2018 in review: The year’s biggest news stories | SkyHiNews.com

2018 in review: The year’s biggest news stories

Sky-Hi staff report
news@skyhinews.com

From the multiple large raging wildfires this summer, to the opening of a new gondola at Winter Park Resort to many instances of criminal activity, 2018 was another big year for news in Grand County.

Here are some of the top most viewed stories by Sky-Hi News in the last year, listed in chronological order, complete with the latest updates.

An adult mountain lion looks down from a tree during a wildlife study in southwestern Colorado.

Mountain lion killed after attack on livestock

When a mountain lion was euthanized after attacking and killing an alpaca near Grand Lake last year Sky-Hi News readers took note, making the incident one of the paper’s top stores in 2018.

In mid-January 2018 the Sky-Hi News reported on the recent euthanization of a mountain lion in eastern Grand County. Officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife killed the predator after the mountain lion attacked and killed livestock on a ranch near Grand Lake in early Dec. 2017. The mountain lion that was euthanized was a young male that attacked two alpacas, killing one and breaking the leg of a second, not long before wildlife officials put the creature down.

The euthanization of the mountain lion was in keeping with state laws. The State of Colorado is liable for costs related to the death of livestock from predatory game animals such as mountain lions. State regulations allow landowners, livestock owners, their official agents, or officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to kill any predators, other than wolves, that attack and kill livestock in the state.

According to local officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2018 was a relatively quiet year in terms of predator – livestock conflicts. According to District Wildlife Manager Jeromy Huntington, who oversees eastern Grand County for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, there was one confirmed case of multiple sheep and an alpaca being taken by a bear or bears and one suspected case of lambs being taken by predators in eastern Grand County in 2018.

“We had several sheep and an alpaca that we confirmed were killed by a bear,” Huntington said Wednesday morning.

According to Huntington the predator attacks on the livestock occurred over roughly two weeks in early July and occurred at a particular location in the Granby area. Huntington said traps were set in an attempt to catch the bear, or bears, responsible for the attacks on the livestock but that efforts to trap the animals were unsuccessful.

Huntington further highlighted an incident where several small lambs were taken from a ranch on Cottonwood Pass in mid-July. Huntington noted that no evidence was found that explicitly linked the lamb disappearances to bears or mountain lions but said the state suspects the lamb’s disappearances were the work of predators.

Huntington confirmed no mountain lions or bears were euthanized in eastern Grand County in 2018 in relation to livestock attacks. In discussing predator – livestock related conflicts Huntington stressed the relationship that exists between mountain lion conflicts and bird feeders.

“Ultimately mountain lions go where the deer are at,” Huntington said. “They follow deer into the communities. So it is important for us not to attract deer. This time of year we start seeing people put salt licks out and letting deer get into bird feeders.”

Area Wildlife Manager Lyle Sidener, whose area of authority includes both Summit and Grand County, said there were no reported incidents of predator – livestock conflicts in western Grand County in 2018. Sidener did highlight a bear euthanization that occurred in Kremmling in September.

“We did have a bear that was in the town of Kremmling,” Sidener explained. “It was unfortunate. We moved it once. It came back and we had to put it down because of the proximity to people.”

Every year the state offers licenses to hunt mountain lions in the late fall. Unlike other forms of big game hunting, wherein a set number of hunting licenses are issued, the state issues an unlimited number of mountain lion hunting licenses for a given area while setting a specific quota on the number of lions that can be taken. For Middle Park the annual quota allotment is 12.

According to Sidener this year’s mountain lion hunting quota for Middle Park was filled, “relatively quickly” thanks to multiple factors including favorable snow conditions that were conducive to tracking the large predators.

 

Winter Park town manager facing felony charges after domestic dispute

Former Winter Park town manager Drew Nelson was arrested in January following a domestic dispute with his wife in his residence in Winter Park, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.

Drew Nelson

On the evening of Jan. 22, an intoxicated Nelson reportedly shot off several rounds from a firearm from his back porch causing his wife to take the firearm from Nelson. Then, according to his wife, he cornered her in their laundry room with a sledgehammer, which she was also able to get away from him. She left with both weapons to a neighbor’s house.

Officers responded to Nelson’s home after receiving a report of a family disturbance and interviewed Nelson’s wife, who explained they were having marital problems, and Nelson, who confirmed his wife’s account of the sledgehammer though said he didn’t remember having or shooting the gun.

Police arrested Nelson for felony menacing-domestic violence, prohibited use of weapons and reckless endangerment.

The town of Winter Park placed Nelson on administrative leave pending the investigation.

Ultimately, the felony menacing-domestic violence and reckless endangerment charges against Nelson were dropped and he pled guilty to two counts of prohibited use of a weapon.

Nelson’s plea agreement included one year of unsupervised probation and 120 hours of useful public service. In addition, Nelson agreed to write a letter of apology to the Winter Park-Fraser Police Department, take a firearms safety class and make a donation to D.A.R.E. Winter Park.

However, Nelson resigned as Winter Park town manager in February and Stan Zemler acted as interim town manager while Winter Park sought a replacement. In October, Keith Riesberg was hired to take the position full-time.

Also in October, Nelson was hired as a city administrator for Salida after disclosing the incident to city staff and council members, as well as local media outlets, according to the Ark Valley Voice.

The Ark Valley Voice reported that Nelson moved to Salida because his wife’s family lives there and he would have the support he needed to heal. Nelson also said that he had been in therapy since the incident, had taken responsibility for what he had done and was now looking to grow from it and saw the city administrator position as an opportunity.

 

A photo from one of the two locations where search warrants were executed Wednesday. Dozens of plants and several marijuana growing lights are visible in the picture.

Police search and seize black market marijuana operation in Granby

Over nine months after local authorities first seized evidence in a black market marijuana operation in the Granby area defendant Matthew Niedermeyer is still working his way through the courts in Grand County.

On March 14 of this year members of the Middle Park Emergency Response Team, which functions in a role more closely associated with the term “SWAT Team”, executed a pair of search warrants at two private residences in Grand County. At the time authorities believed both properties were involved in the production and illegal distribution of black market marijuana. Assisting local law enforcement on the searchers were officials from the Marijuana Enforcement Division of Colorado’s Department of Revenue.

The two properties that were searched in relation to the case were located in the Granby area with one property located within the larger Granby Ranch development complex and the second being located near Lake Granby. Several individuals were detained and questioned in relation to the case at the time of the searches though no arrests were made at that time.

That changed in early may though when authorities filed criminal charges against Grand County resident Matthew Niedermeyer. Niedermeyer turned himself in and was subsequently released after posting a $10,000 bond. Niedermeyer has been charged with 22 separate criminal counts including possession with intent to manufacture or distribute marijuana or marijuana concentrates, cultivation of marijuana, processing or manufacturing marijuana or marijuana concentrates and distribution of marijuana or marijuana concentrate.

Niedermeyer’s case continues to progress through the 14th Judicial District Court system with no final resolution as of Dec. 26. According to officials from the Grand County Court Clerk’s Office Niedermeyer has had six scheduled court proceedings since his initial appearance on May 9, which followed his arrest. Niedermeyer’s case was set for a preliminary demand hearing on June 18, July 23, Aug. 13, Sept. 10, Oct. 22 and Nov. 19. Each of those proceedings was continued until the next scheduled date. On Nov. 19 Niedermeyer’s preliminary demand hearing was once again continued, until Jan. 14 at 9 a.m.

 

Suspected pipe bombs found

Adam Pritt

A Grand Lake area man who was charged with possession of explosive devices is still working his way through the district court system in Grand County nearly one full year after he was arrested following a late night traffic stop.

On March 17 Grand Lake area man Adam Pritt, 25, was pulled over by a Grand County Sheriff’s deputy for speeding on US Highway 34 near mile marker nine. After discovering the plates on the vehicle were registered to a different automobile the driver of the vehicle, Pritt, was taken into custody. The vehicle Pritt was driving was subsequently searched.

According to local authorities the search of Pritt’s vehicle resulted in the discovery of a metal pipe capped at both ends that authorities believed to be a pipe bomb. The search of the vehicle also yielded a second item law enforcement officials believed to be a pipe bomb, several items suspected of being bomb-making parts, drug paraphernalia and a substance suspected to be methamphetamine.

A technician from the Jefferson County Bomb Squad was called to assist local authorities in disposal of the two items believed to be pipe bombs. Officials from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office said at the time that authorities believed the two suspected pipe bombs were non-charged and inactive at the time of Pritt’s arrest. Arrest affidavits related to the case stated neither metal pipe alleged to have been a pipe bomb contained explosive materials.

As of late December Pritt’s case remains active in the local courts with his next scheduled proceedings, for an arraignment, are scheduled for Jan. 17. According to officials from the Grand County Court Clerk’s Office Pritt’s first court proceeding in the case was on May 8 as an arraignment. Those proceedings were continued until June 18, then July 23, then Sept. 20, then Oct. 15 when his case was bound over to district court. His most recent proceedings in relation to the case came on Dec. 20, during which time Pritt’s private legal counsel filed a motion to withdraw.

Pritt continues to face a series of nine charges including possession of explosive or incendiary parts, possession of explosive or incendiary device, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and several charges related to the operation and registration of the vehicle Pritt was driving on March 17.

 

Winter Park Resort moves to evict Crazy Mountain Brewery

When Winter Park Resort moved to evict Crazy Mountain Brewing Company from the resort’s village in May it sparked great interest in readers of Sky-Hi News.

Winter Park Resort filed a suit to evict the Crazy Mountain Brewing Company from it’s village on April 25, alleging more than $31,000 in unpaid rent and fees.

In late April of this year Winter Park Resort filed a lawsuit against Crazy Mountain Brewing Company alleging the brewery owed the resort more than $31,000 in unpaid rent and other charges. Crazy Mountain Brewing Company initially signed a lease with Winter Park Resort in June 2017. The resort also filed an eviction notice on the brewery at the same time.

According to statements made by resort officials at the time of the lawsuit filing the brewery had not paid any rent on the space they leased at the village. The move to evict the brewery was additionally significant to Winter Park Resort in context of filling all tenant space at the resort.

When Crazy Mountain Brewery opened its installation at Winter Park Resort in February of 2018 it marked the first time the resort’s village was completely full in terms of tenant occupants. Overall 2018 was not a good year for the Denver based brewing company. Prior to their eviction from Winter Park Resort Crazy Mountain Brewing Company was evicted from a facility in Edwards in January due to $25,000 in unpaid rent.

According to Steve Hurlbert, spokesperson for Winter Park Resort, the legal struggle between the brewery and the resort ended earlier this year in a confidential settlement agreement, the details of which were not available for release. Crazy Mountain Brewing Company formally vacated their previously leased space at the resort’s village on May 10.

“We were disappointed it didn’t work out,” Hurlbert said. “But both parties are moving on.”

The space that once housed the brewery’s taproom remains unoccupied as of Dec. 27.

“We are on the market with it,” Hurlbert added. “We have a couple of interested parties and we are looking forward to having the space open soon.”

 

New single-track, off-road trail will extend from Boulder to downtown Winter Park

A new opportunity for local adventurers is in the works for the coming years, the Indian Peaks Traverse, a more than 60-mile single-track non-motorized trail connecting the city of Boulder to downtown Winter Park.

In May, the project was in the early stages and volunteers were working with governmental partners and land managers to get the necessary approval for the trail. While travelers can already take the trip, several extended road sections pull them out of the wilderness and create issues with access and route finding.

The proposed trail takes travelers from Boulder up the Marshall Mesa Trailhead to Walker Ranch, from Walker Ranch west into the Peak-to-Peak trailhead in the West Magnolia trail system in Nederland, from Peak-to-Peak to the School Bus Trail close to the Eldora Ski Area, from the Top of School Bus Trail to Corona Pass, and finally into downtown Winter Park.

Most of the trail system is already in place, including the segments in Grand County, but two major segments still need to be built.

Since then, the Indian Peaks Traverse has continued to gather interest and approval for sections of the trail. Currently, the last segment of the trail, which runs from Boulder County to the Walker Ranch, is under discussion for approval by the land managers and is in the midst of a public comment period.

Jason Vogel, president of the Indian Peaks Trail Coalition, said he is optimistic that the last segment will get the approval it needs so that the group behind the project can start raising money to build the trail. The coalition also became an incorporated nonprofit to further support making the trail a reality.

“Our goal is the same, to get around on the ground, we’ll make (the trails) better, we’ll deal with management issues when they come up,” Vogel said. “The objective of the Indian Peaks Traverse is to provide a non-motorized backcountry trail.”

Once the segment is approved there are still a number of environmental studies to come, reworking of the proposed plans, funding and construction to be done.

Though there are challenges to getting the final segment approved, Vogel said he believes that the trail could be open as soon as 2022 for a soft launch and that the group plans to continue to improve the trail over time.

 

Emergency crews gather around the trench in which a man was buried Thursday morning in Granby.

Man dies after getting buried at Granby construction site

A man, who was later identified as Rosario “Chayo” Martínez, died after being buried at a construction site at Granby Ranch on June 14, according to the Granby Police Department.

Martinez was working inside a trench on a condominium project in front of Base Camp One at Granby Ranch when the trench collapsed. Another worker had stepped away for a few minutes and came back to find the man buried and called 911. Dirt and other earth material had covered him, according to Granby police.

Emergency crews began digging Martinez out at around 10 a.m. and recovered him at 10:17 a.m. He was unresponsive as crews immediately began to administer CPR and then switched to a Lucas CPR device that delivers automatic compression. He was transported to Middle Park Medical Center-Granby where he was pronounced dead.

Martínez was described as a “loving son, brother, father, husband and uncle,” by his family on June 16.

Family member Victor Marquez described the loss as leaving a huge gap in the family because Martínez was kind, funny, smart, hard-working and the sole provider for his family in Mexico. A GoFundMe was started to help pay for funeral and family travel expenses.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as OSHA, investigated the incident alongside the Granby Police Department. Both organizations have finished their investigations, however the Grand County District Attorney’s Office has not yet received OSHA’s report.

The district attorney’s office is waiting on the OSHA report to release the findings of the investigations and determine whether charges will be brought.

 

Fire officials were still out Sunday morning patrolling the area around the Golf Course Fire’s burn scar. Officials stressed the need to keep the public away from the area due to the danger of falling trees.

‘Golf Course Fire’ evacuees will not be permitted to return to their homes

Around 300 homes in the Columbine Lake area in Grand Lake were evacuated shortly after the Golf Course Fire broke out on the afternoon of June 28.

The fire started at roughly 10 to 15 acres close to the Grand Lake Golf Course. The Red Cross and Grand County Office of Emergency Management set up a shelter for the displaced and officials closed County Road 48.

A slurry plane drops fire retardant above the Golf Course Fire northwest of Grand Lake on Thursday evening.

While fire officials suspected the fire was human-caused, they were never able to definitively determine what started the blaze.

Electricity was turned off for the area as a precaution, but natural gas remained on. Fire crews, including aerial operations, worked all day and overnight to try to contain the fire and keep it from the structures.

Luckily, evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes the following day after fire crews were able to get the fire 60 percent contained.

On the morning of June 29, the fire remained at 20 acres and hadn’t damaged any structures. Ground and air crews worked to contain the fire, even using an infrared-equipped drone to search for hotspots.

While the surrounding residents were evacuated, many county businesses donated food and drink to help those affected. That afternoon, County Road 491 was reopened and some residents were permitted to go home.

Because of the fire, both the town of Grand Lake and the Winter Park – Fraser Chamber of Commerce canceled their planned July 4 fireworks displays.

By the evening of June 29, all evacuated residents were allowed to go home. On June 30, the fire was considered 100 percent contained, ending at 20 acres and over 50 spot fires.

Grand Lake fire officials credited the State Forest Service with saving the surrounding structures thanks to their fire mitigation efforts, including removing dead trees and creating fuel breaks, in the area.

 

High stream temps prompt closures of Fraser, Colorado Rivers for first time in two decades

As July drifted towards August this year and temperatures started heating up across the high country officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife instituted a series of voluntary river closures across the state, including the Fraser and Colorado Rivers.

In late July local officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced a voluntary closure of the Fraser and Colorado Rivers in Grand County. The closures, which asked angler to voluntarily choose not to fish on segments of the river at specific times, were implemented on both water bodies from 2 p.m. to midnight every day from late July through late August, when the voluntary restrictions were removed.

Cutthroat trout

The segment of the Fraser River that saw a voluntary closure restriction stretched from Grand County Road 8 to the confluence of the Fraser and Colorado Rivers west of Granby. The segment of the Colorado River that saw a voluntary closure stretched from Windy Gap Reservoir downstream to the confluence of the Colorado and Williams Fork River near Parshall.

The closures of both rivers during the summer were attributable to higher than normal stream temperatures. Trout, the sport fish of both rivers, are cold water fish that thrive in cooler temperatures. Trout become stressed when water temperatures reach 65 degrees or higher. At 74 degrees trout will begin dying. Officials from the local chapter of Trout Unlimited noted temperature recordings in the Fraser River in late July that reached as high as 74 degrees.

The voluntary closures of both rivers were intended to minimize the extent to which anglers would further stress trout that were already struggling under elevated stream temperatures.

According to Jon Ewert, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Grand County, the voluntary closures on the Fraser and upper Colorado Rivers lasted roughly six weeks and were lifted by Labor Day weekend.

“The bad period of time we had was from July 15 through the end of August,” Ewert said.

Officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife lifted the voluntary closures after stream temperatures in both rivers dropped to the point that the closures were not deemed necessary. Ewert attributed this local drop in stream temperatures in Grand County primarily to cooler overnight temperatures.

Ewert noted that the higher than normal stream temperatures Grand County experienced over the summer were largely the result of early snowpack melting, as opposed to a lack of overall snowpack, which was a much larger factor in the southwest portion of the state.

“Our snowpack wasn’t that bad compared to some places,” Ewert said. “But we lost it all so early. The low elevation stuff melted off in March. We were down to base flows by July 1. We were about a month ahead with the timing of it last summer. It wasn’t overall quantity, we just started losing it in March.”

Ewert noted that he felt most citizens adhered to the voluntary closures of the rivers.

“My feeling is the level of compliance was pretty good,” he said. “We didn’t see people out in the afternoons. We really appreciated the public’s cooperation on that. We don’t want to do mandatory closures. We do have a mechanism to enact mandatory closures but we would much rather accomplish that through PR and information dissemination.”

Ewert said it is too early to know whether or not the state will implement voluntary closures of rivers during summer 2019.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed for a good winter,” he said.

 

The dark plume of smoke from the Silver Creek Fire at its north end on Friday.

Silver Creek Fire originating in Routt County moves into Grand, nearing Latigo Ranch

In early August, the Silver Creek Fire, which had previously been burning in the Sarvis Creek Wilderness in Routt County, moved into Grand County after growing from 200 acres to 781 acres.

The growth caused the Forest Service to implement an area closure around the fire, but at the time did not put any structures at risk.

Ultimately, the Silver Creek Fire would balloon in size to over 20,000 acres thanks to dry weather and high winds, as well as the availability of fuel in the area.

The burn scar of the Silver Creek Fire on Sept. 24. Collectively, almost 21,500 acres burned in Grand County this summer.

The Silver Creek Fire started on July 19 due to a lightning strike and burned in the Routt and Arapaho National Forests, northwest of Kremmling, for around three and a half months.

The fire grew to 3,000 acres on Aug. 14 and then fire activity slowed for a few weeks before growing almost 5,000 acres on Sept. 13 and 14. It continued to grow steadily until plateauing at 20,120 acres in October.

During the time the Silver Creek Fire burned, the residents of the surrounding area, namely Latigo Ranch and Old Park, were put on pre-evacuation orders and evacuated several times when the blaze flared up. Luckily, the fire never damaged any structures.

It was finally fully contained on Oct. 31 and Aaron Voos, public information officer for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, said the fire cost over $30 million to suppress.

A Burned Area Emergency Response team assessment found that the fire impacted the surrounding watersheds and soil, which means those areas are at risk of larger and more frequent floods.

Now, portions of the Arapaho and Routt National Forests affected by the fire have been identified for a proposed U.S. Forest Service project that would reduce fuels in the area and reinforce fuel breaks in an effort to reduce the costs of any future wildfires.

 

Hunter killed in potential accidental shooting, authorities investigating

Grand County’s big game hunting season brought tragedy with it this year when 43-year old Centennial man Ernest “Ernie” Ackerly died after being shot by one of his hunting partners in mid-November.

Ernest “Ernie” Ackerly

The incident that led to Ackerly’s death occurred during the morning hours of Nov. 5. At around 7 a.m. that morning Ackerly, a father of five, and his hunting partner were preparing to head out into the National Forest in Grand County. Ackerly’s hunting partner was in the process of loading his rifle when the rifle discharged. The bullet struck Ackerly, who died as a result.

No charges were filed in the case at the time of the shooting and local authorities declined to officially declare the incident accidental, intentional or criminal. The name of Ackerly’s hunting partner who was handling the firearm that discharged was not released.

Nearly two months later the case remains in roughly the same situation as local investigators await an official report from a firearms forensics team from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Lt. Dan Mayer, spokesman for the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, said the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which makes the final decision regarding any potential prosecution, would not finish reviewing the case until after investigators from the CBI complete their forensics analysis of the firearm that killed Ackerly.

Mayer said local officials hope to receive a report from the CBI’s forensics team sometime in late January or early February.


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