Sunny-side up: Warm weather is not all bad
April 10, 2012
It’s only April, and already there’s been high-country sightings of golfers on greens, contractors on roofs, and the sound of motorcycles echoing in area canyons.
Although this winter’s snowpack was a let-down for many, leading to predicted light runoff and worry about drought, some aspects of life in Grand County have benefited from the mild winter.
There were very few mortalities among wildlife during the mild winter, according to Mike Crosby, district wildlife manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Where fawns can be the most susceptible to winter’s bite, this season more than 80 percent survived, he said. And there was more than a 90 percent survival rate for mule deer bucks, when during a severe winter as many as 50 percent of the population can be lost.
“It’s bad in the sense we didn’t get the snowpack, but the survival rate on many of these big-game species is very good,” Crosby said.
At the Reeder Creek Ranch near Parshall, rancher Doug Bruchez can attest to the mild weather just by looking at the survival of his calves.
“We have a lot less disease problems because it is not so wet,” Bruchez said.
More snow and cold in the spring can lead to greater problems among calves, which happened during last year’s epic winter and spring when Bruchez had an 88 percent survival rate of calves on the ranch.
A good year is around a 90 percent calf crop, he said; this year he’s seeing 98 percent.
A mild winter “makes a big difference,” he said.
But Bruchez said he learned early-on that “you’re not a cattle rancher; you’re job is to raise grass,” and low snowpack is “very, very scary” for growing hay that depends on irrigation from low-flowing creeks.
“It doesn’t do any good to have a good calf crop if you can’t feed them during the winter,” he said.
Bruchez partially depends on irrigation from a ditch out of the Williams Fork River, which is running lower than normal. Without rain this season, ranchers like him may be forced to buy hay or else slaughter some of their cattle.
“Definitely pray for rain,” he said.
Although many comparisons have already been made to the 2002-year’s lack of snowpack followed by drought, when many ranchers were forced to sell off cattle because they couldn’t feed them, this year’s water situation is quite different, according to Dana Strongin of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which manages the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
Because of collections during the last two years when snow was abundant, Northern’s storage may be enough to limit taps on the river.
“We have about 250,000 more acre-feet in storage than we had in 2002,” Strongin said. “We’re in a better state.”
As of April 9, Lake Granby was sitting at 90 percent full, and Horsetooth Reservoir on the northern Front Range was at 95 percent full – even in advance of the peak of spring runoff.
As the lackluster spring ski season draws to a close, at least one golf course has opened way ahead of schedule.
An outdoor enthusiast at Granby Ranch could have downhill skied, fished and golfed all in one day on either Saturday or Sunday, April 7 and 8, when both the resort’s golf course and ski hill were open.
“We were calling it the ski trifecta,” said Granby Ranch spokesperson Lisa Craig. “That’s never happened before.”
A lack of a shoulder season may mean increased revenues at the resort with an extended golfing season. Normally, golf doesn’t get started until around Memorial Day Weekend, Craig said, but already “we have seen a steady stream of golfers since opening on Saturday.”
The back nine of Golf Granby Ranch is expected to be open within the next two weeks, possibly sooner.
Grand Lake Golf Course is slated to open by April 18, which is about a month early, and Pole Creek Golf Course near Tabernash is pushing for an April 21 opening with 18 holes rather than the full 27, according to Director of Golf Larry Burks.
It may be the earliest opening day in the 26 years he’s been at the golf course, he said, seconded only by the year 1989 when the course opened on April 29.
Usually, Pole Creek golfers don’t start teeing off until mid-May. Last year, the course didn’t open until May 25, “and we probably shouldn’t have been open quite yet,” Burks said.
The dry spring this year may allow Pole Creek to make up for last year’s lost revenues, when the extended snow season translated to 6 to 7 percent less than Pole Creek Golf’s forecasted budget. The course was forced to cut expenses to break even, according to the director.
And last year’s abundant runoff may have had an unexpected effect on the rafting business, counter to what one would think.
“We won’t have the stigma of the big water this season,” said Helena Powell, director of marketing for Adventures in Whitewater, Winter Park. The reputation of Colorado’s big water may have intimidated customers from getting on the river, she said.
Already, rafting reservations are up 90 percent from last year at this time, Powell said, and most are from out-of-state customers.
“We’re very excited about this season,” Powell said. “We’re extremely happy about the way the pre-books look.”
Usually the river outfit starts its trips around Memorial Day weekend; this year Whitewater is planning to get on the water by next week or the week after.
So far, the rafting company director is not concerned about lower river flows affecting business, encouraged by the level of reservoirs for this time of year, she said.
“I just think it’s going to end up snowing all of May,” she said.
Other business owners are getting a jump-start on the summer season, such as VJ Valente of Full Circle Cyclery in Granby. A snow removal employee for a ski hill, who got laid off three weeks early because of the lack of snow, he said he decided to open up his bicycle shop in March this year, which is one month early.
The opening paid off with bike tune-ups and repairs.
“I’ve had a bunch of people going to Fruita and the Moab area earlier than normal,” Valente said.
At the office of LD Watkins Construction Services, Granby, Contractor Les Watkins also sees the dry weather as an advantage.
“The main thing is I can get started on outside work,” he said. “And we’re seeing more activity in customers wanting to do projects, so that’s positive.”
Typically, April into May are the second slowest months of the contractor’s season in the high country, Watkins said, but already he has nine roof projects getting started and a concrete job he wasn’t going to start until May but is starting now, he said. An extended construction season can only benefit his business.
“The negative is I didn’t get to have a lot of good skiing this year,” Watkins said.
Landscapers are getting a jump-start on the season as well. “As far as sales, we’re way ahead of the game,” said Dave Woodman, manager of marketing and sales of Neils Lunceford Inc., Granby. “We’re getting a lot of early interest because of this weather.”
Although plantings are postponed because of the risk of frost, people are thinking about landscaping maintenance about a month earlier than usual, Woodman said. Because it has been dry, Woodman recommends residents get a head start on watering seeded areas and existing plant material.
People may not have been hitting the slopes but the hiking trails instead this March. Rocky Mountain National Park reported visitation was up by 41.5 percent in March.
And although the dry season has been beneficial to big-game populations, Crosby of Parks and Wildlife said the downside is low river flows – now gauged at 57 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River for April 1 through July 31. It’s yet to be seen how this may affect fish populations.
And if there’s a drought this summer, many species of wildlife can suffer.
“Time will tell,” Crosby said, adding hopefully, “It could start raining next week. Time will tell.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603