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Light up your July Fourth weekend with these events from around Grand County

Winter Park/Fraser

9 a.m.Run for Independence
Burn calories on this 5K run/walk that starts at the Gondola Plaza at Winter Park Resort and winds down the beautiful Fraser River Trail, through green forests and open valleys and the Town of Winter Park, and finishes at the Rendezvous Event Center. Register in person and/or pick up your bib in advance at the Winter Park Information Center from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 2, or from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 3. Race day packet pickup and day-of registration are from 7-8:30 a.m. at the Gondola Plaza at Winter Park Resort on Monday, July 4.

5 p.m. — Fourth of July Celebration
Celebrate independence with a free concert in Rendezvous Event Center. Pack a picnic and grab your spot in the grass to enjoy a cornhole tournament, bocce ball, or the complimentary photo booth. There will be games for all ages to enjoy prior to The Fabulous Thunderbirds concert. The evening ends with a laser show (in lieu of fireworks) featuring DJ Jen G.

  • 5:30-7:20 p.m. with music by DJ Jen G
  • 6:00 p.m. Lawn games and inflatable activity centers
  • 7:20-9:00 p.m. The Fabulous Thunderbirds perform
  • 9:00 p.m. DJ Jen G Dance Party followed by Laser Show (in lieu of fireworks)

Granby

7-10:30 a.m. — EAA fly-in and pancake breakfast
Enjoy breakfast on the tarmac at the Granby Airport. All proceeds go to the annual fundraiser to send young people to the EAA Air Academy summer camps and provide scholarships to local graduates pursuing a career in aviation fields

10:30 a.m. — Gut buster 5K color run
Open to anyone and everyone, this year’s run strictly for fun (not timed). Look for color stations along the course, as hit the Slip N Slide station to cool off. Register at Active.com/granby-co/running/distance-running-races/34th-annual-granby-gut-buster-5k-color-run-2022

Noon to 2 p.m. — Community cookout at Moffat Railroad Museum
Stop by the museum for a barbecue meal ($24) or hot dog meal ($14), plus lawn games for the whole family. Meal price includes admission to the museum.

2:30-9:30 p.m. — Rocky Mountain music series
Spend the afternoon at Granby Ranch for live music, food and drink, and family activities. Music from 3-9 p.m.

7 p.m. — Rodeo
Come to Flying Heels Arena for the rodeo, for bull riding, roping, barrel racing, games for the kids and more. Purchase tickets at DestinationGranby.com/events/4th-of-july.

Grand Lake

All day — Town activities, live music and fireworks over the lake
The Town of Grand Lake invites visitors to its 30-minute fireworks display over Colorado’s largest natural lake (pending any change in fire restrictions). Take in multiple activities around town, like live music throughout the restaurants. Then sit in the sand and watch the night sky light up.

Kremmling

6-10 p.m. — Fire up the cliffs
Billed as the best fireworks display in the mountains of Colorado, Kremmling’s unique celebration begins at 6 p.m. in the Town Square with a barbecue dinner, home-baked pies, live music and games for kids, and ends with a spectacular fireworks display off the cliffs at dark.

Meet one of the many people behind Hanging Lake’s reopening

Jamie Werner knew hard work would soon follow the surges of mud, rocks and debris that crashed down in Glenwood Canyon last summer.

“I knew from that moment it was going to impact our community,” Werner said. “I did not know how much it was going to impact my professional life, but that became clear very quickly.”

Werner, 38, is an experienced professional in environmental science who also currently sits on the board of the Watershed Biodiversity Initiative.

Yet she was about five months into her new role as White River National Forest stewardship coordinator with the National Forest Foundation when a rare, 500-year rain event bore down on the Grizzly Creek burn scar in July 2021. The burn scar was, of course, a product of the Grizzly Creek Fire of 2020.

This series of catastrophic debris slides not only trapped motorists but destroyed parts of Interstate 70, disrupted interstate commerce and traffic and led to the closure of Hanging Lake Trail, one of Colorado’s most prized possessions.

The disaster also prompted a $116 million request for federal emergency funds.

“That night, when the folks were stuck in the tunnel and the canyon was closed, it’s important to maintain a perspective on it,” Werner said. “Hanging Lake is a treasured landscape and is a very important place to all of us, but human safety is paramount.”

One of her main responsibilities throughout this entire ordeal was to ensure Hanging Lake Trail recuperated and reopened. This meant tirelessly interfacing with federal, state and local leaders and officials, nonprofit organizations, local businesses, scientific researchers, trails specialists, and average Colorado residents. The aim was to procure the funds necessary to restore a natural wonder and have this seemingly impossible feat accomplished as quickly as possible.

“Tackling a project of the scale of the Hanging Lake Trail restoration in such an ambitious time frame would be impossible otherwise,” Werner said.

The history of Hanging Lake Trail stretches back to the late 19th century. Based on legend, a man accidentally stumbled upon this cliff-side basin while searching for gold. Since then, the location eventually turned into a 1.2-mile ascent to a mountain oasis, complete with angel hair waterfalls splashing into a rocky travertine lake of emerald waters.

White River National Forest Public Affairs Officer David Boyd said having someone as effective as Werner at the helm in this situation has “been amazing.”

“Very often as I’m hearing about a project and I’m getting more information, they’ll say, ‘This is funded through the National Forest Foundation.’ We’re coordinating a lot,” he said. “It’s great, because (Werner’s) from the area, and she knows the area very well.

“It’s been hugely helpful having her in this position.”

Hanging Lake Trail wasn’t expected to reopen so soon, but that changed Friday when Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., paid a visit to Glenwood Springs.

Because Werner took the forefront of facilitating a contract between the U.S. Forest Service and Summit to Sea trail builders, bridges were fixed, a temporary trail was installed, and Polis and Boebert were cutting ribbon to usher in its grand reopening Friday.

“(Werner) was out front on that and really making sure everything was getting done and organizing everything and just stayed in very close communication with the (Forest Service),” Boyd said.

Friday was big for Werner.

“It’s a massive moment for our community and not just our local community but all the folks who come back to Hanging Lake again and again,” she said.

Werner said it’s also a huge moment for the economy of Glenwood Springs to have their most-visited tourist attraction back up and running.

“I live here in Glenwood Springs, and so it’s a personally important project to me as well,” she said. “Since mid-April, to repair and replace three bridges, clear all that debris off the trail, is really, really remarkable.”

The project is not at the finish line yet, however. Werner has her sights set on managing the upcoming $2.28 million trail redesign and reconstruction effort supported by Great Outdoors Colorado.

Werner, who just purchased a new home with her husband, Jeff, in Glenwood Springs, leads a quintessentially Coloradan lifestyle. They’re either frequenting her favorite restaurants in Glenwood Springs, skiing groomers throughout the Roaring Fork Valley during winter or, when it’s nice, hiking all over Colorado high country.

So, when Hanging Lake has a permanent trail connecting to it hopefully within the next three years, Werner can perhaps enjoy the fruits of her labor.

“I really couldn’t ask for more,” she said. “I have a blast.”

Rainbow Gathering, Fourth of July activity prompt wildfire helicopters at airport

The cavalry has arrived. As part of a prepositioning strategy for the upcoming fire season, two helicopters contracted by the U.S. Forest Service — one from Minuteman Aviation, Inc. and another from Rainier Heli International — were recently stationed at the Steamboat Springs Airport as part of a broader Type 3 Incident Management Team.

Aaron Voos, public affairs specialist for the Forest Service, said prepositioning for wildfires is informed by human activity, and said it’s common to station firefighting crews in areas where they anticipate a busy hunting season, for example, but he assures this year’s decision to station crews in Steamboat is not based on any single variable, such as the Rainbow Gathering, as some have speculated.

The 50th anniversary Rainbow Gathering will take place near Adams Park in North Routt County and could potentially bring tens of thousands of visitors into the National Forest.

“There’s this large unauthorized gathering,” said Voos. “With that comes a lot of additional visitors to the forest. So because of that, and throw in the Fourth of July holiday, and a very, very busy time for just recreation and forest visitation in general, that’s why we have the type three incident management team that is there for wildfire response if necessary.”

Voos said prepositioning is fairly common and last year there was a similar team from the Forest Service stationed at the Steamboat Airport.

Last year was drier and fire season started much earlier. The Morgan Creek Fire, which burned just 15 miles north of town, ignited on July 9, 2021 and forced evacuations shortly after.

Voos assured that the crews of the two helicopters will be completely focused on fighting wildfires and are not a part of the National Incident Management Team already stationed in the area that has been working closely with law enforcement and includes specialists who have responded to previous years’ Rainbow Gatherings.

Touching down on June 21, 2022, the K-1200, or K-MAX, is one of about 20 of the grasshopeer-shaped aircraft operating in the United States.

Designed for carrying external loads of up to 6,000 pounds, the KMAX utilizes a side-by-side pair of intermeshing rotors that help the helicopter hover stably even when lifting thousands of pounds of water.

“If you ever saw a slow-motion video of these blades in flight, you’d never get in one of these things,” said pilot Gus Lapthorne.

The KMAX uses a cargo hook to lift a large collapsible sleeve known simply as a “water bucket,” which expands to hold 700 gallons. The water bucket hangs about 180 feet underneath the aircraft and draws water with a pump.

Lapthorne says his helicopter has pulled water out of lakes, rivers, the ocean and even swimming pools out of people’s backyards.

The most recent helicopter to station at Bob Adams is a Bell 407 from Minuteman Aviation, which is meant for transporting firefighting personnel in and out of various strategic points near wildfires.

The 407 touched down on Saturday, June 25, and unloaded several members of the Forest Service’s Type 3 Incident Management team.

Where these helicopters are stationed depends on conditions that can change abruptly, so neither of their crews know how long they’ll be in Steamboat Springs. They could be gone in a couple of weeks or a few months, or may not be needed at all.

Mike Swinsick, the chief at North Routt Fire Protection District, said the current fire danger in the area is high but “on the lower end of the scale.”

Steamboat Springs Fire District Chief Chuck Cerasoli describes the current conditions as wetter and greener than this time last year when Stage 2 fire restrictions were already in place.

“I think things are drying out at a pace that’s at least not super concerning at this point,” said Cerasoli, who also cautioned against assuming everything is going to be fine. “We’re all a little hesitant to be too excited about anything.”

Obituary: Gary Lee Redfield

August 22, 1953 – June 12, 2022

Gary Lee Redfield, of Fraser, Colorado passed away on Sunday June 12, 2022 at the age of 68. Gary was born in Compton, California on August 22, 1953. He spent his early years in West Covina, California and lived most of his adult life in Grand County, Colorado. Gary had been battling cancer for almost 10 years and showed unbelievable bravery and composure throughout. He is survived by his loving wife, Michelle, his two sons, Samuel and Kyle, daughter-in-law, Megan, and his grandchildren Elin, Reese, Charlotte, Brayden, and Ellis. He is also survived by his siblings, Les (Marilyn) Redfield, Doreen (Andy) Caldwell, Diane Redfield Addis and his stepchildren Scott Davis, Kimberly (Brian) Thomas and her children, Hayden, Levi and Melanie. He is predeceased by his Mother Janice Redfield, his father Frank Redfield, and his brother-in-law Tim Addis.
Gary was deeply devoted to his family and spent countless hours helping them with everything from childcare to home renovations. He had very close relationships with all his family, and we will miss him dearly.
Gary was known for his rock-solid work ethic, contagious optimism, and unmistakable voice. He had a positive impact on thousands of people’s lives through his work in the Grand County community as a youth sports coach. It was clear to everyone who knew him that he truly cared about the kids and the community where he lived. He is a Grand County legend for his work as the voice of the Middle Park Panthers. For the past 25 years, he has done live broadcasts of hundreds of Middle Park High School sporting events.
Gary was awarded the key to the City of Granby and named Colorado Broadcaster of the year by the Colorado Broadcasters Association for his heroic efforts in his on the scene reporting for the June 4th 2004 bulldozer rampage in Granby, Colorado. His live broadcasting of this event enabled community citizens to evacuate and get to safety, saving many lives. Gary also had a successful three-decade long career as a master welder and steel fabricator. Many of the buildings and steelwork around Grand County were built by his hands, and much of his work can still be seen throughout the community. He will be remembered for his many contributions to the Grand County community, but most important of all, he will be remembered as a good person and that is reflected in the legacy that he leaves behind.
A public memorial service will be held at the YMCA of the Rockies (Snow Mountain Ranch) in the Whispering Pines Chapel on Saturday 8/6 at 10am. This will be followed by a celebration at the Fraser Sports Complex at 2pm.

Flags soar and colors bloom at Grand’s 2nd annual Pride celebration

Thousands of celebrations light up the country during Pride Month, and for a second year in a row, Fraser was home to Grand County’s Pride celebration. Fraser’s slogan is “Leaving Planet Earth,” and the town’s Pride Day helped both locals and guests leave the troubles of the planet behind to celebrate love and inclusion.

The celebration was hosted by a new organization, Grand County Pride, led by Stephanie Aghajanian and Liana Claire Aghajanian. This year, they offered a lineup of events in Fraser that the whole family could enjoy. A number of local organizations sponsored the event, including the Grand County Historical Association, Adventures Decanted and more.

“We’re excited it’s happening again for a second time,” Stephanie Aghajanian told Sky-Hi News. “The person who started it last year ended up selling their business and moving out of state, so we picked up where she’d left off.”

Last year, Grand County’s first official Pride celebration in decades took place at Fisher’s Bar, thanks to organizer Emily Amanda, the former owner of Granby’s Arapaho Valley Ranch. This year Kaydee Fisher, co-owner of Fisher’s Bar, hosted the event again.

“The main thing was to make sure it happened again, so it can keep on happening,” Stephanie Aghajanian said. “We made it so that it’s more family-accessible this year, which is why we have … a separate entrance and area away from the bar, more friendly for kids, strollers and babies.”

There were stickers and arts and crafts for kids in Fisher’s event space. The attendees headed outside for a parade down Fraser’s Zerex Street. They cheered and waved flags and colorful fans as cars driving by honked their horns in support. The paradegoers high-fived pedestrians and danced to tunes provided by local DJ Jen Gold during the parade, including anthems by Whitney Houston and Diana Ross.

Saturday’s parade-goers headed down Zerex Street, enjoying sunny skies and support from passerby.
Meg Soyars/Sky-Hi News

Returning back to Fisher’s Bar, attendees hung out the flower garden, bought Pride shirts, and browsed the booth of Winter Park artist TJ Daring.

Later, DJ Jen G revved the party into high gear.

“When (she) started her set, we started sending out the word and ended up with a nice full dance floor! It was great energy that went right till closing,” Stephanie Aghajanian said after the celebration. “It was a great night, nothing bad happened, no one got hurt, just a good day with good people and nothing but positive support from our community.”

An unexpected revelry of love also transpired when local couple Mikki Wright and Makenah Mouton tied the knot together on the dance floor, rounding out the celebration and creating a memorable Pride Day for everyone who was part of their engagement.

“We had set forth some core goals of keeping Pride alive and creating a safe space for the younger members of our community. We achieved those goals and so much more!” Stephanie Aghajanian wrote of the event. “This couldn’t have been done without the amazing efforts and awesome DJing of Jen Gold, the perfect venue and support thanks to Kaydee Fisher, and the help and guidance from Emily Amanda, who started this torch last year that we are committed to keeping lit.”

It was fitting this year’s Pride celebration took place in Fraser. The slogan “Leaving Planet Earth” was inspired by locals Ed Stahl and Steve Gorelick in 1977. That same year, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, signaling an early shift in cultural consciousness to celebrate inclusion of all people.  

Steve Gorelick said of Fraser in the 1970s: “There was a palpable sense of family and community that embraced all ‘locals’ even if they’d only moved there a month earlier. It was a different world, and the metaphor Leaving Planet Earth seemed to fit.”

Stephanie Aghajanian and other members of Grand County Pride are excited to become part of Fraser’s current-day inclusive spirit, then branch out beyond that.

“We want to not only be a name in the community, but an actual functioning part of the community,” Stephanie Aghajanian said. She added that their website, GrandCountyPride.com, is currently being updated, although they may change their name to Rocky Mountain Pride to be more welcoming of other Colorado residents.

Stephanie Aghajanian said, “We’re looking to build this into a nonprofit that not only does things once a year,” but also hosts activities throughout the year, joins in other organizations’ events, plus fundraises for donations in the name of Grand County Pride.

“This year was small,” Stephanie Aghajanian added. “But we’re growing into something that will last and we’re really proud of that!”

Chaos Canyon in Rocky Mountain National Park closed due to rockfall

Rocky Mountain National Park is reporting that it has closed all areas in Chaos Canyon to the west of Lake Haiyaha to users due to significant rockfall activity and continuing potential impacts from forecasted precipitation.

Several outcrops fell in the Upper Chaos Canyon area of the park at around 4:30 p.m. on June 28, according to park Public Affairs Officer Kyle Patterson. The rocks slid off the south shoulder of Hallett Peak. Patterson said the area of the rockfall event is highly unstable. Additionally, rainstorms are in the forecast for this area through July 3, which may contribute to additional rockfall activity. This closure will remain in effect until the projected rainstorms pass and the slop can be evaluated by park service geologists.

The hiking trail to Lake Haiyaha, Lake Haiyaha itself, and hiking trails on the north side of Hallett Peak remain open. The bouldering area in lower Chaos Canyon, on the north and east shore of Lake Haiyaha, will remain open.

There have been no reported injuries from Tuesday’s rockfall event and there are no designated hiking trails in the closure area. Chaos Canyon is a popular area for bouldering. The cause of this rockfall event on Hallett Peak remains unknown.

Park visitors planning to recreate in rocky terrain areas of the park are reminded to always practice due diligence and use caution. Rocky slopes on and near mountain peaks can be unstable. Recreation users should know their own limits and choose routes that are within the abilities of everyone in their party. For additional information on the park, visit the park’s web page or call its information office at (970) 586-1206.

As fire recovery continues, more areas open to nonmotorized use

Fire recovery work in the areas of the 2020 East Troublesome and Williams Fork wildfires is ramping up this summer. The two fires combined burned over 300 square miles in Grand County; since then, numerous roads and trails have remained closed to driving and recreation. Thanks to efforts by the Forest Service and other partners, some areas are being reopened for nonmotorized use. Currently, recovery efforts are underway in parts of the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests damaged by the Williams Fork Fire, as well as Bureau of Land Management lands in Grand County damaged by the East Troublesome Fire.

As these recovery efforts continue, the Arapaho National Forest’s Sulphur Ranger District updated its fire area closure orders with some adjustments this week.

Since the fires, many areas have reopened to public use. Numerous roads, trails and bridges are being rebuilt and slope stabilization is occurring in critical areas through arial mulching. The Ranger District’s 2022 revised closure order reopens many roads and trails to nonmotorized use.

While critical mitigation efforts have been completed along most roads and trails, the Ranger District cautions the public that dead and burned trees are very unstable and can fall without warning at any time. Visitors are at greater risk when traveling at high speeds, particularly in open-sided vehicles, and when camping in burned forested areas. Burned areas also contain many unseen hazards, such as burned stump holes, which present a danger to people walking off trail.

Areas that remain closed may be prone to flooding, landslides, and rock and tree fall. In addition, many of the closed motorized routes have severely damaged infrastructure such as bridges. On June 26, rains caused a mudslide in the burn scar on Colorado Highway 125 in Granby. The mudslide closed both sides of the highway. Risks for mudslides are always present in the summer months.

Many residents and visitors are looking forward to camping this summer. Dispersed camping will be allowed within 300 feet of most open roads; however, there are some open roads that will still be closed to dispersed camping due to potential risk of flooding, landslides and debris flow. The Bull Mountain dispersed camping area remains closed to accommodate crews who are helping the recovery effort.

The closures are temporary. National Forest managers are working hard to reopen all routes to the public. They will regularly reassess the closure areas to provide the right balance of public safety and reasonable access. 

Williams Fork Fire Closure Area

The following roads and trails remain closed to motorized use:

  • Keyser Ridge Road (FSR 140.3) at the trailhead; adjacent motorized routes (M140, M141, M142)
  • Kinney Creek Road (FSR 141.1)

East Troublesome Closure Area

Camping is prohibited within a quarter mile of Highway 125 in Grand County. The following roads and trails remain closed to motorized use:

US Forest Service/Courtesy image
  • Road to Bowen Gulch Interpretive Trail (120.5) The trail itself has reopened to nonmotorized use.
  • Grave Road (818.1)
  • Soda Pass (M120), Blizzard Pass (M121), Middle Supply (M123), North Supply Loop (M124), Spruce Em Up Jack (M125), Eagle Perch Overlook (M136)
  • Gilsonite Road and spurs (123.2A, 123.2B, 123.2G)
  • Trail Creek Road (116)
  • Camway (M113), Trail Creek Spur (M114), Lower Gilsonite (M115), Beaver Line (M116), Gilsonite II (M118.2)
  • Stillwater Summit Rd (815.1), Gilsonite Access Rd (814.1)
  • West Stillwater Trail (M25.1), Sherman Creek (M50), 
  • Kauffman Creek (FSR 121.1)
  • Gold Run (190.1)
  • Cabin Creek 112 (and all adjacent roads)
  • Mulstay (258.1 and spurs)
  • Parkview Spur (265.1)
  • Parkview (267 and spurs)

High Country brand reflects local entrepreneurial resilience

“Adversity is something entrepreneurs can count on and plan on in Grand County,” says Holly Wood, part of the ownership team at the High Country-branded suite of businesses located in Granby. “And the team at High Country has learned to adapt.”

Consolidation and inclusive branding while expanding is the way the High Country team of Wood and Steve Watson is adapting. Housing and finding employees continue to be the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs in Grand County, combined with the high rents and expensive real estate.

Yet Wood and Watson have taken a bold approach to thrive in this environment. Operating under the High Country brand, they serve the entire county with four melded operations.

Wood and her children moved to Granby in June of 2004 and opened Holly Wood Computer Consulting, which services several businesses in Grand County and the Denver Metro area. After Wood and Watson married in 2013, they opened High County Cellular and Electronics in 2015 in Granby, and in 2017, they expanded and opened their second location in Winter Park.

Both businesses were growing. “We were the last mom-and-pop shop in the entire state of Colorado and the stores were doing amazing and led by an amazing team,” Wood says.

After a few years, Wood and Watson’s dream of adding the appliance and mattress store to their thriving locations came to fruition. In January 2021, they purchased Gambles and the building it’s housed in from Casey and Rhonda Farrell. The store was rebranded to High Country Appliances; it now offers Whirlpool Corporation products with delivery and installation.

“We’re unifying our four business ventures here under the High Country brand, which makes it easy for customers and the community to relate to the missions of our businesses here in Grand County,” Wood says. Watson works at the helm of High Country Appliance.

Wood also continues her computer consulting work in the region.
All of the businesses operate out of two locations on Granby’s main street (U.S. Highway 40 — Agate Avenue) with the newly remodeled facades that are bringing a new look to Granby’s downtown.

At High Country Mattress they sell mattresses and associated bedding accessories. They install and deliver. The High Country Mattress location is just a block away from the High Country Appliance store.

High Country Cellular and Electronics had two locations in Grand County, in Winter Park and Granby. But in 2021, Verizon made a corporate decision to stop allowing several stores throughout the United States to sell Verizon services, and this resulted in the closure of the Verizon store in Winter Park, which operated under the High Country Cellular brand.

Wood and Watson realized this was a great detriment to the community and looked into alternative solutions, including a sale of the cellular store, which was not approved by Verizon. With the closure of the Winter Park store, the two looked to their store manager, Clancy King. They decided to consolidate in Granby at the High Country Appliance location.

“The cell phone store offers a tremendous service to Grand County and we will continue to offer new phones, be able to assist customers and provide the terrific service our customer have grown to expect,” King says.

“Customers can use our in-store financing to finance a phone. Our same great service is there.”

This consolidation of brands with diverse yet merged missions is getting to be a clever way to get business done in Grand County. The High Country ventures reflect this trend in business models being adopted in the county.

“We are very excited about the future of Grand County and continue to strive to improve our services while adapting to all the adversity this changing environment brings,” Wood says. “Several of our staff members have worked for us for many years and we have several new faces. We are here to serve Grand County!”

Facing adversity with catchy branding, consolidated operations and an emphasis on service is a way to survive and thrive in these challenging times for businesses in the county.


Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He is also the author of the book “KILLDOZER: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage.” He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.

Regrow your ACL: Multi-sport athlete from Grand County receives first specialized implant procedure in Colorado

Whether it’s pole vaulting for the track team or competing on the girls wrestling team, Olivia Stefanik, 16, is a multi-sport competitor at West Grand High School willing to try new and challenging things.

Due to her athletic pursuits, Stefanik ended up trying something else new. She was the first Colorado patient, and reportedly the second patient in the Western United States, to undergo a BEAR implant procedure, or bridge-enhanced ACL restoration, to regrow a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.

The implant is a medical game changer that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for commercial surgical use in December 2021, and Steamboat Springs orthopedic surgeon Dr. Alex Meininger was the first physician to perform the implant procedure in Colorado.

The surgeon with Steamboat Orthopaedic and Spine Institute had closely followed the development of the implant technology for a decade. About two weeks after FDA approval, he asked Stefanik if she wanted to choose the implant option, which must be utilized within 50 days of and ACL injury. Stefanik said she opted for the implant surgery in order to avoid having a graft taken from above her knee.

“It’s a revolutionary approach to ACL surgery to help prevent complications and heal your own ligament naturally,” said Meininger, an orthopedic surgeon for 11 years.

The bridge-enhanced restoration uses a specially developed protein sponge that is injected with the patient’s blood and placed surgically between the torn sections of the patient’s ACL.

During her first-ever wrestling meet that took place at Soroco High School in early December 2021, Stefanik was pulled in an awkward position by her wrestling opponent and felt instant pain.

“The moment that it happened, I knew something happened right then and there. It hurt really bad,” Stefanik said. “The North Fork girl had sort of a choke hold and was trying to swing me across her body. My foot was wrapped around her leg when she was pulling me over, so when my foot was stuck, her leg was bending my leg.”

Since Steamboat Springs is an active, athletic town, Meininger has now completed 10 of the BEAR Implant procedures, starting with Stefanik’s surgery in late December 2021. The surgeon has utilized the implant for patients from ages 12 to 44, ranging from local patients to out-of-town patients who tore an ACL while skiing in Steamboat.

The physician said ACL tears are most common in downhill skiing and contact football, followed by soccer and basketball injuries. Meininger said the downside to the implant surgery is the requirement for a gentler and longer recovery. The recovery time from the implant surgery until full activities is usually eight months — about two months longer than traditional ACL repair surgery, he said.

The positives of the implant include avoiding a graft harvest and achieving a more accurate reproduction of the normal ACL anatomy in terms of position, location and tension. The blood-infused sponge, which dissolves after two months in the body, acts as a framework or bridge for the body to heal the ligament. Similar regenerative medicine and sponge implant applications are being used in procedures for the heart, shoulders, nerves and blood vessels, Meininger noted.

For athletes and younger patients, medical studies show an 86% return to sports success with BEAR surgery compared to 70% with traditional ACL surgery. Meininger hopes the implant technique also will reduce the usual 20% risk of repeat ACL tears.

The Steamboat surgeon repairs about 100 ACL tears each year, so BEAR implant surgery represents 10% of his fixes currently. Two years from now, Meininger expects that proportion to increase to 50%. he was the only surgeon in Colorado doing the procedure until last week, when a surgeon from Denver completed a procedure, according to Michael McNulty, vice president of sales and marketing at implant developer Miach Orthopaedics.

The BEAR implant was pioneered by Dr. Martha Murray at the Boston Children’s Hospital Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, with initial research funding provided by the NFL Players Association, Boston Children’s Hospital and the National Institutes of Health.

Now six months into her recovery, Stefanik is swimming and taking her dog for walks. She is looking forward to competing again in pole vault, her favorite event, and beating the school record at West Grand High School in Kremmling where she will be a junior this upcoming school year. Her personal best in pole vault so far is 8 feet, 6 inches, and she and her coaches believe she will be able to clear 9 feet, 6 inches next season.

Rocky Mountain National Park experiences significant rockslide

Several outcrops fell in the Upper Chaos Canyon area of Rocky Mountain National Park around 4:30 p.m. yesterday, according to park Public Affairs Officer Kyle Patterson and the park’s Facebook. The rocks slid off the south shoulder of Hallett Peak.

Facebook user Samuel Forsyth posted a video of the rockslide to the Friends of Rocky Mountain National Park page.

The park encourages visitors to be careful on rocky and potentially unstable terrain. On Facebook, RMNP wrote that the slope will take time to stabilize, and more rocks could fall at any time, emphasizing that visitors’ safety is their own responsibility.

Patterson wrote in a press release that RMNP will post more information and pictures on their Facebook throughout the day.