersey,” Jensen said. “He sees the benefits of what we do, and told us ‘I want to be a part of this.’”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

Slovenia celebrates 10th Mountain Division, 75th anniversary of Mt. Mangart race

The 10th Mountain Division was celebrated in Slovenia in June in an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II in Europe.

The event took place at the base of Mt. Mangart, in a nod to the work of local ski film star turned historian Chris Anthony, who has helped to invigorate American interest in the 10th Mountain Division’s presence in the region following the conclusion of the war. The 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army trained at Camp Hale in Eagle County near Red Cliff before heading to the mountains of Italy to fight in WWII.

Following the conclusion of fighting in Europe, the 10th hosted a ski race on Mt. Mangart in June of 1945, an event that was largely forgotten about in the U.S., but remained a celebrated piece of ski history in the local region around the massive peak.

“Throughout the war they fought for freedom alongside forces resisting occupation in Slovenia,” Ambassador Lynda Blanchard said from Mangart in June. “But what they discovered on the slopes of this stunning peak was that Americans and Slovenians have even more in common — a shared sense of adventure, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and joy. And in the decades since, the relationship between our two nations has continued to grow and thrive based on shared heritage, shared values, and what soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division learned as they strapped on their skis on a spring day in 1945 — that we just really enjoy each other’s company.”

‘Making it widely known’

A few years ago, Anthony began work on a film project about the troops’ experience on Mt. Mangart, and received help from Slovenian historian and retired brigadier general Janez Kavar.

“Retired general Janez Kavar is definitely one of the people who has spearheaded keeping this story alive and making it widely known here in Slovenia,” said Public Affairs Officer J.B. Leedy with the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Kavar’s son Andrej, who works in the Multilateral Relations and Defense Diplomacy Division at Ministry of Defense in Slovenia, helped organize the 75th anniversary event, with help from Anthony, the U.S. Embassy and the Colorado National Guard.

“Andrej reached out to us and had this idea, with his dad, that we should really commemorate the 75th anniversary, and to us it was a no brainer,” Eddie Kim with the Colorado National Guard said from Slovenia on Thursday.

CO to SLO

The state partnership between Colorado and Slovenia is especially active.

The Colorado National Guard is “one of our strongest resources … in terms of outreach to Slovenes here,” Leedy said from Slovenia on Thursday, saying the guard helps with training, emergency management, fire management and flood management.

Chris Anthony watches as a soldier from the Slovenian Armed Forces 132nd Mountain Regiment clears a gate in an effort to recreate the Mt. Mangart race of 1945 on film for Anthony’s upcoming film “Mission Mt. Mangart.”

Slovenian armed forces have assisted Anthony in making his film, providing mountain warfare soldiers to help with some of the filming.

“They’re proud of their relationship with the U.S., particularly their defense and security relationship, and very much see this as the nexus of it, and where it may have all started,” Leedy said.

Former Slovenian Minister of Defense Karl Erjavec visited Colorado in the fall of 2019 to meet with Major General Michael A. Loh of the Colorado National Guard.

New defense minister Matej Tonin, who took office in March, joined Ambassador Blanchard at the Mangart event in June.

“He’s really looking forward to coming out to Colorado as soon as we can travel,” Leedy said.

Local excitement

The event was supposed to double as the world premiere of Anthony’s film about the 10th Mountain Division’s activity on Mt. Mangart.

“We had been working for the better part of a year with our colleagues in the Slovenian Armed Forces, the Colorado National Guard, the community in Bovec and the Soca Valley, and Chris, to put together an amazing event up on the mountain,” Leedy said. “It was going to involve family members of the original participants, coming over to participate and tour, we were going to launch a special exhibit with panels explaining the history of the event, and have a big reception.”

The pandemic canceled most of those plans, “but we weren’t going to let it go entirely, so we fought to keep an event,” Leedy said. “The event was in the saddle of Mt. Mangart, the highest road in Slovenia, in the shadow of the mountain, with the slope itself right behind us. The defense minister and the ambassador were flown in via helicopter.”

Leedy said Anthony’s film has created a lot of excitement in Slovenia.

“He’s received outstanding support from the local community in trying to recreate some of the scenes, and getting people to volunteer,” Leedy said. “Having a film like Chris’ air in Vail, and getting attention, and raising awareness of Slovenia and our history together as partners is huge.”

Forest Service flooded with comments opposing Whitney Reservoir, drilling

RED CLIFF — The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments — the vast majority in opposition — to a geophysical study and drilling by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator.

The geophysical study and the drilling are the next step in the lengthy process of developing a reservoir on lower Homestake Creek.

The mayors of Red Cliff and Minturn signed and submitted separate but identical letters questioning the legality of drilling 10 boreholes on Forest Service land near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is six miles southwest of Red Cliff, to see whether soil and bedrock can support a dam for what would be known as Whitney Reservoir. Avon’s attorney has asked for a public comment extension to Aug. 4 so that it can hold a hearing.

“A Whitney Reservoir would irreparably change and harm our community,” Minturn Mayor John Wilderman and Red Cliff Mayor Duke Gerber wrote in their letters, submitted June 30. “We are paying close attention to these proposals, other moves by Homestake Partners and the public controversy. This categorical exclusion is rushed, harmful and unlawful.”

Operating together as Homestake Partners, the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, give them the basis to pursue developing 20,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Western Slope. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet of water.

The smallest configuration of Whitney Reservoir, if deemed feasible and ultimately approved, would be 6,850 acre-feet, and the largest would be up to 20,000 acre-feet. The reservoir, on lower Homestake Creek, would pump water up to Homestake Reservoir, about five miles upstream, then through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

In 2018, Homestake Partners paid $4.1 million for 150 acres of private land, which it leases back to the former owner for a nominal fee. That land, which would be inundated to accommodate a large portion of Whitney Reservoir’s surface area, is braided with streams and waterfalls and is lush with fens and other wetlands. It’s also home to a cabin once used as an officers quarters for the famed 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. The site is not far from Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville, where soldiers trained for mountain warfare during World War II.

Eagle River MOU

The Eagle River MOU is an agreement between Aurora and Colorado Springs and a bevy of Western Slope water interests. The Colorado River Water Conservation District, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and Vail Resorts are collectively defined in the MOU as the Reservoir Company. None of those entities submitted comments to the Forest Service on the drilling proposal. And according to Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the ERWSD and UERWA, none are helping to pay for the feasibility study and none are involved in the reservoir project, except to the degree that it is tied to the MOU. 

The MOU provides for 20,000 acre-feet of average annual yield for the cities. “Yield” refers to a reliable supply of water. In some cases, yield equates to storage in a reservoir, but yield can also be created by other methods, such as pumping water uphill from a smaller, refilled reservoir, which is an option being studied by the cities on lower Homestake Creek. The MOU also provides for 10,000 acre-feet of “firm dry year yield” for the Western Slope entities in the Reservoir Company, and firm dry year yield means a reliable supply even in a very dry year. Those entities have developed about 2,000 acre-feet of that allocated firm yield in Eagle Park Reservoir, and it’s not yet clear whether the Whitney Reservoir project would help them realize any additional yield.

“The short answer is we support (Homestake Partners’) right to pursue an application for their yield,” Johnson said. “We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” 

Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.” 

This map shows the location of test holes Homestake Partners plans to drill as part of its geotechnical investigation into the feasibility of a dam site in the Homestake Creek valley. The Forest Service has received more than 500 comments, most of them in opposition to, the drilling and the overall reservoir project.
Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Besides Homestake Partners and the Reservoir Company, the MOU was signed by the Climax Molybdenum Company. The two private companies signed onto the MOU — Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) — also declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir. 

Under the MOU, various parties can pursue projects on their own, and the other parties are bound to support those efforts, but only to the degree that a proposed project meets the objectives of the MOU, including whether a project “minimizes environmental impacts.” 

Many of the 520 online comments as of the June 30 deadline objected to testing for the possibility of a dam, expressing concern for the complex wetlands in the area, but most of the comments also strongly condemn the overall project: a potential future Whitney Reservoir. 

The cities are trying to keep the focus on the test drilling.

“This is simply a fatal-flaw reservoir siting study that includes subsurface exploration, and it’s basically just to evaluate feasibility of a dam construction on lower Homestake Creek,” said Maria Pastore, Colorado Springs Utilities’ senior project manager for water resource planning. “It’s simple exploratory work to determine if we can even go ahead with permitting and design.”

This cabin, once used by the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, sits on a 150-acre parcel owned by Homestake Partners. The site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir is near Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville.
David O. Williams | Aspen Journalism

Marcia Gilles, acting ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross District, said her office will continue accepting comments at any time during the ongoing analysis of the geophysical study despite the June 30 deadline. She added that if the Forest Service concludes there are no “extraordinary circumstances,” she can render a decision using what is known as a categorical exclusion and then issue a special-use permit as soon as August. A categorical exclusion requires less environmental scrutiny than other forms of analysis.

“At this time, the proposed action appears to be categorically excluded from requiring further analysis and documentation in an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS),” Gilles said. “Should the environmental analysis find extraordinary circumstances, the Forest Service would proceed to analyzing the project in an EA or EIS.”

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat, disagrees. She wrote to the Forest Service on June 30: “I … strongly urge you not to categorically exclude this project from (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis. I cannot express how sternly the citizens of my district oppose water diversion projects to Front Range communities.” Her district encompasses seven Western Slope counties, including Eagle County, where the dam would be located.

Donovan called the proposed investigation — which would require temporary roads, heavy drilling equipment, continuous high-decibel noise, driving through Homestake Creek, and use of its water in the drilling process — an affront to the “Keep It Public” movement, which advocates for effective federal management on public lands.

Drilling impacts
           

If approved by the Forest Service for a special-use permit, Homestake Partners would send in crews on foot to collect seismic and other geophysical data later this summer or fall. Crews with heavy equipment would then drill 10 boreholes up to 150 feet deep in three possible dam locations on Forest Service land. The drilling would take place on Forest Service land but not in a wilderness area.

Crews would use a standard pickup truck, a heavy-duty pickup pulling a flatbed trailer, and a semi-truck and trailer that would remain on designated roads and parking areas, with some lane closures of Homestake Road and dispersed campsites possible.

For off-road boring operations, crews would use a rubber-tracked drill rig, a utility vehicle pulling a small trailer, and a track-mounted skid steer. The drill rigs are up to 8 feet wide, 22 feet long and 8 feet high, and can extend up to 30 feet high during drilling, possibly requiring tree removal in some areas. The rigs would also have to cross Homestake Creek and some wetland areas, although crews would use temporary ramps or wood mats to mitigate impacts.

According to a technical report filed by Homestake Partners, the subsurface work is expected to take up to five days per drilling location, or at least 50 days of daytime work only. However, continuous daytime noise from the drilling could approach 100 decibels, which is equivalent to either an outboard motor, garbage truck, jackhammer, or jet flyover at 1,000 feet. If work is not done by winter, crews have up to a year to complete the project and could return in 2021.

These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam.
Heather Sackett | Aspen Journalism

The drilling process would use several thousand gallons of Homestake Creek water per day that engineers say “would have negligible impacts on streamflow or aquatic habitat. Water pumped from Homestake Creek during drilling would amount to less than 0.01 (cubic feet per second), a small fraction of average flows,” according to a technical report included with application materials.

Homestake Partners would avoid wetlands as much as possible during drilling, but “where temporary wetland or waters disturbance is unavoidable, applicable 404 permitting would be secured from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” Crossing of Homestake Creek would occur in late summer or fall when streamflows are low, and no drilling would occur in wetlands.

]While no permanent roads would be built for the drilling, temporary access routes would be necessary and reclaimed as much as possible. 

“Access routes would be selected to reduce surface disturbance and vegetation removal, and to avoid identified or potential unexploded ordnances (UXOs) discovered during field surveys,” according to the technical report. The 10th Mountain Division used the area for winter warfare training during WWII.

Another concern cited in the report is the potential impact to Canada lynx. Listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, “only Canada lynx has potential habitat in the vicinity of the project area,” according to the report. “No impacts on lynx are anticipated from the proposed work because much of the activity would occur near Homestake Road, a well-traveled recreation access road. Work would be conducted over a short period (approximately five to six weeks) and impacts on potential habitat would be negligible.”

The vast majority of comments from a variety of environmental groups and concerned citizens focused on potential impacts to the area’s renowned wetlands and peat-forming fens, which the project proponents say they will avoid as much as possible. So far, Gilles said she is not aware of any legal challenges to the project.

Two prominent local conservation groups — Eagle Valley Land Trust and Eagle River Watershed Council — submitted comments to the Forest Service expressing serious reservations about both the drilling and the possibility of a dam.

“Geophysical exploration has an obvious significant nexus and direct relation to additional future actions, i.e., dam construction, which may in time massively impact the Eagle River watershed — regardless of whether the future actions are yet ripe for decisions,” ERWC officials wrote.

Wilderness boundary

Even if the test drilling returns favorable results for a reservoir project, there is another obstacle that Homestake Partners will have to clear if they want to move forward with two iterations of the project: a wilderness-boundary change, which would require an act of Congress and the president’s signature.

The Whitney Reservoir alternatives range from 6,850 to 20,000 acre-feet and in some configurations would require federal legislation, which the cities are working to draft, requesting a boundary adjustment for the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area. The largest Whitney proposal would require an 80-acre adjustment, while an alternative location, lower down Homestake Creek, would require a 497-acre adjustment.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams discounts the notion that his agency should reject outright the test-drilling application, as some environmental groups have suggested, until the wilderness-boundary issue is determined. Although some local and state lawmakers have said they are against shifting a wilderness boundary, Fitzwilliams said it’s still too soon for him to take up the wilderness issue.

AJ-Final-Logo copy

“These are test holes,” Fitzwilliams said of the drilling, which is intended to see whether the substrata are solid enough for a dam and reservoir. “Going to get a (wilderness) boundary change is not a small deal for them, so why would you do it if you find fatal flaws? That’s a red herring. 

“I understand it; nobody wants to see a dam in the Homestake drainage. I get that. But it just seems prudent to do (the drilling) to see if there’s any reason to go further.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization that collaborates with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

Vail Mountain opening Eagle Bahn Gondola, bike hauls and Forest Flyer on Friday, July 17

In a news release Thursday afternoon, Vail Mountain announced the opening of the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead Village for summer operations starting Friday, July 17. The gondola will be open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Eagle Bahn Gondola offers scenic rides as well as activities at the top at Eagle’s Nest, including hiking, the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster as well as grab-and-go food and beverage options.

“Vail Mountain is also planning on offering Bike Haul starting on July 17, 2020 from both Gondola One at Vail Village and the Eagle Bahn Gondola out of Lionshead Village,” the announcement reads.

On June 26, Vail Resorts started opening its Colorado resorts for summer operations, starting with Crested Butte and Keystone.

On July 1, Vail and Beaver Creek opened for summer operations, with Gondola One opening out of Vail Village. Coronavirus precautions include face coverings in the gondola and the gondola line and one-way paths to ticket windows, among other things.

“Safety is service,” communications manager John Plack told the Vail Daily on July 1.

Vail Town Council gets first look at Booth Heights alternative plan

After months of work to find alternatives to the Booth Heights housing plan, Vail officials have a framework of a plan, with several big “ifs” attached.

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday heard a presentation about the draft of a non-binding “memorandum of understanding” from town housing director George Ruther. Work on that plan began in January when councilmembers instructed staff to work on a three-way agreement between the town, Triumph Development and Vail Resorts.

Vail Resorts owns the Booth Heights property, a 23.3-acre parcel in East Vail just north of the Interstate 70 interchange. Triumph has a contract to purchase the land, and led the effort to move the housing plan through the town’s approval process.

Town officials have worked with Triumph over the past several months. But Councilmember Kim Langmaid Tuesday acknowledged that Vail Resorts has had “no part” of the discussions that led to the draft agreement.

Time to review

Langmaid also urged residents to get a good understanding of the seven-step process needed to get to an agreement that ultimately would include creating housing equal to, or greater than, the number currently approved for Booth Heights — 144 beds — and eventually transfer the Booth Heights parcel to the town’s ownership.

Until that happens, the draft agreement anticipates extending current approvals on Booth Heights. The draft anticipates building housing on a parcel just west of the existing Middle Creek Village apartments. The idea is to build at least as many units as were approved for Booth Heights, and more if possible. The goal is to have those units finished by November of 2022.

To build on that site, the Children’s Garden of Learning preschool will have to move. The current idea is to put the child care facility in an expanded Vail Gymnastics Center. That work needs to be done before construction begins at the Middle Creek site.

The draft agreement also anticipates a years-long effort of wildfire fuels reduction and habitat improvement in the area. The town, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are working on a plan that will ultimately lead to work on roughly 4,500 acres in the area of East Vail north of I-70.

In addition, the completed agreement would work to reimburse Triumph for its costs during the Booth Heights approval process. The deal also envisions giving Triumph the first option — but not a guarantee — regarding rebuilding the west half of the Timber Ridge property.

Even more deed restrictions

The draft agreement also sets a goal of adding 450 deed restrictions to the town’s inventory. Ruther said a substantial number of those units will be from the Middle Creek units, and adding at least 100 units to the 98 units currently on the west portion of the Timber Ridge property. Ruther said other deed restrictions could come from rezoning parcels around town to the town’s housing zoning. That zoning requires deed-restricted workforce housing, with some offsets for free-market units. With zoning reserved for workforce housing, Ruther said the actual building could be done over the course of several years. Ruther added that the agreement could include deed-restricted units outside of Vail.

While the agreement won’t be binding, Ruther told councilmembers that the document will help keep all the parties on track to work for the main goals of environmental improvement and housing.

The draft of the agreement is now available for public review, and will be discussed in detail at the council’s July 21 meeting.

Vail Mayor Dave Chapin said the current draft is a place to start.

“We’re not across the finish line by any means,” Chapin said.

While Vail Resorts hasn’t been involved to this point, Chapin said the company wants its executive team to review the work done so far and suggest changes.

Changes are almost certain, perhaps from all parties to the agreement. And, while councilmembers didn’t have much to say Tuesday, they did expect changes after taking public comment.

“I anticipate a rather large public input session on July 21,” Chapin said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater to open July 11 with new Movie Night at The Amp

The Vail Valley Foundation on Tuesday announced plans for a July 11 opening of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Capacity for summer events will be limited according to public health order guidelines, and guests will be asked to follow new venue protocols.

The first event on the summer calendar is a screening of “Trolls World Tour” to kick off a new Saturday evening cinema series called Movie Night at The Amp. Movies will be screened on the venue’s 23-by-9-foot video screen, with accompanying audio through the venue’s extensive speaker system. Organizers will add additional movie selections and dates in late July.

“The movies will be crystal clear, even in the daytime,” said Tom Boyd, director of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater for the Vail Valley Foundation, in a release.

The amphitheater is also bringing back the Hot Summer Nights free concert series, starting July 14 with Andrew McConathy and the Drunken Hearts. Additional bands will be announced throughout the summer and organizers hope to keep the series going into late August. Attendees will have to reserve free tickets online to attend.

Bravo! Vail also announced today that it will host a reimagined season at the amphitheater starting July 16. More information and Bravo! tickets can be found at bravovail.org.

Other programs planned for this summer include popular community events like art classes from Alpine Arts Center, Betty Ford Alpine Garden’s “Chefs in the Garden.” More events and schedules will be announced soon.

New safety protocols and COVID-19 policies

The Ford Amphitheater has instituted new safety protocols, including increased cleaning and disinfecting, touchless entry, limited capacity within the venue, and face-covering policies.

The venue bag policy has changed as well: Only clear bags will be allowed in order to help maintain touchless entry. Guests may bring commercially-sealed, non-alcoholic beverages and food, blankets, and low-profile folding chairs with less than 5-inch-long legs, among other items. The Amp will not be renting chairs this season.

Face coverings will be required to enter and must be worn in common areas of the venue, but may be removed once a guest or family group is properly seated and socially distanced. Maximum family group size is eight. The venue typically holds up to 2,600 spectators. With a max capacity of 175-ticketed visitors per side, there will be ample room to properly social distance within the outdoor venue.

For more on the venue’s updated protocols and policies, please visit grfavail.com/covid19-policy.

Current schedule

This schedule reflects events currently scheduled at the amphitheater. Check grfavail.org/calendar for updated schedules as more events are announced.

“Trolls World Tour,” July 11, 6:30 p.m.

Movie Night at The Amp, reserve tickets in advance

Andrew McConathay & The Drunken Hearts, July 14, 6:30 p.m.

Hot Summer Nights, reserve free tickets in advance

Bravo! Vail: July 16, 7 p.m.

Mozart: Quartet No. 1 for Piano, Violin and Cello in G minor, K. 478

Brahms: Sextet No. 1 for Two Violins, Two Violas and Two Cellos in B-flat Major, Op. 18

“Remember the Titans,” July 18, 6:30 p.m.

Movie Night at The Amp, reserve tickets in advance

Shakedown Bar Family Band, July 21, 6:30 p.m.

Hot Summer Nights, reserve free tickets in advance

Bravo! Vail: July 23, 7 p.m.

Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, Op. 76, No. 2, “Quinten”

Bacewicz: Quartet (1949)

Dohnányi: Quintet No. 1 for Two Violins, Viola, Cello and Piano in C minor, Op. 1

“Accomplice,” July 25, 6:30 p.m.

Movie Night at The Amp featuring Teton Gravity Research’s latest mountain biking movie, reserve tickets in advance

Grant Farm, July 28, 6:30 p.m.

Hot Summer Nights, reserve free tickets in advance

Bravo! Vail: July 27, 11 a.m.

The Complete Beethoven Violin & Piano Sonatas, 1/3

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 12, No. 3

Bravo! Vail: July 28, 11 a.m.

The Complete Beethoven Violin & Piano Sonatas, 2/3

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, “Spring”

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2

Bravo! Vail: July 29, 11 a.m.

The Complete Beethoven Violin & Piano Sonatas, 3/3

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30, No. 3

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47, “Kreutzer”

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96

Bravo! Vail: July 30, 7 p.m.

Schubert: Sonata for Viola and Piano in A minor, D. 821, “Arpeggione”

Barber: Adagio for String Quartet

Mendelssohn: Octet for Four Violins, Two Violas and Two Cellos in E-flat Major, Op. 20

Bravo! Vail: August 6, 7 p.m.

Schubert: Marche Militaire in D Major for Piano, Four Hands, D. 733, No. 1

Schubert: Fantasy in F minor for Piano, Four Hands, D. 934

Brahms: Sonata in F minor for Piano, Four Hands, Op. 34b

Ticket policies

Gates open at 5:30 p.m. for Movie Night at The Amp, and showtimes are at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at grfavail.com for “Trolls World Tour” and “Remember the Titans.” Capacity in the 2,600-seat venue currently will be limited to 175 for Movie Nights, with lawn seating only. Future Movie Nights at The Amp tickets will go on sale, online, 10 days in advance of the show at 11 a.m. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for kids 12 and under.

For Hot Summer Nights, the venue will be divided into two sections, with each side limited to a capacity of 175. Each section will be general admission, have its own entrance, exit, restrooms and concessions, and will have lawn and pavilion seating available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Ticketholders will be asked to maintain social distancing protocols while in their seats.

Free tickets are available online at grfavail.com for Andrew McConathy and the Drunken Hearts. Tickets will be available at 11 a.m. 10 days in advance of future Hot Summer Nights shows. Tickets are free and are general admission, but must be reserved online. When reserving a ticket, guests will have the option to include a suggested donation to the “Turn Up The Amp” matching fund.

Food and drink

Concessions will be available, and the revised selection of alcohol and snacks will most likely not include the grill. Guests are still allowed to bring in their own food. A limited number of concession windows will be open based on capacity.

Support the arts and ‘Turn Up The Amp’

The opening of The Amp will coincide with the launch of a new matching fundraising campaign.

Each donation made to the “Turn Up The Amp” Fund this July and August will be multiplied due to support from a variety of venue sponsors and partners. Sponsors will individually match each donation made, up to $10,000, allowing each dollar donated to create more than five times the impact and to provide important support for programming and operations this summer at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.

Participating match sponsors include: GMC, TIAA Bank, Nature Valley, Pacifico, Aperol, Epsolon Tequila, BluSky Restoration Contractors, Encore Electric, Meiomi Wine, Holy Cross Energy, Deep Eddy Vodka and Cocktail Squad.

The town of Vail additionally remains an important and valued partner and will continue its support of the VVF and the Ford Amphitheater this summer.

“We are fortunate to have the town of Vail, local and national sponsors, and a community that understands the value of the arts and of this spectacular venue,” said Dave Dressman, vice president of sponsorship and sales for the Vail Valley Foundation, which operates The Amp. “This is an incredibly difficult time for events and live entertainment, and yet it’s something that can bring much-needed joy and happiness to all of us. We thank everyone for helping support this cause in our valley.”

Individuals looking to help support the venue can make donations in any amount, at any time, or at the time of their ticket purchase, by visiting grfavail.com/donate.

Vail Valley had a busy Fourth of July holiday weekend

It was hard to rent a bicycle over the Fourth of July weekend. That’s good news.

“We were slammed this weekend; that’s a good thing, but it was stressful,” Andy Dunlap of Christie Sports said. “It was nice to see everyone back in town.”

Actually, “everyone” wasn’t back for the holiday weekend. There were no cars parked Saturday on Vail’s frontage roads, and the town’s parking structures didn’t fill. Still, there were people in town.

Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh said his shops in Avon, Vail and Beaver Creek were all busy for the weekend. Venture Sports has fewer bikes available this summer. Still, demand was high. Venture Sports was out of available bikes fairly early in the morning, so people there called other shops around the valley.

“Everybody was out of bikes by like 10 a.m.,” Brumbaugh said.

Outdoor recreation was popular, given social distancing requirements, but other businesses were busy, too.

At the Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail, director Jen Mason said that facility saw people at a “manageable” level.

“It wasn’t super busy, but it wasn’t super quiet,” Mason said adding that she believed a number of people still aren’t comfortable with hanging out in indoor public places.

Al fresco is all right

That seemed to be the case at Jim Pavelich’s restaurants in Vail and Avon. Pavelich said “business was good” at Avon’s Northside Coffee, Pavelici’s Pizza, Southside Benderz and Northside Grab n’ Go in Vail. But, he added, the patio at Southside Benderz has been “very popular.”

Patio dining has also been popular at Vista at Arrowhead. There, Sue TerBush said the deck there hosted hundreds of people for both lunch and dinner over the holiday weekend.

Many of those diners are club members of the country club there.

At Yeti’s Grind at Solaris in Vail Village, owner Larry Leith said the coffee shop was busy throughout the weekend. Yeti’s has social distancing marks on the floor out into the hallway, and Leith said the line was out the door for much of the weekend.

That brisk business seems to be the norm.

Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey said she’s heard a number of reports of restaurants and shops having a busy weekend.

“From a business standpoint, I’m pleasantly surprised,” she said.

Got mask?

Wadey said she heard from a number of guests who came to Vail expecting to be free of mask-wearing requirements. That changed last week, when Eagle County’s latest public health order required people to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces.

Wadey said when she told most guests about the new requirement, the general reaction was “oh well.”

Wadey said she recommended that businesses post signs outside that gave a nod to the old “Got Milk?” ad campaign, changing the phrase to “Got Mask?”

Leith has posted just such a sign outside Yeti’s. The requirement has been met mostly with good humor, at least at Yeti’s, Leith said.

Leith, who’s a supporter of the mask requirement, acknowledged that “the mask thing can get pretty testy.” But being asked and thanked for masking up seemed to sit well with Yeti’s customers.

“People were really good about it,” Leith said.

A heavy rainstorm Saturday pushed a lot of people under cover, at least temporarily smashing social-distancing rules. Other than that, though, Leith said social distancing requirements worked “pretty well” much of the time.

With a number of guests comes a number of different comfort levels for being out in public.

Pavelich has seen this in his customers, of course.

“Some people are being cautious, and others can’t wait to get out and have fun,” Pavelich said. “I think everything worked out as well as it could (over the holiday), but the rest of the summer is unknown.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

Far fewer people in Vail for Fourth of July 2020

VAIL — Independence Day observances had a much different look and feel this year, with a more subdued atmosphere and far fewer people.

Vail usually sees more than 1,000 cars spill out of the parking structures and onto the overflow parking areas along the South Frontage Road on July 4th. This year, the structures did not fill, and while Vail parking supervisor Ethan Arnold said there was still a chance those lots could fill for the fireworks set for Saturday night, “I think that is a long shot,” he said.

With the annual Vail America Days parade canceled this year, visitors enjoyed exhibits instead. Many of the exhibits were the same vehicles often seen in the Vail parade, giving kids a chance to get up close with attractions like the “The Colorado River Queen” miniature steam ship, while remaining within their group.

And yes, candy was still being handed out by groups like Youth Power 365, which gave away lollipops.

Face coverings

Face coverings were a common sight among kids who didn’t have lollipops in their mouths as groups attempted to keep their space but found it difficult at times.

For many businesses, where face coverings became mandatory indoors earlier this week by orders of county officials, the sight of people in town for the Fourth of July was a welcome one.

Adam Pena and his wife Kristin opened Rocket Fizz candy shop in Lionshead about a week ago. They said they had deliberately set their sights on being open by July Fourth and set out to capture some Americana imagery with metallic pinups for sale featuring muscle cars, Route 66 signs, Betty Boop, Spiderman, Batman & Robin. Alongside classic American products like Dad’s Root Beer, red, white and blue rock candy sticks, and cherry mash candy — invented in 1918 in Missouri — Pena had indeed achieved the proper July Fourth theming in time for the store’s debut.

“We want it to feel like when you were a kid,” he said.

Hail storm

Pena said everything was going well until the rain hit. A downpour, which lasted hours with the intense weather turning to hail at times, canceled musical acts and caused exhibitors to pack up and leave early.

Social distancing was still being observed beneath store awnings and building overhangs, as groups attempted to wait out the storm.

Visiting from Denver, Jeffrey Rodriguez and Misha Schryer said they came in for the weather and were happy to wait out the rain as they knew the area could use it.

The pair found shelter in an old Lionshead gondola car.

“We’ll take whatever we can get,” Rodriguez said. “Even hail.”

Fire danger still high

Meteorologist Dennis Philipps with the National Weather Service said the storm that came through was a bit different than the typical afternoon showers Vail sees in the early summer as high pressure over the western plains of the U.S. forces tropical moisture up to the area. During a typical summer morning, surface temperatures are cooler and the air remains calm. But as the ground heats up in the afternoon, that moisture rushes upward, creating afternoon showers.

Philipps said on Saturday, however, the storm that hit Vail was “a little more organized.”

While the timing may not have been the best for local businesses which had set up displays in town, the timing may have been good in other ways, with fireworks planned for later in the evening.

“Any time you can wet things down before you start lighting stuff, that’s good,” Philipps said.

Moving forward, however, there’s probably little headed our way to reduce the need for the stage 1 fire restrictions that went into effect in the White River National Forest in Eagle County on Thursday.

“We’re looking at a windy and hot week behind this (storm system from Saturday)” Philipps said.

Eagle County mandates masks in new COVID-19 public health order, will move to next phase Friday

Masks in indoor public spaces such as grocery stores in Eagle County are no longer a recommendation — they’re a requirement.

Eagle County Public Health and Environment on Thursday updated the county’s public health order regarding COVID-19, which includes the mask ordinance.

“We are taking this step now to protect the progress we’ve made, as well as our near- and long-term goals of a successful school year, ski season and beyond,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry in a statement. “We believe the potential inconvenience of wearing masks is a small price to pay to protect that future.”

The move comes just days after members of the Avon Town Council approved an ordinance mandating that people wear masks in indoor, public spaces. Additionally Vail Resorts has implemented a face-covering policy across all of its resorts that requires guests to wear face coverings in certain areas, including in lines, when loading and unloading chairlifts, when loading and riding in gondolas, in indoor resort facilities, on activities such as an alpine slide or mountain coaster, and whenever it is not possible to maintain a 6-foot distance from unknown parties. These policies are also in effect at retail outlets.

In alignment with the county’s Transition Trail Map and with modifications in accordance with a variance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the move to the black diamond phase will take place on Friday

“Our ability to keep the virus in check and slow the spread at a community level is based on our individual behaviors,” said Heath Harmon, the county’s director of public health and environment. “The recent increases in Eagle County warrant everyone’s caution. Whether you are a local or a visitor, we want you to reduce contact with others and remain vigilant with the Five Commitments of Containment.”

Current disease surveillance data has pushed Eagle County into a cautious state with recent increases in spread noted in the county and region. In addition, state and national transmission data continues to increase with several states slowing down their reopening plans in advance of the holiday weekend.

The revised county public health order reflects these current disease trends and holds gathering sizes at lower levels than originally requested in the variance sent to the state, while also implementing a requirement for face coverings in public indoor settings.

Specifically, group sizes are limited to up to 100 people indoors and 175 people outdoors as long as 6 feet of distance between non-household members can be maintained. 

All community members are strongly encouraged to read the entire order. Notable changes include:

  • Allows gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 175 people outdoors. Six feet of distance will still be required between non-household members. Multiple groups may be allowed in separate spaces indoors, or with 20 feet of distance between groups outdoors.   
  • Requires customers and guests to wear face coverings when entering any place of business or public indoor environment, and requires all individuals to wear face coverings in public outdoor spaces when less than 6 feet of physical distance from non-household members is expected to continue for 15 minutes or longer.
  • Removes capacity limits for short-term lodging. Six feet of distance will still be required for non-household members. 
  • Continues requirements that all visitors be free of any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 for 10 days prior to arrival in Eagle County. 
  • Continues isolation requirements for people who are sick and quarantine requirements for people who have been exposed to someone who is sick.

The county has updated its Business Toolkit and its Q&A resource to help with the transition. A communitywide education campaign geared toward visitors is also being deployed.

Also, in the coming weeks, Eagle County Public Health and Environment will update its COVID-19 monitoring dashboard to include additional demographic data. The new information is intended to help provide insights into how the disease is affecting the community and greater access to data used to make public health decisions.

Avon mask mandate comes with a dose of disappointment in tourists, county commissioners

In approving an ordinance requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces on Tuesday, Avon Town Council members said they were disappointed with Eagle County for not passing a countywide mask requirement. 

“I’m very, very disappointed that Eagle County has not taken the lead on this, and has left it to us to struggle over it,” said council member Tamra Underwood. 

“You lead by action, and Eagle County is not taking the action, which I’m a little upset about,” said council member Chico Thuon. “And I think we need to be the leaders in this.”

Eagle County Public Health Director Heath Harmon attended the meeting, telling the Avon Town Council it has the full support of Eagle County Public Health in making masks mandatory. Harmon also acknowledged that many Eagle County residents are feeling the same way as Underwood and Thuon.

“I fully would own the fact that you’re not maybe getting as quick of a reaction from Eagle County government,” Harmon said. “It’s not that we’re not having these conversations, it’s not that we’re reluctant to think about different policies, I think what we’re trying to do is really figure out what’s the right, measured approach, to really sustain a long term, preventative measure.”

Harmon said he understands that Avon Town Council members are hearing from their constituents and wanting to react. 

“As the leaders of a town where we have our constituents asking us please do it, why wouldn’t we do it?” Thuon said.

Unhappy with tourists

About a dozen people spoke in favor of the mask ordinance at Tuesday’s council meeting; several of the speakers referenced visitors not wearing masks. 

“We have a lot of states coming in here … especially Texas, they’re going to come in here and kill us all off,” said Avon resident Rebecca Kiser. “Their attitude is ‘Hey, I’m not going to wear a mask, it’s a political thing.’”

Terry Smith said she sees too many people in City Market and Wal-Mart not wearing masks.

“We have a lot of guests coming in here from all over the country, especially Texas, Florida and California,” she said. 

Susan Thistlethwaite told the Avon Town Council she can see people gathering in groups and not wearing masks from her home in Arrowhead. 

“The cars are from Texas, the cars are from Florida, the cars are from California,” she said. 

Brenda Himelfarb, of Avon, said despite the fact that she has tested positive for the COVID-19 antibodies, she still wears her mask. 

“I went to dinner the other night in an open area with some people from Miami,” Himelfarb said. “I got up, and I put on my mask, and she said ‘Why are you putting on your mask?’ And I said ‘In consideration of others.’”

Longtime Vail local Susan Dugan said a group of people from California asked her if they needed to wear a mask as they approached a store in Avon the other day. 

“I said no but us locals would appreciate it if you put one on, and they kind of laughed in my face and walked in,” Dugan said. 

Avon second homeowner Marjorie Hook, who lives part-time in Texas, said she decided to come to Avon because “it looks like spring break” in Texas.

“We opened everything up, and everybody started getting sick,” she said. “It’s bad, and all it’s going to take is one person from Houston to get on one of those planes, and they’re going to bring that infection up here.”

Kindness campaign

Council member Scott Prince said wearing a mask is an issue of respect, while council member Thuon said he sees masks as an issue of manners. 

“It’s something that’s very polite, I think, not to spread your germs onto other people,” Thuon said. 

Council member Jennie Fancher pointed out that not everyone can wear a mask, for health reasons, and those people deserve to be treated with respect, as well. 

“If this ordinance passes I would really like us to figure out a way to have a sign made, or a sticker … it’s the same as people being able to park in handicapped spots,” Fancher said. “People who can not wear a mask should be able to have a placard, something they wear around their neck or hold in their hand that says ‘I care about your health, but my health prohibits me from wearing a mask.’”

Fancher said she has a friend who can’t wear a mask, and people have been “downright rude and accosting” to her. 

Underwood suggested the town undertake a kindness campaign along with their new ordinance requiring masks, with kindness being directed at both the people who can and can’t wear masks. 

“Something that encourages people to be a bit more polite to each other than where this seems to be going,” Underwood said.