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Camper death near Piney raises concerns over dead-standing tree hazards, intense forest use

Meredith Latchaw, 47, was killed by blunt force trauma when she was struck by a falling tree in the White River National Forest near Piney Lake on Friday, Eagle County coroner Kara Bettis has confirmed.

Latchaw was a science teacher at Grandview in Aurora and is remembered as a favorite among students for her kid-centered approach, Principal Lisa Roberts told Alan Gionet with KCNC-TV.

Gionet himself happened to be camping nearby at the time during what was one of many busy weekends this summer in the White River National Forest. He said the tragic event shook him up considerably, not only for the freak occurrence but for the fact that Latchaw was so well admired.

“I got a message the following day from one of my former co-workers whose daughter was coached by her in volleyball … I’ve only begun to realize what a wonderful human being she was,” Gionet said.

Meredith Latchaw (credit: CBS)
Meredith-Latchaw-credit-CBS

Camps cramped

While dead-standing trees fall frequently in the White River National Forest, deaths are rare, said District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis.

The fact that a tree struck Latchaw on Friday speaks to the larger issues of intense use of public lands in Colorado this summer.

“We have a lot more people in the forest,” Veldhuis said.

Visiting from the Front Range, Gionet said his family couldn’t find a spot to camp anywhere else in the state on Friday, so he went to a first-come, first-serve location near Red Sandstone Road, about 12 miles north of the town of Vail. He assumed the site would be available but when he got there, Gionet realized the location he had in mind had been closed off.

“There really weren’t very many sites,” he said.

The “sites” to which Gionet refers aren’t designated sites, but as dispersed camping is available to all in the National Forest, “sites” like the ones the Gionet and Latchaw families identified on Friday have been well worn from much use, with grass packed down on flat spots and circles of rocks which are used for campfires. They begin to resemble traditional sites after several weeks of heavy use.

Gionet said he selected one of those sites, and the Latchaw family was in a similar site next to his, about 100 yards away. Moments later, “gusty winds had come up, and knocked that tree down on the family’s campsite,” Gionet said.

Tree removal efforts

Removal of dead-standing trees has been common in nearby forest areas in recent years, but it’s usually performed in the name of wildfire fuels removal.

Upon hearing about the incident near Piney Lake on Friday, University of Colorado forest ecologist Thomas Veblen said removal of dead-standing trees from localized areas near trails, roads and camping areas makes more sense than removal of dead-standing trees over a vast area of the backcountry.

“Dead-standing trees are part of the norm for those forests,” Veblen said. However, “in areas where people are walking around, you want to cut the dead trees.”

Veblen said while he’s never seen a data set to quantify the danger, the fact that dead standing trees can kill people in the forest is well known among researchers.

“There are many times when I’ve been out with a field crew of students, working in areas of beetle kill, and when the wind comes up, we just have to leave, we have to get out,” Veblen said. “This is a very significant risk.”

Gionet said he would like to see dead-standing trees removed from the well-known camping areas of the White River National Forest, like the one where his family and the Latchaws were camping. Veldhuis agreed it’s something to consider, in light of the increased use the forest has seen in recent months.

Veblen said the forest service has made efforts to that end in other areas of Colorado in recent years.

“It’s hot and sunny in areas where I used be able to camp under a tree cover, but the hazard of those trees — especially the lodgepole pine, which decay very quickly — the hazard of those falling on tents and hikers is just so high that the forest service had no choice,” Veblen said. “And that’s totally justified. Spend the money cutting those trees, but I have to question the logic of doing helicopter logging in remote areas where people are unlikely to be able to walk.”

P-EBT: New food assistance program for Colorado families with children

The Colorado Department of Human Services and the Department of Education have joined to offer the ‘Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer’ (P-EBT) program to school-age children who would have received free or reduced price meals during the time schools were closed during the 2019-2020 school year.

The program is also available for children who would have been eligible for free or reduced price meals in schools in March, April, or May due to loss of household income during those months.

Each household with an eligible child can receive an amount of $5.70 per child for each day that schools were closed during the school year, meaning families will be able to obtain up to $279 for each eligible child, since in the state of Colorado most schools were closed for 49 days.

“The immigration status of the parents or children does not matter for P-EBT and P-EBT is not part of the public charge rule, this means that it does not affect families’ current or future immigration processes,” said Melina Valsecia, Community Connector and Operations Manager for the MIRA Bus, in a press release.

The household information that will be used to determine eligibility for P-EBT is completely confidential and is protected by federal and state data privacy practices, she added.

For Colorado families currently receiving SNAP benefits, or food stamps, and whose children attended a school that participates in the National School Lunch Program, no further action is necessary and benefits will automatically be issued starting Friday, July 24.

Families not currently participating in the SNAP program, and whose children attended a school that participates in the National School Lunch Program, will receive key instructions and information from the Eagle County School District, MIRA Bus, and Neighborhood Navigators of Eagle County. 

For eligible families in Colorado, applications are now open and can be accessed at Colorado.gov/CDHS/P-EBT through late September. More information can also be found at www.HungerFreeColorado.org.

P-EBT benefits will be issued to households via a Colorado EBT debit card as a one-time payment reflecting the days the children would have been in school during March, April, and May but were not due to COVID-19.

For those families wishing to apply for this benefit, the SASID identification number, which is assigned to each student by the state, will be required. Families will receive communication from their child’s school via email with information on how to obtain this number.

If you need help finding this ID number or filling out the application, you can contact the MIRA Bus at 970-688-0001 or Neighborhood Navigators for assistance.

Additionally, MIRA Bus staff and Neighborhood Navigators will be assisting with P-EBT applications in-person at the bus’ different locations throughout the county. Below are the MIRA Bus locations and schedule for this week:

  • Monday, August 3 – Old Town Park in Eagle, 12 to 4 p.m.
  • Tuesday, August 4 – Lake Creek Village Apartments in Edwards, 12 to 4 p.m.
  • Wednesday, August 5 – Aspen Mobile Home Village in Avon, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 6 – Ridley’s Family Market in Gypsum, 12 to 4 p.m.
  • Friday, August 7 – Eagle River Village in Edwards, 8 a.m. at 5 p.m.

*COVID-19 tests will be taking place on Wednesday and Friday in the MIRA Bus. To see the full MIRA Bus schedule visit the website here.

John Kaemmer, Bridge Street businessman for more than 50 years, dies at 86

VAIL — A familiar face on Bridge Street for five decades, John Kaemmer took his last stroll through Vail Village in July, remarking on what a wonderful area it is.

Kaemmer died on July 24 after fighting pneumonia, the most recent in a series of ailments which had caused him complications in recent months. His daughter, Kate Drescher, said his last days were peaceful at the care facility in Denver where he had resided in recent years.

Called Vail’s “first prolific entrepreneur” in an excerpt from the Dick Hauserman book “The Inventors of Vail,” Kaemmer owned and sold Pistachio’s, where Vendetta’s is now; La Pinata, now called Los Amigos; and the Clock Tower. He also managed Casino Vail, the Vail Golf Club Clubhouse Grill and the Red Lion.

The Clock Tower Inn, a steakhouse, was Kaemmer’s first business in Vail. The story of how he came to start that business has become local legend; recently Kaemmer’s son Bradley got to hear the story from one of Kaemmer’s oldest friends in Vail, Bill Hanlon of Wild Bill’s Emporium. Hanlon said while Kaemmer was too weak to recite the tale himself, he was nodding along and mouthing out important details.

“John, in 1964, went skiing in Aspen, and on the way back, he stopped at the Vail Village Inn,” Hanlon said. “John ordered a T-bone steak. Well, restaurants like the VVI were not busy at the time, and so the steaks were all frozen on a Sunday night. So the chef took a frozen T-bone steak and put it on the grill … He served the steak to John Kaemmer, who was a restaurateur, and a very proficient one. John called the waiter over and said, ‘Can you have the chef cook it a little more, it’s still frozen on the inside.’ So the waiter took the steak back to the kitchen. Well, you got a temperamental chef back there then, who’s had his steak sent back to him. So he probably said I’ll fix that son of a bleep, so he took the steak and he put it in the french frier, and he cooked it that way. And he served it to John Kaemmer. And John Kaemmer’s reaction to his fiancée — and his future wife, Julie — was, ‘I think this town is ready for a steakhouse.’ And the next year he opened the Clock Tower Inn.”

‘Treated employees with respect and dignity’

Hanlon worked for Kaemmer for a few years at the Clock Tower Inn in the 1960s and early ’70s.

“He was a very innovative restaurateur, and that’s what was needed in Vail,” Hanlon said.

Joni Weinzapfel Windsor also worked for Kaemmer at the Clock Tower Inn. She said he was a great boss.

“He was extra special,” she said. “He cared about everybody, and he didn’t get caught up in the day-to-day stuff.”

Windsor followed Kaemmer from the Clock Tower to his next business, Pistachio’s, where she was the first chef he hired.

“He was very, very smart in business,” she said. “There were always lines out the door because he had a policy of giving something away. In the summer he would give away the shrimp cocktail to anyone who was seated.”

EagleVail resident Tom “TS” Simon also worked for Kaemmer at Pistachio’s and the Clock Tower. He said Kaemmer went above and beyond the role of a normal employer to help him succeed.

“He treated employees with respect and dignity,” Simon said.

After working for Kaemmer at the Clock Tower, Hanlon became close friends with Kaemmer. Their children attended school together, they traveled to the shores of the Atlantic in Maine together many times, and after getting out of the restaurant business, they both became retailers in Vail Village. Kaemmer last owned the Toy Shop on Bridge Street; Hanlon still owns Wild Bill’s.

Kaemmer last visited Vail in mid-July, catching up with Hanlon one last time.

“He was a visionary of what Vail was going to be,” Hanlon said. “A great person, and a great citizen.”

Civic duty

Kaemmer was on Vail’s first Town Council in the 1960s and was also a supporter of Vail Mountain School. Formerly known as Vail Country Day School, Vail Mountain School was, for many years, the only school in Vail.

Peter Abuisi, who was Vail Mountain School’s headmaster from 1978 to 2013, said he got to know John and Julie Kaemmer early in his tenure, because their kids were in school at the time.

“When I moved to Vail, I was used to wearing a tie to school every day,” Abuisi said. “John, one time, said ,’You have the only tie collection in this town.'”

Kaemmer, through his toy shop, was one of the more memorable donors to the school’s annual auction dinner.

“He would create a mountain of as many different kinds of toys and puzzles and games and stuffed animals as he could stack up,” Abuisi said. “And every year he would donate an electric toy with an engine, caboose, cattle car and all that, and he would put it on a table so it would go in a circle around the toy mountain, drawing everyone to the table.”

Idyllic example

Kaemmer was born on May 9, 1934, in Bozeman, Montana. He was raised in Montana and Idaho before attending the University of Denver in the 1950s. He worked for the historic Denver Dry Goods Tea Room, where 2,000 lunches would be served in a single afternoon, before discovering Vail in the same way many skiers did in those days, during a stopover on an Aspen trip.

While Kaemmer loved skiing, he also loved to work, and in Vail he found what he believed would be an idyllic setting to be both an entrepreneur and a skier.

“In the beginning I thought it was the best skiing ever,” Kaemmer told Hauserman in “The Inventors of Vail.”

Kaemmer’s daughter Kate said her brother Bradley and she were raised in a three-bedroom condo at the base of Golden Peak, “because he always wanted to walk to work, and he always wanted to walk to ski,” she said.

“He’d get up early, he’d go to work, he’d come home and he’d go skiing,” Kate said. “He’d ski for three hours, then he’d go back and check on the store.”

In the summers, Kaemmer was regarded as an expert gardener.

“In his restaurants, he always used flowers as his centerpieces,” Hanlon said. “His flair, with flowers and nature, I think was a very important thing from the very beginning, he was always planting things.”

In believing that Vail could provide the settings for an idyllic life, Kaemmer sought to be the proof himself.

“My parents always led by example,” Kate said. “Working hard, being a part of your community, being kind to people.”

When Julia Kaemmer died in 2007, Kate wrote “We teach what we live” on her mother’s headstone at the Vail Memorial Park in East Vail.

In teaching what he lived, John Kaemmer inspired his son Bradley to work in the restaurant business, as well. Bradley is now the CEO of Paul Martin’s American Grill.

Kaemmer’s idyllic life in Vail will reach its terminus at the memorial park in East Vail, where his final resting place will be alongside Julia.

“We have biodegradable urns, and we’ll put them both there together,” Kate said.

Knapp Harvest brings farm to market product to new Eagle Ranch storefront

For more than a decade, Knapp Ranch has been expanding its sustainable farming operation. This summer, Eagle County residents have a new way to taste the fruits of that labor.

The Knapp Harvest marketplace, featuring an array of products from the upper West Lake Creek site, will open Saturday, Aug. 1, at 717 Sylvan Lake Road, next to Color Coffee Roasters in downtown Eagle Ranch. Hours of operation are Saturday andSunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Wednesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“When you enter Knapp Harvest, you are going to see, smell and purchase Colorado,” says Tom Cartwright, chief operating officer of Knapp Ranch. “Our staff has been working for more than 10 years to provide local microgreens, produce and honey to many in the Eagle River Valley. There are so many more residents, both full- and part-time, we want to share our mission with.”

Cartwright noted that convenience is one of the biggest benefits of the new storefront.

“The Eagle store will further enrich our greater community by being able to offer elegant and quality products, as well as educate on the innovation, origin, creativity and preservation behind each product line.”

Working Farm

Sustainable practices are vital to the Knapp Ranch working farm. The Knapp Harvest site houses the operation’s new offices and will provide a platform to launch new product lines and reveal strategic alliances with unique partnerships. And naturally, the store will sell local, authentic products and offer special order services.

The Knapp Harvest team is further developing educational sessions about its growing and farming operations.

“We want our marketplace to be experiential with the Knapp Ranch staff on hand to help educate,” Cartwright said.

The Knapp Ranch retail nursery — The Hoop House, located just east of City Market in Eagle — and the Community Supported Agriculture program are functions of the ranch program and their products will be available at Knapp Harvest. The Hoop House sells annuals, perennials, veggie starts, soil amendments, herbs, as well as subscriptions to its CSA program.

Knapp Ranch recently announced its purchase of Osage Gardens. Whole Foods is one of the primary buyers of Osage products and there there are no significant operational shifts for the 20-acre operation located in New Castle. Knapp Harvest will allow for greater distribution of the Osage Gardens culinary herbs and vegetables.

Further marketplace offerings include:

  • Produce, microgreens and honey products from Knapp Ranch, in addition to other product lines such as the book, “Living Beneath the Colorado Peaks,” written by Bud and Betsy Knapp, furniture and logo wear.
  • Amaza Bread from Knapp Harvest’s neighbor, Color Coffee Roasters. The bread is made daily with fresh heirloom grains.
  • Longtime Vail Valley resident Ann Kurronen’s AnnaVail Cheese: Eagle-based AnnaVail Cheese produces artisan cheese made from natural cow’s and sheep’s milk. The milk is collected from local farms that engage in the best dairy practices and humane treatment of their livestock.
  • Colorado native Cary Hogan’s Dream Colorado “Dream Creams.”
  • Solandra, Colorado artisan-crafted, all-natural products.
  • Alaskan seafood from Kaleb’s Katch.
  • Gypsum’s fourth-generation, home-grown local grass-fed beef from the Gerard family.
  • Edwards-based fill & refill, bulk refill products committed to reducing plastics in nature.
  • Colorado’s Haystack Mountain Cheese, featuring cheesemaker Jackie Chang’s renowned goat cheese.
  • Avon Bakery & Deli’s Artisan Breads made with certified organic flours. 

Forest Service culvert project will close East Brush Creek Road Aug. 5 through Sept. 7

He doesn’t have traffic counts to prove it, but when he has driven up to his Fulford cabin this summer, Larry McKinzie has noticed a lot more cars on East Brush Creek Road.

COVID-19 has brought more visitors to the great outdoors — places like Yeoman Park, Fulford, Nolan Lake and the other locales that are accessed off of East Brush Creek Road. But folks will have to make different access plans for the next month as the U.S. Forest Sevice shuts down the roadway for a culvert replacement project.

The Forsest Service announced this week it will be temporarily closing East Brush Creek road for much of August and into September “to conduct important road maintenance.”

About 3.5 miles of East Brush Creek Road (FSR 415.1) south of Eagle, will be closed from Aug. 5 to Sept. 7 to replace a failing culvert at the upper East Brush Creek crossings. The road will be closed from about three miles above the intersection with the main Brush Creek Road, where the road begins making “S” curves, to the intersection with Forest Service Road 416 at the winter snowmobile parking area. 

Visitors with high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles will be able to access the area above the closure by taking FSR 400 (West Brush Creek Road) to FSR 416. Visitors with trailers, campers or passenger vehicles are discouraged from using the alternate route because FSR 416 is a high-clearance, four-wheel drive road. 

McKinzie agreed with the assessment that drivers should use care before tackling the route.

“I drove that a couple years ago and I have a four-wheel drive pickup I drove. I wouldn’t take my Subaru there,” he said.

Campgrounds open

The Forest Service announcement noted that the alternate route accesses Nolan Lake, New York Mountain, Lake Charles, and Iron Edge trails in the Mount Holy Cross Wilderness, the Fulford Cave Trail, Yeoman Park and Fulford Cave campgrounds. It also accesses the Peter Estin, Polar Star and Seipel huts.

Yeoman Park and Fulford Cave campgrounds will remain open to limited camping during the road closure and no fees will be charged. Campers will need to be self-sufficient because the campground restrooms will be closed and digging cat-holes is prohibited. Campers will need to pack out their own trash. 

“We appreciate the public’s patience as we complete this important maintenance to keep our roads sustainable for the public,” said Leanne Veldhuis, the Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger.

“I am glad they are fixing it. It really needed to be fixed,” McKinzie said. “There is a lot of water that is getting in the road. Right above the yurts the road is really rough and it has been for a year or so. There is a stretch there that really needs some work.”

Wearyman Road

The USFS also announced that road closures of up to 30 minutes will occur on the Wearyman Road (FSR 747) east of Red Cliff beginning the week of Aug. 3 and continuing through Sept. 15 as the Forest Service constructs drainage structures from Ptarmigan Pass down to the beginning of the McAllister Road (FSR 708), as well as re-shapes two creek crossings in the upper section.

The connector section of FSR 747 to the Shrine Pass Road (FSR 709), which was closed last year because of a landslide, will remain closed for the 2020 summer/fall season.       

The Forest Service additionally noted that crews are currently working on West Lake Creek Road (FSR 423) south of Edwards. The road will be closed through July 31.    

For additional information, call the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District at 970-827-5715. Additional information and maps of the closures are available under “alerts” at https://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.

Eagle County inks water rights deal for workforce housing, river health projects

Eagle County and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority both wanted the same thing — flexibility to offer water incentives to develop affordable housing and river enhancement projects.

An agreement inked this week will help both entities accomplish that goal in a more effective and efficient manner.

Eagle County announced Tuesday that it will convey its approximately 87 acre-feet of water rights in Eagle Park Reservoir to the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority to be allocated to affordable housing projects or to projects that promote river health in Eagle County.

The current value of the water is just over $3.45 million.

According to Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu, it was always a bit odd for the county to own water rights in the Eagle Park Reservoir because the county is not a water provider. What’s more, holding reservoir shares cost the county between $15,000 and $20,000 annually.

What’s in it for the county?

By conveying its stock to the water authority, Treu noted the county hopes to further some of its strategic goals. Specifically, the authority will use the water rights to satisfy the water dedication requirements of developments within its service area that provide affordable, employee or workforce housing units as defined by the county. Additionally, the dedication can help ensure water conservation goals or be allocated to projects that enhance the health of streams and rivers in the Eagle River basin.

“We were already doing these things but we weren’t doing it at the level we would like to see,” Treu aid. And, he noted, the change will mean developers can plan projects to set criteria to qualify for water dedication assistance rather than engage in individual negotiations with the county.

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners has identified quality workforce housing and river health as strategic areas of focus. The authority provides water service to properties from EagleVail to Cordillera and also owns shares in Eagle Park Reservoir Company to allot water to new development within its service area. The newly conveyed shares from Eagle County will only be allocated to projects that meet the criteria outlined in the agreement between the county and the authority.

Officials say the county and the authority were natural fits for the partnership because both organizations have worked to bring workforce housing and water efficiency and conservation projects to fruition in Eagle County.

The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, which manages the authority, has created 58 housing units since 1996, including the 21-unit Stillwater project completed last year in Edwards.

“We are excited to enter into this partnership and collaboration to support the expansion of new high-quality housing options for our local workforce and to improve river health in the Eagle River basin,” said Linn Brooks, the GM for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.

Eagle County has partnered to create and currently oversees over 700 workforce and senior housing units including Miller Ranch, Lake Creek Village, Seniors on Broadway, Golden Eagle Apartments and Riverview Apartments. Additionally, the county anticipates opening Two10 @ Castle Peak, a 22-unit apartment complex, to tenants in August.  

“In these times of economic uncertainty, we believe the conveyance of the Reservoir Company stock is a creative solution to lowering the barrier to attainable housing, achieving water conservation goals, and promoting river health in Eagle County,” said Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.

Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney noted the need to make all investments go further. “We feel the dedication of the reservoir company stock is a way to do that. It encourages public/private partnerships to address community needs and some of our most critical strategic priorities.” 

“We are hopeful and confident that this program will be a catalyst and incentive for developers to pursue affordable housing projects that achieve water conservation goals and improve stream health,” said Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr.

For more information, contact Brooks at 970-476-7480 or the Eagle County Commissioners at 970-328-8605.

Vail Mountain School, local businesses using ‘microbial mitigation’ system

Vail Mountain School intends to open Aug. 24. To do that, the school has taken steps including installing “microbial reduction” equipment from Synexis.

Head of School Michael Imperi said the school has installed between “70 and 80” units from Synexis in the school’s ventilation systems. Installing that equipment puts the school in the company of several Fortune 500 firms and the Los Angeles Dodgers as Synexis customers.

The school and Synexis linked up because Synexis Senior Vice President Douglas Bosma and his family moved to the valley in 2019, and the family put its three kids into Vail Mountain School.

Imperi said that the school was looking at Synexis and other systems before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The school had been looking at upgrading its heating and ventilation systems as part of long-term planning. Bosma told school leaders about Synexis, and the company became one of those evaluated.

But that’s getting a little ahead of the story.

The Synexis story began with founder James D. Lee, a U.S. Army Veteran who entered the private sector. As Lee was working to create the first sensor networks in New York City’s financial district, he son found real-time technology didn’t exist to detect biological agents.

According to the company’s website, the goal was to “develop technology that would work around the clock in occupied spaces to reduce microbial threats.”

Lee and his team developed a system that uses “Dry Hydrogen Peroxide” to mitigate microbial contamination. The company was founded in 2001.

Growing in the high country

Bosma said Synexis is currently operating or being installed in 58 buildings from Frisco to Glenwood Springs.

While virtually every business has enhanced its cleaning routines, Bosma said putting Synexis units into buildings’ ventilation systems allows Dry Hydrogen Peroxide to get to surfaces cleaning might miss.

Bosma said Synexis isn’t intended to replace cleaning, but to “add an extra layer of protection.”

Bosma said Synexis uses data to both create its systems and back up its claims.

Imperi said he’s been impressed with the science and research behind the company’s claims.

Before the Vail Mountain School system went live last week, a Synexis scientist took dozens of swabs around campus. Those microbial results will be compared with other samples collected after the system is running.

The idea, Imperi said, is to enhance safety for students, staff and faculty. Looked at from a pre-COVID perspective, the system is intended to help people in school stay more health and reduce absenteeism.

Just the seasonal flu in enclosed spaces can spread rapidly. While there isn’t yet hard data available for the COVID virus, the company does have data on absenteeism for buildings in which it’s being used.

And Synexis is rapidly gaining clients in this area.

Vail Mountain School recently sent an internal memo to board members and others. That memo has generated a lot of interest from potential clients, Bosma said.

Bosma added that clients have taken notice of nine years of data on existing systems. And, he added, the company is talking to several school districts in both the mountains and on the Front Range.

The company has also been talking with home builders, restaurant chains and others. Bosma said Synexis has also had contact with “one or two” resort companies that he declined to name.

Local clients

Ski and Snowboard Club Vail is currently a client, as is the Minturn Recreation Center. So is the town of Vail, which recently signed a contract to use Synexis devices in all town-owned buildings and facilities.

Vail Town Manager Scott Robson said town officials see using Synexis as another way to enhance cleaning in those facilities.

“We’ve heard really good feedback,” Robson said. “The (town) council and public works (department) are quite excited about it.”

At Vail Mountain School, Imperi said the board “did a lot of research” into Synexis and other systems.

“We talked with some Fortune 500 (firms) and the L.A. Dodgers,” Imperi said, adding that the baseball team carries portable Synexis units on road trips.

Cleaning has taken on added importance in the days of COVID. But Imperi said Vail Mountain School is in business with Synexis for the long haul.

“Once COVID is a distant memory, we’ll still be mitigating,” Imperi said. Given the potential impact on the safety of everyone at the school, “It became a no-brainer for us.”

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

Vail Town Council going virtual again, taking public comment

The latest Eagle County public health order has limited gathering sizes. That means Tuesday’s Vail Town Council meeting will be an all-virtual affair.

Councilmember Kim Langmaid said the latest order would require councilmembers and staff to wear masks through the entire meeting. Given the length of some meetings — Tuesday’s session is expected to take as long as eight hours — Langmaid said it’s better to go back to the virtual format.

“People are getting more comfortable using Zoom,” Langmaid said, adding there’s enough technology available to take public comment.

There could be a good bit of public comment at Tuesday’s meeting. The council is scheduled for a 90-minute discussion of a draft memorandum of understanding between the town, Vail Resorts and Triumph Development regarding alternatives to the Booth Heights housing site in East Vail.

The draft of that document is complex, with the ultimate goal of building housing somewhere besides East Vail, relocating the Children’s Garden of Learning preschool, enhancing wildlife habitat in the East Vail area and, eventually, giving the town ownership of the 23.3-acre Booth Heights parcel.

The clock’s ticking

If the draft agreement is to hit one of its prime goals — replacing housing at Booth Heights with units elsewhere in town — by November of 2022, the agreement needs to meet steady progress.

Langmaid said that regardless of the progress of the broad agreement, the town has already identified a preferred site for the Booth Heights property. That site is home to the current Children’s Garden of Learning site, a town-owned parcel just east of the Middle Creek Village apartments.

That’s going to require the preschool to relocate. The town has proposed adding a third story to the Vail Gymnastics Center, as a potential new home for the preschool.

“It’s important to us to find a win-win solution for all the parties involved,” Langmaid said. “We’re trying to make a system that works for everyone involved.”

The proposal, still in its draft form, has already generated plenty of response.

Councilmember Brian Stockmar said there’s been a steady flow of emails about the proposals. Speaking via phone Friday, Stockmar said he expects more comments to come in before the Tuesday meeting.

For those who prefer to comment in the moment, Langmaid said people can register to comment, and choose whether or not to appear via video.

But, she added, “We definitely want to hear from everyone in the community who has some feedback to share with us.”

The town earlier this year delayed hearings on a rezoning request from the owners of the Highline Hotel in West Vail, as well as a request to create a “special development district” on that property.

Town officials in late April decided to delay hearings on those topics until the public could appear in person to comment.

No need to delay

Stockmar noted that the Highline proposals were “quasi-judicial” actions, adding that the council had been advised by Vail Town Attorney Matt Mire to hold in-person sessions for those topics.

The proposed memorandum of understanding is legally somewhat different, Stockmar said, so the town can take public comment via email or Zoom.

Like Langmaid, Stockmar said he welcomes public comment on the proposal.

“I like to look people in the eye and listen,” Stockmar said. “That’s a huge part of our jobs.”

For now, though, email and Zoom will have to suffice.

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

Vail Valley real estate coming back from tough April, May

Lack of business doesn’t necessarily mean lack of work.

Laura Sellards is the co-owner of Keller Williams Mountain Properties Team Black Bear in Eagle. Sellards said her team was busy even while sales slipped in April and May.

And sales did slip — a lot. Transactions in April were just 57% percent of the same period in 2019. May sales were just 48% of those recorded in 2019.

“But we’ve been consistently busy through this whole thing,” Sellards said, whether helping people get their homes ready to list or helping potential buyers look for property, virtually in many cases.

Despite the slowdown following the March shutdown of much of the valley’s economy, brokers say they’re busy, and writing a lot of contracts.

Dan Fitchett, the managing broker of LIV Sotheby’s International Realty, said June and the first two weeks of July have been “exceptional.”

Some of those buyers are relocating to the Vail Valley.

Fitchett said his firm has sold four homes to people coming to the valley from other areas.

Fitchett said he was talking with a client who’s become so used to doing business via email, phone and Zoom meetings that he decided to bring his family to Eagle County.

“He’ll fly back about once a month now,” Fitchett said.

Willing to drive

Another thing Fitchett is seeing is how long people are willing to drive to get to the Vail Valley. Any drive of 15 hours or less is now seen as somewhat acceptable.

Sales to out-of-state buyers have ticked up recently, from about 28% through much of the year to 33% in May.

Many of those buyers were located in Texas, long a solid market for resort area real estate. But just as many May buyers — 29 — were from California.

That’s something new, Fitchett said. Southern California residents can get to western Colorado fairly easily, Fitchett said, adding that many clients he’s spoken with want out of that state, at least for now.

Mike Budd, a broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Colorado Properties, said that California has never been one of the valley’s top states for real estate buyers. Buyers have usually come from Texas, Florida, Chicago and the area around New York City, Budd said.

Will summer residents stay?

Budd added that he expects a number of people who summer in the valley to stick around into the fall, or later.

“Usually about mid-August, summer residents start leaving,” Budd said. “I don’t think we’re going to see that this year,” due in large part to uncertainty about school calendars.

With many districts going to virtual classes, “there’s no catalyst to return,” Budd said.

While many people relocating are buying more expensive homes, Budd said a continuing lack of inventory is helping drive demand across much of the market.

And, he added, the low cost of borrowing is driving some buyers into higher price brackets.

Sellards said other buyers are looking for space, both inside and out.

“We’re getting tremendous interest from out of state and higher density areas (in Colorado) — Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins.”

Sellards noted that a trend a few years ago toward smaller homes is being replaced by people seeking space.

“People are now looking for those extra rooms,” she said.

The move toward the county’s more wide-open spaces is welcome. But, Budd said the valley’s economy needs to shift, too.

“I wish we’d see some industries other than the recreation-hospitality industry (come to the valley),” he said.

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

Thanks for the memories, TV8

Last week, Vail Resorts announced it was suspending operations for the upcoming year or longer at TV8, its television station for nearly 30 years. The move becomes effective Friday, July 17.

I worked at the station as a co-host, host and executive producer from 1997 to 2016, so the news sparked many fond memories of “the little station that could,” which is what I called TV8 during my time there. That’s because it may have been a small-market station, but its reach went beyond the Vail Valley.

“When George Gillette realized that resort television would be an integral part of Vail and Beaver Creek, he was quick to acquire the necessary assets to make TV8 a reality,” said Craig Struve, who became the general manager of the station in the fall of 1991. The 2020-21 ski season would have been the 30th anniversary of TV8.

“Through trial and error along with the extremely hard work of a dedicated group of staff members, we developed TV8 into the largest and most successful resort television station in the country, if not the world,” Struve said. 

Mark Sassi and Tricia Swenson get ready for a live remote broadcast from Golden Peak during the Burton U.S. Open in 2016.
Special to the Daily

The job interview

I still remember what I wore to the interview on that November day in 1997 — plaid pants and a sage green ribbed turtle neck sweater from The Gap. Lynda Gustafson, the host and executive producer at the time, interviewed me first and then told me I had three minutes to prepare for a four-minute interview with Craig Struve. I knew just enough about the happenings at Vail Resorts to know that they had recently acquired Keystone and Breckenridge from the Ralston Resorts and that the company had also issued an IPO for company stock. So, I asked Struve about those changes and if that meant an expansion of TV8 into Summit County.

Next thing I knew, I got the job and was going to be the co-host at Beaver Creek Thursdays through Sundays. It was so fun learning from Lynda and co-hosts Cara Campbell, Tracy Hall and B.J. Carrington, who had another personality when he stepped on the weather wall. Anyone remember his weatherman character, “Sandy Armadillo” and that hat he always wore?

I was already working a full-time job at a start-up internet company (Eagle River Interactive which became Agency.com after we went public), and I did this job out of a labor of love. I’d spend hours watching VHS tapes of my interviews to improve my skills and I’d research guests by going to their business before the interview so I could talk about what I saw.

Camera man Wes Sawyer (left) and hosts Tracy Miller and Billy Doran enjoy some of Tracy’s cooking after a live “Good Morning Vail” broadcast.
Special to the Daily

If I had some holes to fill in the interview schedule, I’d call up business friends who had the gift of gab and could fill airtime with me. Thank you, Joe Tomasic (“Lakota Joe” at the time) for filling in and talking about Lakota Guides on those cold winter mornings at 7:20 a.m. I even talked former U.S. Ski Team member, Doug Lewis, into coming out to the Beaver Creek Ice Rink before he would test skis for SKI magazine in the spring. I wanted all of my segments to be informative and entertaining.

The station

If you’ve been around here long enough, you remember the old Sunbird Lodge in Lionshead. That was TV8’s first home. It was an old building that also housed the Swiss Hot Dog restaurant and the Sundance Saloon. There is nothing quite like the smell of beer-stained carpet and cigarette smoke (you could still smoke in bars back then) when the Sundance Saloon staff would come in the next morning, open their door and take the trash out in the hallway right by our studio.

Our studio was tiny. We had the host chair, a TV on a coffee table and a couch for guests. Right next to that was the weather wall, which was painted green in order for us to stand in front of it and make it appear that the weather graphics were behind us on screen. The Sunbird Lodge also housed Vail Resorts employees. The Sunbird Lodge was not the fanciest building in town. In fact, our internal joke was “it may be sunny outside, but it is raining inside the TV8 studio.” We had water dripping in the studio all the time from showers, sinks, toilets, who knows?! I remember B.J. Carrington doing the weather report inside with an umbrella at times.

Billy Doran interviews Martin Short for TV8 before a performance at the Vilar performance Arts Center.
Special to the Daily

Above the host chair, there was a shallow trough hanging from the ceiling to collect the water that would come down through what looked like a beer bong with an extra-long hose that would dump into an office garbage can. We’d be lucky to get through a three-hour show without the fire alarm going off in the building for some random reason. If that happened, we’d cut to a commercial break and take the guest outside, even in the dead of winter, and continue the interview.

“One time a piece of the set fell off the wall and landed on my head in the middle of a live interview,” Gustafson said. “Hey, things happen on live television. You just have to keep going.”

Despite what was going on behind the scenes, people watched. You could tell that viewers loved the show just by the things they would say when you ran into them on the street or slopes. They’d recall a favorite interview, a product they bought because they saw it on the show, or ask to take a picture with you.

Sometimes famous people would even recognize us. I remember a time when NBA star David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs recognized Ken Hoeve. In true Vail Valley fashion, Ken had two other jobs besides being a co-host on TV8. He ran a shuttle service, bringing guests to and from the Denver and Eagle airports. He had picked up Robinson and his family and also drove them back to the airport for their departure. Robinson’s family was in the back seat while he sat up front with Ken. He looked at Ken and then turned to his wife and said, “Honey, we’ve got the weatherman driving us!”

Ken Hoeve checks in with Olympic and Alpine World Cup champion and frequent TV8 guest Lindsey Vonn.
Special to the Daily

TV8 evolved and so did the technology. We eventually moved into the Westgate building next to Agave from 2005-2010 and then the final stop was the Seasons building in Avon.

“TV8 was probably one of the first stations in the country to utilize live video over IP, and then video over bonded cellular,” said TJ Davis, who was the production and operations manager at TV8 from 2005 to 2011. “It was so much fun learning as we expanded the capabilities to be live on location for opening day, live from the finish area of Birds of Prey, the Mountain Games, Burton, you name it.”

This new technology expanded our reach and allowed people from all over the world to tune in prior to their trip to Vail and Beaver Creek. Ironically, Ken Hoeve was at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park with his family and ran into a family from London who recognized him and said that they watched the show each day leading up to their trip in order to plan their activities based on the topics of the show. With the time difference, the “Good Morning Vail” show was on in the afternoons in London.

“It was an exciting time to be part of TV8. ‘Good Morning Vail’ was constantly evolving. We worked as a team and everyone was open to new ideas. We were dedicated to providing the best product to the viewer. I don’t think we realized how important the station would become to our community and visiting guests,” said Gustafson, who not only had an amazing career at TV8 but also met her husband of 25 years, Pete Sampson, on the set when he was a co-host.   

The song

“Good Morning Vail’s” theme song had a few versions throughout the years, but the most popular was the version sung by Beth Swearingen, a Vail local who came from Broadway. Swearingen was on air at TV8 in the 1990s and can now be found performing around the valley, especially with the Fabulous Femmes. The song was an upbeat ditty that started out with these lyrics:

“Get up, get ready to start your day
The mountain’s calling get on your way
The fun is waiting outside your door,
Good Morning Vail”

People would always comment on the song. They’d say things like, “our vacation really doesn’t start until we hear that ‘Good Morning Vail’ song.” One time we had a woman from New Jersey who came into the studio to pick up a prize she’d won (remember “Watch-n-Win”?). She said, “I have the ‘Good Morning Vail’ theme song as my cell phone ring.” She also told us she would record the show on VHS tapes and bring them back so her neighbors could watch it … neighbors, just watching a show about Vail and Beaver Creek days or weeks after the show was filmed.

Ti Diaz pals around with Alfonso Ribeiro of the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” at the American Ski Classic at Golden Peak.
Special to the Daily

One family called and wanted to get a recording of the “Good Morning Vail” song for their son’s Bar Mitzvah because he’d grown up coming to Vail and loved the song. We were happy to oblige and just due to all that feedback, that version of the theme song stuck.

Craig Struve demanded a lot from the station and from us, but he still liked to have fun and he was so passionate about the job, even stepping in to host or co-host when we needed it. I remember a few New Year’s Day shows where Craig would agree to work so someone could have the day off and he’d do the show in his tuxedo from the night before. It was good, clean fun, but Struve made sure that we were consistent with our show’s schedule so the guest could rely on us and plan their day accordingly. After all, our motto was “Start Your Day and Plan Your Play.” He made sure that we were getting out the most accurate information in a timely manner with a bit of what he called “Infotainment” — if you can make ‘em laugh while you’re getting out the info, even better.

Many people ask me who my favorite guest was. I was never the starstruck type, so I can’t say it was a particular singer, actor or athlete. I will say I truly enjoyed and was always so honored to interview folks from the 10th Mountain Division. Their accomplishments trump any Grammy, Emmy or Olympic medal a singer, actor or athlete could ever earn.

Tricia Swenson interviews NFL Legend and Hall of Famer Joe Montana, who spoke at the Vail Living Well Summit in Sept. 2013.
Special to the Daily

TV8 was a symbol of what hard work, dedication and passion can do. The countless staff I worked with didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to do this job for the money, (we didn’t get paid very much). We did it for the love of the game, the enthusiasm we had for this place we call home and we wanted to share that with everyone who watched.

As I get older, I realize that not everyone has a job they love. Some people don’t even have a job they like. I’m grateful for all the opportunities I took advantage of while working there. It lead me to a career filled with connection, communication and community. Thank you, TV8, for the memories.

Quotes from members of TV8

Lynda Gustafson Sampson

(Worked at TV8 from 1991-2006)

I will always remember interviewing Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Dr. Ruth was in town to give an educational talk on sex over 70. She had no problem diving into the conversation. There was no stone unturned. Not exactly a comfortable topic on live television. It took everything I had to keep that nervous laughter under control. 

Craig Struve

Worked at TV8 1991-2009

We were in the old studio in the Sunbird Lodge in Lionshead. We were in a commercial break, the bathroom was right next to the studio, so I ran to take a quick pee and when I returned to the set everyone from the director to the audio person to the cameraman is howling with laughter because I forgot to turn off my microphone. Everyone in television does it, but you only do it ONCE. It’s an embarrassing moment but a learning experience of a lifetime. 

Billy Doran

Worked at TV8 2005-2011, 2012-2014

I loved getting to interview some of my favorite actors and musicians right here in our little high-country neighborhood. Martin Short, Jeremy Davies, George Winston, Big Head Todd & The Monsters come to mind. It has been many years since my time at TV8 and I still have locals and visitors that come up to me to say how much they enjoyed watching, so that is always a real nice treat to know that you made a little bit of a difference, at least to them.

Ken Hoeve

Worked at TV8 2002-2016

The biggest reward of working at TV8 for me was inventing and pioneering the ability to do live segments with a GoPro and TVU broadcast backpack to create our First Chair segments. In the past, those packs were used exclusively in a stationary position for remote segments while being hooked up to a large camera. I helped TV8’s production department devise a way to attach a GoPro and make it mobile. That allowed me to take Good Morning Vail viewers up on Vail and Beaver Creek and ride before they opened, sharing the conditions in real time and in person.

Ti Diaz

Worked at TV8 2008-2017

I’d always wanted to work for TV8, ever since coming out to Vail after college. It was fun to interact with the guests of the valley but it was also fun to meet actors and singers like Alfonzo Ribiero from the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and Chyna Phyllips of Wilson Phillips. I’ll never forget the time Mark Sassi, Ken Hoeve and I sang “Hold On” while Chyna was on the TV8 set. 

Tracy Miller

Worked at TV8 2011-2017

I loved interviewing all the chefs and getting to do my own cooking demos on the show and cooking for the staff on holidays. I also loved when we had a TV8 Tough Mudder team up at Beaver Creek. And I’ll never forget when I got to fly in a vintage war plane right before the Wheels and Wings weekend. It was s fun job for sure.

Mark Sassi

Worked at TV8 2012-2020

TV8 was a warm and cozy place in the hearts of so many generations of families locally and from out of town. One thing these viewers loved was the “Good Moring Vail” theme song. It was a song that, even though it was a little annoying at times, made people smile and gave them a sense of belonging to something very unique and special. It made them feel welcome in our home in the mountains every day for many, many years. I enjoyed my time at TV8 and will miss it very much.

Rick Messmer

Worked at TV8 2005-2020
One of my favorite memories of all time was being stopped in the grocery store by someone I had never met and them saying…”Oh my gosh, you totally called it! I wasn’t going to go on the hill until I heard your powder update this morning. I followed the route you said you would take on a day like today including all your runs. I have never had a day like that on Vail Mountain. It was like you were there as my guide. Thank you so much!”