Showing posts with label recreation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recreation. Show all posts

October 19, 2021

Everybody Thinks Something about the Resort-Town Housing Crisis

Victor, Colorado, had lots of houses when it was a mining town.
Not so many second-home owners back in those days.

Mountain and resort-town housing — the lack of it — is lighting up Rocky Mountain news sites. Town councils are suddenly turning nasty and seeing seasonal homeowners as the obstacle to year-around workers finding a place to live. Or they start cracking down on short-term rentals. Breckenridge, for example:

Breckenridge, with its ski slopes reaching into the middle of town, is a short-term rental haven. The town has 3,945 privately owned homes and condos that vacationers can rent. The town council, in an effort town leaders described as a way “to protect our quality of life and the fabric of our community” and “fiercely protect the character of Breckenridge,” on Tuesday unanimously approved a 2,200-property cap on so-called exempt short-term rentals in the town. Those are the homes that are not part of a larger hotel-like complex that offers a staffed front-desk and security. . . . The vacation-rental strategies deployed in Aspen, Breckenridge, Chaffee County, Crested Butte, Eagle County, Grand County, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and  Summit County all differ, but one thing is clear: The largely unfettered growth of short-term rentals in Colorado’s high country is coming to an end.

Hotel owners must like the idea of capping short-term rentals a lot.

I feel like I have been on all sides of this issue. I have sought Colorado small-town housing in situations of "Take it now, it's the best you can get." 

Then not along ago, I was walking down a street in Taos, New Mexico, and recognized a little apartment where as a twenty-something I had a short-term relationship with a woman who lived there. I don't remember how we met or how she supported herself. What I thought instead was, "I bet that's an AirBnB rental now."

Yet my wife and I were staying in an AirBnB rental nearby ourselves! We like to be able to cook our own meals, for one thing. Sneaking an electric hot plate into a motel room gets old.

On the other side, we were short-term rental landlords from 2002 to 2020, when our county briefly shut down all short-term rentals because of the pandemic — just when we had decided to change from a do-it-yourself approach to listing with VRBO

When we switched our "guest cabin" from long-term to short-term, we knew we were taking a rental property off the market in an area where rentals are very difficult to find. But there were advantages from our end:

  • Short-term renters do less damage. They don't leave junk cars on the property or mysteriously acquire extra dogs.
  • The cabin's well is a little unreliable. It is easy to call someone to haul water for the cistern for short-term guests, but that would be really expensive to do for long-term renters.
  • The short-term approach let us block out times for family and friends and for our own occasional travel. 

Financially, we probably did not do as well, since the business was highly seasonal, but we paid the taxes and insurance and got the income-tax write-off for rental properties. But we could have rented it to that newly hired schoolteacher that you read about in all the news stories, the one who ends up turning down the job because s/he can't find a place to live.

There’s no affordable housing in Mancos. Zero rental units. Nearly no houses on the market. The town’s school district struggles to hire teachers because they can’t find a place to live. It’s the same story with the town government, the hospital and the nursing home.

Maybe if we get the well-situation worked out, we can do that. And new flooring downstairs. Et cetera.

Small towns that want to build municipally funded housing find problems too. Some have to go with geology, others with the construction economy.

Pagosa Springs, for example, has earmarked land for affordable housing but struggled to get the attention of developers. After receiving zero responses to a request to build a dozen units last spring, the town this fall expanded the development to include up to 64 units on three plots of land, offered at little to no cost. It got three responses. 

“These guys are making good money right now building custom homes,” Pagosa Springs councilmember Mat deGraaf said of developers. “If you’ve ever worked in the trades, you make hay when the sun shines. And right now the sun is shining so I don’t fault them.”

So even when towns want to spend money on housing, there can be obstacles.

I don't think it does much good to beat up on that out-of-state person who owns a "Christmas house" in Blue River or Telluride though. They can rent short-term (given a local property manager), but they are not going to rent to that cop or schoolteacher because they themselves want to use the house or condo at certain times. How do you get around that problem? (And don't suggest expropriating these "exploiters"' houses at gunpoint—not likely to happen.)

Playing the "quality of life" card and capping short-term rentals, however, might be politically feasible, but there will lots of pushbacks from people who depend on that income to pay for the "Christmas house." And there is an economic argument.

One short-term rental manager said,

“All the business owners in Breckenridge who rely on visitor spending, they are getting it from my group,” said Carol Kresge, the manager of the sprawling home that was originally built as a B&B but now can be rented short-term by vacationing groups who pay as much as $4,000 a night. . . . “Hearing that short-term rentals are destroying the character of Breckenridge is disturbing and it’s just not true . . . The visitors who visit the lodge are the character of Breckenridge. They come into town and they spend their money at the local restaurants and shops. A cap on short-term rentals is a broad brush approach designed to solve a problem that hasn’t been well defined.”

The economic argument leads to a larger question: Can outdoor recreation "save" small towns in pretty places. Some economists say no. But that is a separate blog post.

May 24, 2021

Turds, Trash, and Tire Tracks: The Car-Camping Pendulum Swings Again

1925 Ford Model T touring car (Wikipedia).
A century ago, our national forests had a problem. Behind the wheels of their Ford Model T's and other cars, Americans re-discovered camping. Soon over-used favorite camping areas were littered with trash, human waste, multple firepits, unauthorized roads, and all the other bad effects.

The US Forest Service was fifteen years old and trying to get a handle on "scientific" forest management, firefighting, and grazing management. It was part of the Department of Agriculture. ("We're tree-farmers," an old-school district ranger once told me.)

Recreation management was not on their to-do list. That was the National Park Service's job—different agency, different department—the Interior Department. 

Davenport Campground, 1920s, San Isabel National Forest,
southern Colorado, designed by Arthur Carhart as one
of the first automobile campgrounds.

The Model-T generation changed all that, driving and camping everyplace instead of taking the train and shuttling to a big resort hotel like the Old Faithful Inn.

By the early 1920s the Forest Service hired landscape architect (and wilderness advocate) Arthur Carhart to figure how to manage these automobile recreationists.

For more on Carhart's influence on southern Colorado, start here: "Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge, Part 1."

The Forest Service built campgrounds up through the 1960s and 1970s, but the 1980s — the Reagan years — saw the pendulum swing the other. A couple of Carhart's recreational areas near me were closed in the early 1980s "due to lack of funding for maintenance." In the 1980s and 1990s, local Forest Service managers sang the praises of "dispersed camping." 

(But Daveport Campground, pictured above, was re-built in the early 2000s to re-create its 1920s appearance. Retro-camping with federal dollars — who knew?)

Everything Old Is New Again, Including Turds and Trash

Some people blame the COVID pandemic. I don't know, but suddenly car-camping (and hiking) is really popular. Some headlines:


"Nature 'more important than ever during lockdown'"

More than 40% of people say nature, wildlife and visiting local green spaces have been even more important to their wellbeing since the coronavirus restrictions began.

"Colorado public land managers rely on education, then enforcement to deal with a crush of long-term campers"

Closing heavily used campsites is public lands “triage” as Forest Service and local officials struggle to protect natural resources from a growing wave of backcountry campers and explorers this summer.

"Consultants present potential solutions to mitigate overcrowding issues at Quandary Peak and nearby trailheads"

As events were canceled last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, other activities — like hiking Quandary Peak, McCullough Gulch and Blue Lakes trails — skyrocketed in popularity. The influx of visitors to these areas last summer caused a barrage of issues like speeding, congestion, lack of parking and safety concerns

"Reservations will be required for Brainard Lake, Mount Evans beginning in June"
Some areas of Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests that allowed “dispersed” camping will be converted to day-use only


"Which Public Lands Are Right for You?"

Your bucket list should go beyond national parks. This decision tree will help you find lesser known locations with half the crowds. [Also more Instagrammable.—CSC]

Even if it is true that headliner national parks (like Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon) saw fewer visitors due to COVID-related shut-downs, camping on close-in public lands has exploded.  Here in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park visitation is up 44 percent over ten years, and the NPS wants a reservation system permanently. Not everyone likes that idea.

Suddenly, that loosely managed "dispersed camping" is being managed, heavily. There is a new term: "designated dispersed."

 
"Managed Designated Dispersed Camping Begins on South Platte Ranger District"

Rocky Mountain Recreation will begin managing 99 designated dispersed camp sites on the South Platte Ranger District portion of Rampart Range Road starting Friday, May 21. Each campsite is numbered, and designated parking areas are marked. Thirty of the campsites are available for reservation through recreation.gov and 69 sites are first come, first serve. Campers will be issued a tag to hang in their vehicle. Reserved sites will have a “Reservation” card posted at the campsite with the name of the visitor.

 On the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, the popular Rampart Range dispersed camping area near Woodland Park now has a complicated map. (Facebook link here.)


In the long run, maybe the USFS just needs more developed campsites, with regular maintenance, campground hosts, the whole business — or else a concessionaire to run them.

February 04, 2021

Will This Be the Next Extreme Winter Sport?

A winter trek in southern Poland (credit
Notes from Poland.com)
Do you think you're tough? I mean, Polish-winter-near-nude-hiking tough.

Poland has its own subculture of winter-swimming. Some of these  "extreme swimmers" have decided to take their game onto the land.

Growing numbers of Poles participate in chilly outdoor dips, with several winter swimming clubs opening up. An annual four-day gathering of winter swimmers in the coastal town of Mielno last year was attended by 6,000, up from 5,000 in 2019. The next edition is planned for 14 February this year. . .

The group has now also begun organising mountain treks for members dressed in shorts. “This year they have become extremely popular,” says Guzy, though he warns that they are not for novices. One should build up some experience of winter swimming before embarking on the treks, he advises.

At the start of the year the club organised a winter trek – with most of the club’s members showing up shirtless – on Kozia Góra (Stefanka) hill in southern Poland. Today, the group climbed Klimczok (1,117m), and it is soon planning a trek up Babia Góra (1,725m) on the border with Slovakia.

Asked why he does it, Guzy claims that such practices help boost immunity. He works in a coal mine and says that, despite the mass outbreaks of the coronavirus among miners last year, he has repeatedly tested negative for the virus, while other club members have also remained healthy, reports Gazeta Wyborcza.

I see one major barrier to topless hiking catching on in the Rocky Mountains. How is our vibrant outdoor recreation industry going to market it when it's all about wearing less?

December 30, 2019

Blog Stew by Reservation Only

Too many things to blog about. So try some blog stew with these ingredients! 

• Will you find a campsite? Beginning in 2020 all Colorado state park campsites will be available by reservation only. And yes, I think that's progress.
Log in from your computer or smartphone or by calling 800-244-5613.
Bigfoot, however, cannot be reserved. You just have to be there.

• PEEGS!! I can say that they are already here, although not in large numbers.
Feral pigs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage each year, especially to crops. Now concern is mounting they could be at the doorstep in parts of the Mountain West.
The pigs — which an expert at the USDA has called "one of the most destructive and formidable invasive species in the United States" — could come across the Canadian border into Montana, or traipse into Colorado from the feral pig stronghold of Texas.
Once Texas was the Comanche Empire. Now it's the Pig Stronghold. Progress?  To continue:
In Canada, where feral pigs are now firmly established in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba, a University of Saskatchewan researcher described wild pigs as "ecological train wrecks." A recent study conducted in Mississippi found that species diversity is 26% less in forests that have been invaded by swine.
Apparently some landowners welcome them, maybe so that they can charge hunters a trespass fee. 

Where have I seen them? Around Pueblo SWA, just a couple of times.

• And then there is this: People who spend more time outdoors lead more fulfilling lives, new research shows."
Those who got in two to three hours in nature[a week] were about 20% more likely to report high overall satisfaction with their lives than those who spent no time outdoors at all. The benefits to physical health were even greater, with those who met the outdoors benchmark being 60% more likely to report being in good health than their cooped-in counterparts.
You know what to do.

November 12, 2019

Should I Throw Away this Water Bottle?


If you buy something from Backcountry.com,
you get a mountain goat sticker with your order. 
You may have seen these on gear like 
my water bottle, on car windows, etc.

If I had a retail company called "Mountain Sports, Inc.," and someone else made skis, let's say, under the trademark "Mountain High," could I sue them for infringing on my right to the word "Mountain"? Seems ridiculous, right?

Using that strategy, big Utah-based mail-order retailer Backcountry.com has been threatening dozens of smaller businesses and forcing them to change their names or be ground into the courtroom carpet.

"Backcountry Denim" got the letter threatening a lawsuit. So did the "Backcountry Babes" avalanche-safety clinic and the maker of the Marquette Backcountry Ski, among many others.

Not surprisingly, a lot of outdoor types who cherish those little gear companies have been angry with Backcountry.com, which while it was started by mountaineers, is now owned by TSG Consumer Partners. The "Boycott BackcountryDOTcom" Facebook group has more than 21,000 members.

Faced with the backlash, the company is backing down, kind-of sort-of, the Colorado Sun news service reports:
Backcountry.com CEO Jonathan Nielsen wrote in an open letter that the retailer’s attempts to protect its brand “were not consistent with our values.” Not everyone is buying it. . . .
Nielsen said the federal lawsuits filed this year against the nonprofit avalanche education provider Backcountry Babes, the one-employee Backcountry Denim Co., Utah’s Backcountry eBikes and Marquette Backcountry Ski were “a last resort” that followed attempts to resolve the trademark disputes “amicably and respectfully.”
So do I believe that corporate-speak, or do I peel their goat off my water bottle? Their website under "Our Values" lists "Take ownership." Yeah, like they own the word "Backcountry"?
David Ollila, who founded Marquette Backcountry Ski in 2010 and trademarked the name in 2013, laughed at the notion that the company’s initial petitions for cancellation of his trademark, filed through the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, were respectful. 

He points to emails the company’s trademark lawyers with the IPLA law firm sent to business owners like Boulder’s Jenny Verrochi, who was bullied into abandoning her registered trademark for Backcountry Nitro coffee and ended up rebranding her canned cold brew as Wild Barn Coffee.
The law firm that was in charge of bullying smaller companies has been fired, but what could is that to people who had to spend money changing their trademarks and losing name recognition?

I would say, do your holiday outdoor-gear shopping elsewhere until we see how this shakes out.

UPDATE: The hashtag is #scrapethegoat

September 14, 2019

Southern Colorado WIll Get a New State Park

Fisher's Peak Ranch (Nature Conservancy photo).
The sale of a big ranch outside Trinidad, Colo., means that 19,200-acre state park will open soon.
For generations, the 9,633-foot-high Fisher’s Peak has been a big part of both the physical and social landscape for people in Trinidad and other parts of southern Colorado. But it has been off-limits because it was on a large private ranch. . . . .

In December 2018, The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land signed an agreement with the ranch owner, French Trinidad Co. LLC.  Great Outdoors Colorado said it would contribute $7.5 million and Colorado Parks and Wildlife pledged $7 million toward the $25.4 million purchase price. 
A statement from Colorado Parks and Wildlife reads,
Yesterday, Governor Jared Polis announced that a diverse partnership — including Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the City of Trinidad, The Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, and Great Outdoors Colorado — is working to make the 30-square-mile Fisher’s Peak ranch, located outside the city of Trinidad, Colorado’s next state park.
Spanning from the New Mexico border north along the east side of I-25 to the south side of Trinidad, the property's iconic peak and diverse landscape of grasslands, forests, rugged mountain and vast meadows are the first thing you see crossing over the state line into Colorado. “It's a true gem,” said Governor Polis.
Until park plans are put in place, the property will remain closed to the public. Project partners are planning guided trips and ways to gather input during the process before the state park is opened.
According to the Denver Post article linked above, the governor said he would like to see the park open in the fall of 2020. Can the bureaucratic wheels turn that fast? Read the full news release from Governor Polis' office.

August 18, 2019

Whatever Happened to Pickup Campers?


A couple of weeks ago, my friend R. and I were talking about trailers and RVs and such (maybe because he had recently gotten a new-used boat), and we both had the same question: When did pickup campers go away?

They were the inexpensive gateway to car-camping if you did not want to sleep in a tent due to weather or (conceivably) bears. 

"And you could tow your boat behind it," R. pointed out.

We both remembered how when we were kids, a lot of the dads in the Boy Scout troop or whatever showed up with campers mounted on their 1960s or 1970s or maybe early 1980s pickups. 

Sometimes the camper was slid out of the pickup bed in the off-season and left sitting on sawhorses in the side yard, while the pickup was used for other hauling or just as a daily driver.

Was this just another example of American Feature Creep? More and more gadgets, more and more dollars? Did Plain Jane pickup campers not offer enough profit margin compared to motorhomes and camping trailers? I suspect that they did not.

I still see a few, often with pop-tops, which helps with the wind resistance out on the highway, but nothing like during my childhood.

May 11, 2017

Just Don't Put It in Salt Lake City

Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wants to move the Bureau of Land Management national headquarters out of Washington, D.C., to somewhere in the West and has introduced legislation to that effect. Rep. Paul Tipton (R-Cortez), whose 3rd District includes some of southern Colorado and most of the Western Slope, has a similar measure in the House.

This makes sense in a way: most of the land managed by the BLM is west of the Mississippi or in Alaska. Modern communication techniques make centralization of federal functions in D.C. less crucial.

When I heard this proposal, I figured that Denver was the hypothetical location. But the Grand Junction Sentinel  is blowing the local horn (as a newspaper should):  "But the Republican from Colorado told The Daily Sentinel in an interview that he still thinks Grand Junction is well positioned to compete for the office if legislation he introduced this week becomes law."

He is not specifying Grand Junction, however, but you can expect that he is pulling for a Colorado location. Still, there a political realities:
Gardner has gotten what he called a “great group” of Senate bill sponsors from a number of Western states, with the sponsorship list growing. But he acknowledged that those senators may have an interest in seeing the headquarters moved to their home states. And he’s previously noted that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, of Montana, might want to see it moved there.

So if the measure passes, “this will be a bit of a — I think I’ve said it before — a bit of a Western food fight (to land the office). But I think Colorado comes up pretty good in this,” he said.
The BLM's Colorado state office is already located in Lakewood,  at a satellite location of the Denver Federal Center (an office complex that grew up post-World War Two on land that had held  a military munitions factory).

Speaking as a former BLM contractor and someone with an interest in public lands, I am all for moving the national office. Just don't put it in Utah. After the anti-public lands performance by Utah's governor and congressional delegation — so stinking disgraceful  that it has driven the outdoor industry's annual trade show out of SLC —that state frankly does not deserve it.

December 04, 2016

Counting Outdoor Recreation in the GDP and Other Links

(Colorado's bighorn sheep population (never large) has rebounded since the 1990s, researchers say. (The article focuses on northern Colorado).

¶ Can Jim Akenson "give the hunter/conservation paradigm a new boost" in urban-dominated Oregon?
As the first conservation director of the 10,000-member Oregon Hunters Association, Akenson has a job that few might envy, yet one in which he is called to balance the perspectives of rangers and ranchers while he advocates for the role of hunters as latter-day environmentalists.
Providers of outdoor gear and experiences are happy that their revenue will now be added to the nation's Gross National Product (GDP).
“This is a big, big deal for us because it takes us off the kids’ table and puts us at the adult table. Now we can show how much we influence the national economy. Christmas came early for the outdoor industry,” said Luis Benitez, the indefatigable head of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, who earlier this year gave a speech titled “The Outdoor Recreation Industry Will Save the World.”
Calculating the GDP is complicated, as the Denver Post article suggests, and it does not say which year's GDP will reflect this change.

March 11, 2016

Don't Panic!, Mountain Biking Mecca, and Other Shorts


Outdoor Survival - Chapter 4 - Controlling Panic from Colorado Parks & Wildlife on Vimeo.

•  People outside of Fremont County, Colo., are learning that there is great mountain biking, almost year-around, on the Bureau of Land Management land north of town. Rock climbers already knew that.

• Talks are underway about extending the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument from New Mexico into southern Colorado. (Article may be partly paywalled.) 

Site of the Rough Riders reunion
• The Southwest is dotted with former Harvey House hotels and restaurants. Fred Harvey's enterprizes crosscut much late 19th and early 20th-century history:
From the manhunt for the escaped “Billy the Kid” in 1881 (a local celebrity in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Fred had two restaurants and two hotels, which Billy sometimes patronized), to the Oklahoma Land Rush in 1889 (which left from the Arkansas City, Kansas Harvey House and Santa Fe depot), to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 (for which Fred helped cater the biggest lunch in American history for the opening ceremonies and parade).
There’s also the Rough Riders reunion in 1899 (held at the new Fred Harvey resort hotel, La Castañeda, in Las Vegas), and the development of the Grand Canyon as an international tourist attraction (Fred’s son Ford ran all the hotels at the canyon, and was a major player in the development of the national park system).

March 29, 2013

Thinning the Blog Stew

Trees burned in the 2010 Schultz fire. Image: Flickr/Coconino National Forest
• Coloradans: your fishing licenses expire on Sunday. And big-game hunting applications are due Tuesday night. Time to make some choices!

• A piece from the Colorado Springs Gazette's blog on Colorado's official sport of burro-racing with quotes from Hal Walter. You will find his too-occasional blogs in the sidebar: Farm Beet and Hardscrabble Times.

Scientific American describes big forest-thinning projects in the White Mountains of Arizona.
The Forest Service hired Pioneer Forest Products last May to cut and process the trees from the thinned forests. Pioneer will recycle the small-diameter timber into wood products -- for cabinetry, for example -- and wood laminate. Nearly 40 percent will be feedstock for a 30-million-gallon-per-year biodiesel plant run by Western Energy Solutions/Concord Blue USA. The processing plant in Winslow, Ariz., will employ about 500 people. The firm is still waiting to receive financing to begin operations in a budget-strained environment, said Marlin Johnson, a consultant for Pioneer.