The 2013 Year in Review: The people, events and stories that shaped life in Grand County
Ryan Summerlin January 6, 2014
No one can say the year was uneventful. Wildfires, controversial ballot questions, community allegiance in making a dangerous highway safer, a fatal shooting, a fatal highway accident, fire bans and amazing people with amazing accomplishments, plus everything in between — it all took place in Grand County in the previous 12 months. In this edition, we recap the highlights of the year as we look forward to bringing you the news in 2014.
The Colorado Department of Transportation approved $450,000 in funding for buying private property along the right of way of Highway 9 to allow for the widening of the highway as well as a number of wildlife overpasses and underpasses.
Merrit Linke was elected as Grand County Commissioner for District 2, and was sworn into office by 14th Judicial District Judge Mary Hoak on Jan. 8.
Two new cell phone towers, intended to enhance AT&T service in Granby and Grand Lake, were approved by the Grand County Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
The Middle Park Medical Center completed its first year of operation ahead of a budgeted loss of $400,000. The medical center reported earning $1 million in its first year of operation.
The Grand Huts Association completed construction of the Broome Hut, located farther than one mile off the west side of Berthoud Pass, and began accepting reservations for the Hut in January. The Broome Hut replaced the old Second Creek Cabin and took more than 10 years of planning and development.
Mark Campbell became Kremmling’s town manager on Jan. 22.
The Winter Park Winter Carnival saw the first-ever SnowDash adventure race on Jan. 26, where contestants negotiated a number of obstacles before crossing the finish line.
A report of the snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin at the end of January showed it at 68 percent of normal, with snowpack in the higher elevations around 73 percent of normal.
T.V. crews descended on the town of Grand Lake to film an episode of Hotel Impossible, a Travel Channel show that highlighted the Western Riviera lakeside motel. The show aired in March.
East Grand School District selected Jody Mimmack as the district’s new superintendent. Mimmack replaced Nancy Karas, who retired after a long career working for the district, with five years as superintendent.
An avalanche swept a woman into a steep chute near the summit of Berthoud Pass on Feb. 2, leaving her stranded on a rock face, prompting search and rescue teams to recover the woman. The woman was not injured during the incident.
The Grand Lake Winter Carnival took place on Feb. 2. Themed “Alice in Winterland,” the carnival was host to a number of activities including teapot curling, human bowling, and the bed sled race.
The Town of Fraser hosted a public hearing regarding the possible annexation of Byers Peak Ranch, a 295-acre parcel of land and the development planned for the property located southwest of the town. The first public hearing took place on Feb. 6 and saw a number of residents speaking in opposition to the annexation.
Grand County Commissioners passed a resolution on Feb. 26 that made a statement in support of the 2nd Amendment and Colorado residents’ right to bear arms. The resolution was passed as four different gun restriction laws were being pushed through the Colorado Legislature.
The Winter Park Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce announced it was discontinuing its key card program in April due to changes in funding levels as well as a re-evaluation of the program409. The program received $427,166 in funding since its inception in 2011 with an anticipated shutdown cost of $52,000. About 12,660 cards were issued in relation to the program, with 7,603 swipes being reported on those cards.
Rocky Mountain National Park celebrated its 98th birthday on Jan. 26 by announcing a new centennial logo for the park. The designer of the logo was Carol Welker, a graphic artist based out of Dallas, Texas.
A Search and Rescue team located and recovered the body of Dawn Cone, 85, of Granby, on Feb. 8. Cone died of natural causes while cross country skiing, according to a press release from the Grand County Sherriff’s Office, and his body was recovered about three-quarters of a mile from Highway 125.
The Colorado High School State Wrestling Championships took place at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Feb. 22-23, with three wrestlers from Middle Park — Adam Visconti (5th place, 132), Cody Garrett (6th place, 182), and Connor Jennings (4th place, 195) — competing in class 3A. West Grand’s Stephen Terrazas competed in the 285-weight class in class 2A.
The Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District passed a resolution on March 5 to refinance a portion of the district’s outstanding bonds that would save the district about $500,000.
The 38th annual Wells Fargo Cup was hosted by the National Sports Center for the Disabled at Winter Park Resort in May. The event is the NSCD’s largest fundraiser of the year and brings in more than a quarter-of-a-million dollars to the organization through multiple events, fundraisers, and competitions.
Citizens of Grand Lake were treated to an assessment of their downtown by Downtown Colorado Inc., which highlighted possible changes and improvements to the town. The total cost of the assessment was about $10,000, with $3,500 coming from a grant from the USDA Rural Development and another $2,000 from the Department of Local Affairs and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
SnowBall, an electric music festival, took over the Fraser Valley on March 8-10 and brought about 10,000 people to the valley to attend the concert. The concert required hundreds of hours of preparation by numerous public entities though was considered a success by the Winter Park Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce as well as the concert’s producers, who reported concert-goers spent an estimated $5.8 million over the weekend.
The Kremmling Memorial Hospital District board of directors announced its decision to hire interim co-CEO Cole White to fill the position as the district’s new chief executive officer.
Winter Park’s 7-Eleven store closed its doors after 33 years of operation in downtown Winter Park. The convenience store was converted to a liquor store later in the year.
Three new gun-control bills were signed into law by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on March 20. The bills drew some fire from Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson, who called the bills “ineffective, unenforceable, and expensive.” The first bill limits high capacity ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, the second requires universal background checks, and the third charges gun sellers the cost of completing a background check.
The Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce unveiled its new website just in time for a possible surge in online searches for the town after the town gained national exposure on the Travel Channel’s show “Hotel Impossible,” which aired toward the end of March.
Denver Water issued a Stage 2 drought watering restriction for its Front Range users for the first time since 2002 after a prolonged drought caused the water supplier to attempt to conserve water stored in its reservoirs.
A Grand County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a man near the front door of his home at the old Riverside Hotel in Hot Sulphur Springs shortly before midnight on April 1. Lt. Dep. John Stein, who later in the year was promoted to Grand County undersheriff after no charges were filed against him in relation to the shooting, shot and killed Joshua Stevens, 31, who tried to enter the deputy’s home and fought with him outside of the home. Stein’s wife Heather Stein, a deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District, also shot the man and both were placed on administrative leave while the incident was being investigated by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office of Jefferson and Gilpin Counties reviewed the case and concluded the Stein’s acted in self defense and recommended no charges be brought against the couple, to which Brett Barkey, 14th Judicial District Attorney, agreed. Stevens tested positive for methamphetamine during an autopsy following his death.
Grand County’s first and only medical marijuana store, Serene Wellness, opened its doors in Fraser on April 4 in Fraser. The shop’s owner, Dan Volpe, says he plans to pursue transitioning the store to a recreational marijuana shop once the Town of Fraser accepts and approves his application. The town placed a moratorium on recreational marijuana applications until late January, 2013.
More than 600 competitors descended on Winter Park to take part in the first ever Winter Park Wipeout that took competitors on an adventurous race around the town to complete a number of challenging obstacles before finishing the race.
Tonya Bina took over as managing editor of the Sky-Hi News in April, taking the place of Drew Munro, who served as the paper’s editor for five-and-a-half years.
A large spring snowstorm swept through the Fraser Valley in the last week of April, dropping about 30 inches of snow in less than a week and putting a smile on the face of many skiers and snowboarders.
A 2006 Middle Park High School alumna Jordan Steffan, a former Sky-Hi News intern, was part of a news team at the Denver Post that claimed a Pulitzer Prize for covering the breaking news of the Aurora theater shooting.
Blue Valley Ranch, located outside of Kremmling along Highway 9, pledged $4 million in funding for the planned safety improvement projects for the roadway.
An estimated 100 to 200 dead robins and other species of small birds were found throughout Grand County, determined to have died of starvation in relation to late season snowstorms that swept through the area.
The snowpack for the Upper Colorado River Basin was reported to be at 113 percent of normal on May 1, thanks to late season snowstorms that swept through the area. The snowpack during May of 2012 was reported to be 27 percent of normal.
The Moffat Road Railroad Museum became home to a vintage 1905 railway coach on May 7. The coach will be restored and displayed by the Granby Railroad Club.
The potential for wildfire in Grand County was ranked at normal by the National Interagency Fire Center due to above normal snowpack and recent rain showers in the area.
Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner and wife Jennifer donated $100,000 to the Citizens for a Safe Highway 9 Committee on May 14 to help with the committee’s progress toward safety improvements on the highway.
West Grand sophomore Tabor Scholl defended her state championship title in the 1,600-meter race at the Colorado Class 2A State Track Meet in Lakewood on May 25.
Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in the United States that cuts through Rocky Mountain National Park, opened on May 24.
The Fraser town board approved the Byers Peak Ranch Annexation Agreement with 6 yes and 1 no vote during a June 5 regular meeting. The vote annexed into the town 295 acres of property owned by Byers Peak Properties LLC., and the accompanying future development. The vote would be challenged by residents and put to a vote of the public during the November election.
A cow moose and her calf were euthanized by local wildlife officials near Grand Lake after the cow charged and knocked down Sue Rogers of Grand Lake, in a neighborhood southwest of the town on June 4. The woman received injuries from the incident, which reportedly took place due to the presence of her dog.
A driver of an SUV suffered a seizure and crashed through the fence of the Rocky Hi Speedway in Grand Lake on June 9. The accident caused about $2,000- to $3,000-worth of damages to the track and sent the driver of the vehicle, Jonathan Krape, 36, of Parker, to a Denver area hospital via Flight for Life helicopter.
As of June 18, the Big Meadows Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park had scorched more than 600 acres of land on the north end of Big Meadows on the west side of the park. The fire was reported to be 95 percent contained as of June 18. Lightning started the fire on June 10.
A small brush fire started near the Fraser Library around noon on June 10 and grew to 2.5 acres before being extinguished by local fire crews.
The Grand Elk Homeowners Association successfully completed the purchase of the Grand Elk golf course from High Golf LLC. on June 1 after years of negotiations.
Granby Fire Chief David Boyes, who served as the fire district’s chief for 21 years, was relieved of his duties by the board of directors, following a decision to “change the direction and management” of the Granby Fire Department.
‘The Price is Right’ contestant and Tabernash resident Randall Barrett won a new Nissan Sentra, valued at around $16,000, after playing the TV game show’s “Rat Race” contest.
Fire bans were enacted countywide as Independence Day celebrations loomed. Little rain and dry conditions in the region resulted in elevated wildfire risk.
Independence Day ended in tragedy when the driver of a Ford pickup hit five members of an Estes Park family of 10, all pedestrians, following the Grand Lake fireworks. The accident injured the mother and three children and left the father dead. Lucas Paul Ackerman of Grand Lake was the driver and was charged with vehicular homicide plus four counts of assault for driving under the influence of alcohol, child abuse and possession of a weapon under the influence. His two children, ages 7 and 8, and wife were passengers in the vehicle.
Bike Granby Ranch debuted a new trail, called Strawberry Jam, with a race to see how many competitors could complete the trail in three hours.
East Grand School District superintendent Nancy Karas retired after five years at the job, with Jody Mimmack coming in to fill the position.
Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Udall and Bennet toured local Grand County lumber mills, listening to workers’ concerns about timber supply coming from the U.S. Forest Service.
Colorado Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, announced he’d challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in the 2014 election. A spokesman for Udall said the senator was not particularly worried about the challenge.
Amtrak marked its 30th year operating the California Zephyr line through Grand County. The event was met with little pomp and circumstance, as few Amtrak workers or county officials knew of the anniversary.
The town of Fraser approved a ballot question asking voters whether to place a tax on single-us plastic bags at local retailers. The ballot question was later held off as the town pursued developing a 2014 “sustainability plan.”
A Fraser climber, Kathee Thomure, became the 25th person to ascend all of Colorado’s peaks over 13,000 feet.
A Fraser father and son completed a coast-to-coast cycling trip. The trip covered 3,872 miles, starting in San Francisco and ending in Portsmouth, N.H.
Grand County Rural Health Network announced its intention to hire health guides to help locals navigate the new healthcare exchanges mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act, or “ObamaCare.”
Middle Park Fair and Rodeo marked its 97th year. Highlights included ambassador and Rodeo Queen Anna Cunico, rodeo events, 4-H livestock shows and the eighth run of the fair’s demolition derby.
Federal and local agencies announced new partnerships in preventing wildfire damages to water supplies as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The partnerships were modeled after successful efforts between Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service, including a fuels removal program on Winter Park’s Tunnel Hill. Similar partnerships are planned throughout the West.
County employees received a 2.5 percent pay increase, their first raise in five years.
Fraser residents submitted a petition against the town’s approved Byers Peak Ranch annexation. More than 70 signatures were collected from residents against annexing the proposed 295-acre development as part of the town, prompting the town to reconsider its decision. The town board ultimately sought voter approval through a ballot question.
Building permit data showed permits were issued at the highest levels seen in two years, prompting construction industry officials to feel cautiously optimistic.
A tiny house of just 170 square-feet was big enough for a Winter Park Highlands couple, who finished constructing the wheel-mounted structure and set off for Portland, Ore., with new home in tow.
A 21-year-old driver was sentenced to five years in prison after a 2012 collision killed two individuals and injured another on Highway 9. David Torroni pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault. He had been consuming alcohol and marijuana at the time of the collision, according to court records.
Granby Police successfully carried out a take-down and arrest of a wanted felon residing in Grand County. Paul Timothy Hanson had seven felony warrants in California and was deemed a fugitive of justice. He was suspected of being in Grand County to avoid detection. Police arrested Hanson outside the City Market in Granby.
County Commissioners discussed joining other northeastern Colorado counties in seceding and forming a new state, but found a groundswell of local support was lacking.
The Zoppé Italian Family Circus set up colorful tents at Winter Park Resort, holding shows into early September.
A drug bust in Winter Park found 174 grams of methamphetamine and several other illegal drugs in the housing area at Winter Park Mountain Lodge.
Winter Park Highlands received “Firewise” recognition from the National Fire Protection Association after extensive efforts to remove wildfire fuels, add hydrants and ponds, and create more navigable streets for firefighters in the neighborhood.
Instead of secession, county commissioners voted to pursue a ballot measure asking voters if they’d like to bring a senatorial representative to each Colorado county, rather than representation being based on population and districts.
Grand County Search and Rescue completed two missions over the Labor Day weekend, helping Rocky Mountain National Park rescue a hiker and locating a lost bow hunter.
Fraser Valley singer and musician Morgan Hale won the Texaco County Showdown Colorado State Finals, and went on to compete for the regional Southwest title.
A new bridge was constructed over the Colorado River in Hot Sulphur Springs, connecting pedestrians to Town Park and Pioneer Park.
Heavy flooding on the Front Range caused Union Pacific and Amtrak lines to detour after track beds were washed away, leaving Grand County without passenger trains or the sound of chugging freight engines for several weeks. The flooding also temporarily closed Rocky Mountain National Park.
Several Grand County agencies, including fire departments, road and bridge departments, and schools deployed to help victims of the September flooding east of the Continental Divide. Trail Ridge Road served as one of the only access points to communities in and around Estes Park after flooding wiped out other routes.
Grand County commissioners voted to allow retail recreational marijuana shops under Amendment 64. The question of how to tax retail pot was left to voters on a ballot question.
A federal sage grouse environmental impact statement prompted county commissioners to launch their own study of the bird’s habitat. Local officials and stakeholders felt the federal delineation was too broad. The county contracted a private consultant for $40,000 to conduct the study.
The federal government shutdown, lasting over two weeks from Oct. 1 to Oct. 16, hurt local business in Grand Lake when Rocky Mountain National Park was forced to close during the last leg of the busy fall season. The shutdown took a toll on local federal employees in the county as well, which account for about 250 local jobs.
Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s version of the federally mandated health insurance marketplace, went live on Oct. 1, receiving 34,500 unique visitors in the first three hours. The overload caused several glitches on the Website, but nowhere near the scale of problems experienced by the federal site, healthcare.gov.
Federal cutbacks threatened the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Snow Survey data collection efforts. The Snow Survey serves as a vital tool for communities in the West for estimating spring runoff and water shortages.
Fraser beavers wrecked local havoc when their dams re-routed the Fraser River and caused flooding on popular trails.
A Granby teen, Zac Munro, was among only 15 drivers in the Rocky Mountain Region who qualified to race at the Mazda MX-5 Cup Shootout car race.
Highway 9 gained CDOT approval for funding under the Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships funding to fast-track safety improvements on the highway. Momentum for the improvements was gained through grassroots efforts after locals became concerned about the number of collisions caused by migrating wildlife and poor visibility. The groups organized to raise over $9 million for the project, with the majority coming from counties and Blue Valley Ranch. Grand County commissioners pledged just over $3 million to the project.
A preliminary plan for the controversial Byers Peak Ranch development was approved by the Grand County Planning Commission. The property developer, Clark Lipscomb, presented the county with the plan in case Fraser voters rejected annexation of the development. In lieu of annexation, it would be developed as part of unincorporated Grand County.
Winter Park town board members began exploring options for development of the vacant Sitzmark lots on the north end of town. Options included a grocery store or an intense urban mixed-use development. Mixed-use development was controversial among some existing business and property owners, who argued it violated the town’s master plan.
Early season snowfall created anticipation for the upcoming ski season, and resulted in an uptick in reservations for local lodging.
Fraser voters rejected the Byers Peak annexation by a nine-vote margin. The failed ballot measure meant the town wouldn’t secure important water infrastructure agreements, and the property developer, Clark Lipscomb, would move forward by developing the property as part of unincorporated Grand County.
Grand County voters rejected raised property taxes benefiting libraries. Because of the drop in funding, libraries will cut staff, hours and services. Voters also rejected a technology mill levy for East Grand Schools, which would have improved technology infrastructure and provided iPad tablet computers for students.
County voters supported commissioners’ seeking senatorial representation for each county within the Colorado legislature. The ballot measure resulted after commissioners explored the idea of seceding from the state along with several other eastern plains counties. But the initiative is likely to run into legal barriers. According to federal law, legislative districts must have equal populations, based on the principle of “one person one vote.” Voters also supported a tax on recreational retail marijuana in the county.
Missing checks prompted an investigation in the Grand County Building Department. Upon initial investigation, none of the missing checks were cashed, deposited or processed. Investigations on the matter continue.
A brewery tap house closure created controversy after employees claimed the Grand Lake Brewing Company wasn’t paying their final wages. The brewery owners are looking to open a new tap house on the Front Range, and might ultimately move the entire operation.
Tunnel Hill pile burning began in the Winter Park area. The hand-slashed piles on the 400-acre site were part of a fuels reduction project protecting the town of Winter Park, the Winter Park Ski Resort as well as an important watershed for communities in the Denver area.
Winter Park Resort opened for the ski season with a new marketing campaign, “The Season of the Seven Territories.” The re-branding effort was designed to push the resort’s standing as the fourth-largest ski area in Colorado, with 3,081 skiable acres. The seven territories include Winter Park, Mary Jane, Vasquez Ridge, Parsenn Bowl, Terrain Park, Eagle Wind and The Cirque.
Grand County Economic Development launched a new branding campaign, called “i am GRAND,” in an effort to promote businesses and foster local entrepreneurial pride.
A father and son, lost in the Kremmling area while hunting, were successfully rescued by Grand County Search and Rescue after a cold and sleepless night in a derelict cabin at the abandoned Wheatly Creek Ranch.
The Winter Park town board decided to focus on developing a grocery store and civic center on the Sitzmark properties located on the north end of town. A grocery store could take as little as 3-5 years to develop. The town will look to incorporate other commercial structures and multi-use paths throughout the properties as well.
National Geographic Traveler Magazine named Rocky Mountain National Park one of its 20 “must-see” destinations for 2014.
Grand Lake’s snowmobilers got an early start to the season. The motorized trails surrounding the town opened early after generous snowfall and efforts by the Grand Lake Trail Groomers Association.Grand County unveiled a new website, with a modern design and layout that more closely matched the retail and news sites Web surfers have grown accustomed to. The revamp cost the county $36,000, which includes a “refresh” every four years.
A timber workshop, hosted by Grand County commissioners, brought mill operators and timber harvesters together with foresters to discuss barriers facing the local timber industry.
Ski Granby Ranch opened for the season, with considerably better conditions than last year. In 2012, the resort opened with only one run and very little natural snow. It kicked off the 2013-2014 season with eight runs, three open lifts and about a foot of new snow.
Retail marijuana regulations were approved by Grand County commissioners, largely based on those passed in the city and county of Denver. Unincorporated areas, along with the town of Fraser, are the only areas in the county where retail marijuana operations are allowed.
Art club students at East Grand Middle School won a national mural contest through the Wyland Foundation for their mural, “Save the Fraser River.”
Lake Granby kokanee salmon populations were found to be at alarming lows by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The year’s count found only 357,000 kokanee eggs, down from 4 million in 2006. Many of Colorado’s kokanee stock come from Lake Granby, and state wildlife biologists are looking to find solutions to their dwindling numbers.
Lucas Paul Ackerman, the driver of a pickup involved in a July 4 accident that left one pedestrian dead and four injured, plead guilty to one count of vehicular homicide, three counts of vehicular assault and one count of driving under the influence of alcohol. Under the plea deal, Ackerman would serve one year in Grand County Jail in relation to the driving under the influence charge while the four felonies would be subject to a four-year deferred sentence and judgement.
West Grand High School basketball athletes took the county title during the age-old rivalry game against Middle Park High in East Grand with a score of 74-48.
Smart lockers, driven by smartphone applications, made their debut at Winter Park Resort. The lockers can be locked and unlocked with the apps and also rented in advance. They’re made by SnowGate, a company conceived by students in a business class at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service worked to re-purpose enough funding to continue its Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting System into the summer of 2014. The survey is helpful for water managers in forecasting future supplies, and for collecting and comparing information at ski resorts in the West.
A record number of volunteers turned out for the annual Christmas Bird Count, held by the U.S. Forest Service Sulphur Ranger District and the Audubon Society. The 69 volunteers clocked nearly 100 hours, counting 2,196 individual birds.