Looking back at 2019
A review of some of the biggest headlines of last year
After revisiting some of the most impactful, important and interesting stories of 2019, the Sky-Hi News has highlighted the following headlines in Grand County from 2019 as what we believe were some of the biggest headlines of the year.
Granby Ranch surrenders property
The last Granby Board of Trustees meeting of 2019 brought some unexpected news when it was announced that Marise Cipriani, owner of Granby Ranch, would be walking away from the property after 24 years. Facing foreclosure, Cipriani opted to give up the properties associated with Granby Realty Holdings LLC instead.
At the same time, the ski resort side of Granby Ranch, which had been scheduled to open just days after this announcement, continued operations as usual. While the real estate surrounding the resort will be under new ownership, the amenities will not be affected by the ownership transition, according to a representative from Granby Ranch.
The Granby Ranch real estate and the Granby Ranch ski resort are separate entities with a similar name and, until recently, the same owners. That leads to some confusion, but only the undeveloped land around the resort is changing hands. What that might mean for next season at Granby Ranch, though, is yet to be determined.
The lender, Granby Prentice LLC, is a Delaware-based corporation. It will be partnering with Pacific Coast Capital Partners, a real estate finance and investment firm, to manage the properties. Granby Ranch Chief Operating Officer Greg Finch said the next few months will be interesting, but he expects positive changes. Granby Mayor Paul Chavoustie reflected this sentiment, saying that the change could actually benefit the property.
Town managers transition through Grand
It was a year of transition for town managers throughout the county.
Kremmling went nearly a year without a town manager before hiring Dan Stoltman in 2019. In 2018, the newly sworn in town council terminated a contract with the town manager at the time. After a five-month search, the town hired David Stahl in fall 2018. However, he left three weeks after beginning his job, citing safety concerns. The position remained open for six months before it was narrowed to Stoltman and another candidate in January. Stoltman began his position in April.
Grand Lake also went through a transition after the town’s manager retired in June. Jim White, who had been town manager since 2015, saw a failed attempt by several board members to terminate his contract in April. After the topic of White’s tenure came back to the Grand Lake trustees in May, the board announced White’s impending retirement.
Grand Lake interviewed two sets of three finalists for town manager before selecting John Crone in 2019. Crone had worked as the housing manager at Winter Park for four years before moving to the Grand Lake position.
Also, Granby’s town manager Aaron Blair announced his departure this summer. His wife, Granby Chamber of Commerce Director Jessica Blair, also announced she would be leaving her position.
The two began working in Granby in spring 2017, and Aaron Blair officially left his job in October.
The town board selected five finalists from 47 applications for town manager in November, and a hiring announcement is expected later this month.
Marijuana tries to move west
While Fraser and unincorporated Grand County allow the sale of retail marijuana, most municipalities in Grand have elected to ban sales in their jurisdictions. With that, there are no dispensaries in the county west of Tabernash, but some business owners and consumers have looked into moving marijuana into other parts of Grand this year despite some objections.
One of the main places the county saw this was in the dispute over a new IgadI location at 843 W. Agate Ave, which would put a recreational marijuana dispensary on unincorporated county land just west of Granby. In September, the Granby Board of Trustees wrote the Grand Board of County Commissioners requesting that the county deny IgadI’s efforts to open just outside of the town. In the letter, the town highlighted Granby residents’ vote to prohibit medical marijuana establishments in 2010 and the trustees’ following vote prohibiting recreational marijuana businesses.
The hearing with the county scheduled for November was canceled just days before due to a question over the lease. David Michel, general counsel for IgadI, said in November that the company had not withdrawn its application. The IgadI hearing has not yet been rescheduled.
Additionally, Kremmling might be revisiting its marijuana laws in the coming year, even though it passed a marijuana business ban within town limits in 2013. In February, Kremmling Town Council began the process of looking into public support for possible repeal of the town’s existing ban on cannabis-based businesses. There will be a marijuana question on the Kremmling spring election ballot, but details have not yet been worked out.
Particularly wintry in Grand
Grand County spent much of 2019 covered in snow and below freezing thanks to spring snowstorms that continued through June and an early start to the winter season this October.
The 2018-19 winter season was one of the Fraser Valley’s coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory. Fraser averaged a daily temperature of 19 degrees from Nov. 1, 2018, to April 8, making it Fraser’s seventh coldest winter since 1989.
In April, Grand County’s snowpack sat at 120% above normal with particularly high snowfall in March and April compared to the past four years.
Winter Park Resort saw over 330 inches of snow during the 2018-19 season, which is more than its yearly average of 327 inches. The resort extended its season at the Mary Jane territory by three weeks, remaining open until May.
Meanwhile at the other end of the county, plows met on Trail Ridge Road for the first time this year on May 29 and the road itself didn’t open until June 5. The road historically opens on Memorial Day, so this was an especially late opening — though not the latest.
However, unexpected snowstorms in June caused the park to temporarily close the road again on June 21 for the weekend before reopening for the season.
The National Weather Service predicted the June storm brought anywhere from 4-10 inches of snow to Grand County. Following that storm, snow stopped falling for a brief period before picking up in October and closing Trail Ridge Road on Oct. 24.
Luckily, Winter Park Resort took advantage of the 40 inches of snow that fell in October to open the earliest it ever has in its 80-year history on Nov. 2. Also, according to the National Weather Service, snowpack in the Colorado River area sits at 111% of average so far this winter.
Developments from east to west
Parts of Grand County saw significant change this year with the development of hundreds of new housing units from Winter Park to Grand Lake.
Early in the year, Grand Lake approved new development on the historic Grand Lake Lodge, which aims to add 86 more lodging units. Construction on that development has been underway despite concerns that the work has contributed to groundwater flooding at a handful of local homes.
After years in the works, Granby’s new Smith Creek Crossing neighborhood debuted over 300 manufactured homes at its site at the intersection of US Highways 40 and 34. The neighborhood sits next to the newly opened River Run Resort RV, which will ultimately house 212 RV campsites, 83 cottage units and 36 villas. Granby also saw the fastest new development in the county this year when the Dairy Apartments went up in just over four hours.
Another years-long project began development in Winter Park earlier this summer. The Roam development received approval in July for construction on the first phase of the neighborhood, which will feature 218 housing units. Ultimately, the project aims to build over 1,000 housing units and 70,000 square feet of commercial space.
In Winter Park, two projects that had been previously approved — Hideaway Station and Arrow — debuted new construction on Main Street, with both housing and commercial space opening.
The town is also planning for more housing developments in the downtown area with an affordable housing project in the works and approval given to another mixed-use development on Kings Crossing Drive.
Just over the municipal border in Fraser, development of housing units exploded in Grand Park, with the construction of townhomes, cottages and condos, as well as some commercial space. Grand Park also received state funding to develop a low-income housing development, which will eventually hold 60 apartments.
Voters reject new jail
Sewage in the kitchen, attacks on deputies and walls so old ice forms on the inside in winter are just a few of the concerning conditions at the Grand County Jail that prompted the county to ask voters for a new facility in November.
However, Grand County voters resoundingly opposed the 0.2% sales tax increase to help pay for a new $28 million public safety facility to house a jail, the sheriff’s office and the county dispatch center.
The need for a new public safety facility was originally identified in the 2018 Grand Results strategic plan. A facility needs assessment from Denver-based Reilly Johnson Architecture estimates a need for roughly 29,000 square feet and space for 52 beds.
The current Grand County Jail, built in 1983, no longer meets the American Correctional Association Standards, nor the recommended guidelines for housing inmates with mental health concerns.
The result of the election sent the county back to the drawing board to figure out how to finance the facility without a sales tax increase, which it continues to discuss. One proposed solution is for the county to begin to build up a savings account for all of the facility needs, including the jail, a health and human services office and new EMS facilities.
In total, Grand County needs $55 million in new facilities, according to Reilly Johnson Architecture. The county had prioritized the jail in 2019 because of the failing conditions and rising costs of maintenance.
The county’s 2020 budget has a roughly $400,000 surplus that will likely be the start of the buildings savings account. The county commissioners also continue to discuss using certificates of participation, a type of debt-financing, to help finance the building needs.
However, County Commissioner Rich Cimino said the county would probably try to build the fund up before spending any of the money, so a new public safety facility has likely been delayed by years.
Traffic fatalities, citations skyrocket
More than three times the number of people died in traffic fatalities on Grand County’s roads in 2019 compared to 2018.
Colorado Department of Transportation data shows 10 people died in seven fatal traffic wrecks this year in Grand County. In 2018, three people died in traffic fatalities, according to the Grand County Coroner’s Office.
In January, Kremmling resident Toby Hargadine and his companion, Crysta Berntsen, died when their vehicle slid off Trough Road, also known as County Road 1, and rolled several times down a steep embankment. Their deaths prompted Grand County to install guardrails where the slide off occurred.
Several other fatal accidents occurred on a single stretch of US Highway 40 between Granby and Tabernash known as Red Dirt Hill. In May, a Wyoming couple, Raymond Allen and Betty Jean Shelton, died in a car wreck there after a truck hit their vehicle head-on. Thomas Lange of Granby recently pleaded not guilty to two charges of careless driving causing death and plans to go to a jury trial.
Due to Red Dirt Hill’s dangerous reputation, the Board of Grand County Commissioners discussed formally requesting CDOT conduct a speed study on the area. However, CDOT was already working on a safety study that it plans to share with the county.
When traffic citations in 2019 began to outpace those written in 2018 by early November, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin reached out to the community to encourage safer driving and reporting unsafe behavior to dispatch.
The top three moving violations drivers have been cited for in Grand County this year have been speeding, careless driving and improper lane changes.
INVESTING IN SUSTAINABILITY
Towns across Grand County rolled out new policies and took action this year focused on sustaining the communities and their surrounding environment.
Both Fraser and Winter Park implemented disposable bag fees this year for all retailers with a few exceptions. The fee hopes to combat the prevalence of single-use bags, which were a top contributor to the county’s garbage, according to a 2016 waste management study.
Before the fees were implemented, both towns made efforts to provide businesses with free signage about the new fee and inform the broader community about the change. Ultimately, business owners in Fraser and Winter Park reported few issues with the new fees.
Winter Park also took advantage of a local program to replace all of their street lights with LED bulbs to cut down on energy costs and promote dark sky values.
Mountain Parks Electric debuted the county’s first solar farm, a one megawatt system, outside Fraser. The panels will power roughly 300 homes in the Fraser Valley and contributes to Mountain Parks Electric’s power supply being one-third renewable.
Fraser also installed solar power at its trash and recycling facility, The Drop, to power all of the lights, surveillance and workspace. The town continues to discuss installing solar panels at its future wastewater treatment plant and public works facility.
Beyond that, Winter Park is considering adding solar to its new transit facility, as well as including infrastructure for potential future electric buses. Fraser also invested in protecting its water with projects at the wastewater and water treatment plants. The town’s goal is to reduce the amount of outside water that gets into the system by maintaining lines and improving old materials.
This fall, Grand County awarded its first two grants over $1 million for preserving open space within the county and over $100,000 in grants to improve and maintain trails.
The county has also partnered with all of the towns and the US Forest Service on an initiative called Grand PLACES 2050, which will outline future land management and use options countywide.
Wild times in Grand County
Encounters with wildlife are a fact of life if Grand County, but none made bigger headlines than what came from a man being stalked by a mountain lion near Kremmling this summer.
Across Colorado, there were at least three reported mountain lion attacks last year, and one of the incidents that hit home in Grand County.
The hunter, Richard Marriott, was out scouting for elk in the area when he suddenly became the hunted. The mountain lion stalked Marriott down a trail before Marriott tripped and fell. When he did, the cat came at the man and swiped at his legs. Marriott fought back, slashing at the mountain lion with a pocketknife and throwing rocks at the cat before it ran off.
Because the mountain lion was aggressive toward a human, state wildlife officials killed the predator. An autopsy revealed the mountain lion was a young adult male who was likely hungry because his stomach was empty. For Marriott, the death of the mountain lion was a sad outcome he wished could have been avoided and a reminder to go out into the backcountry as well prepared as possible.
‘They are Us’ series
In April, the Sky-Hi News published a series exploring mental health in our community. We specifically looked at what services are and aren’t available, how fellow community members cope with mental health struggles, and the impacts to the individuals and community of not having the services needed.
The series found Grand County experiencing many of the same struggles around tackling mental health stigma and encouraging people to seek help as many other parts of the country. But Grand County also has its unique concerns, like attracting and retaining mental health providers and getting resources throughout the diverse communities.
In the days following publication of the series, many people noted they had no idea the scope of the problem in Grand County until our series.
In the weeks following the series, we started seeing reports of quantifiable impacts. The Grand County Rural Health Network reached out to inform us that their mental health voucher program, which helps cover costs for mental health care, had seen an increase in use. Prior to our series, according to Jen Fanning, executive director for the network, they had given three vouchers over a period of two-three months. After the series, they were giving out two to three vouchers a week.
The Board of Grand County Commissioners also took action in response to our series. The county approved funding in 2020 for transportation for people on M-1 holds who need to get to psychiatric facilities outside the county. The commissioners also continue having conversations about including mental health funding in future ballot questions.
Grand County’s mobile crisis response services also saw a change when Mind Springs Health partnered with Rocky Mountain Health Plans to maintain service. Now county residents can take advantage of the updated Colorado Crisis Services.
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