Although it started before and will continue after, COVID-19 has defined 2020. The relative normalcy of January and February feels distant and alien now, and events that would once have defined the year — such as the Grizzly Creek Fire — seem almost like footnotes.
The virus was in the news heading into the new year, but the norovirus outbreak in Mesa County seemed like a more immediate threat. In February, The Sopris Sun staff discussed what to do if the virus made it here, but it seemed like a longshot. In retrospect, it seems likely that had already happened, but we finally opted to go remote once the first cases were confirmed in Aspen.
Then, almost overnight, everything began shutting down. Most of our March 12 edition was out of date by the time Friday the 13th rolled around. We had to rethink almost everything, from distribution to deadlines. Now, last-minute changes and cancellations have become the norm. Instead of just scrambling to keep up, The Sun has to play to the strengths of a weekly — going deeper or broader; telling more personal stories.
Although everything has been touched by the pandemic, we’ve made a point of balancing hard news with lighter features. It may have sometimes seemed strange to read about death and distance running in the same issue, but life must go on even amid tragedy.
Rather than pretend to be apart from it all, we’ve tried to share our own stories of working remotely, receiving awards via Zoom or even getting sick and questioning a negative test. We worried over empty shelves, wondered what would happen to our favorite businesses and tried to find ways to keep our spirits up.
And, thanks to your support, we’re still here with you as an end seems to be within reach. But before we take that journey together, let’s take a look back and see how far we’ve come.
Cheers to that
Carbondale Beer Works spearheaded a campaign to pay off Carbondale Middle School students’ lunch debts. Organizers Patrice Fuller and April Spaulding raised $4,300 by January 8, surpassing what was owed and allowing for a bank of money to also pay off future food debts.
Forest Service refreshed
White River National Forest revealed plans for the redevelopment of its Aspen-Sopris Ranger District Office on Main Street in Carbondale. Demolition of the current building was slated for spring of 2021 with a temporary “storefront” installed to continue visitor information services during construction. According to Acting Public Affairs Specialist Lore Almazan, “This re-development project will improve the safety, functionality, energy efficiency, and access to the property.”
Down the rabbit hole
Carbondale Trustees reconsidered the Town’s rabbit policy at the request of keeper Matt Kennedy. Trustee Erica Sparhawk’s proposal, based in part on the existing chicken policy, called for a maximum of 15 adults with no more than 30 rabbits total. The previous cap had been three rabbits per household.
Bilingual chamber buds
Colombian business-developers John Lopez and Paulina Navas launched the Americas Chamber of Commerce to support Roaring Fork and Colorado River Valley entrepreneurs or businesses with bilingual resources. The initiative was financed in part by Alpine Bank and appears to have gone quiet at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marble Distilling offers ‘Zero Proof’
Marble Distilling began hosting alcohol-free nights for local teenagers to safely mingle in a mature setting away from the trappings of technology. The first 21-and-under events took place on First Fridays with plans to continue monthly.
Streamin’ Steve’s slips in
Steve Standiford and GrassRoots TV teamed up just in time to offer high-definition video streaming from Carbondale’s staple music venue. The initiative began as an archival effort and also to expand the audience for that increasingly-crowded, intimate listening room. Steve’s Guitars has continued to provide live music throughout the pandemic, including the 1,000th Friday concert in September, thanks to having the cameras and protocols in place.
Tobacco tax approved
With incumbents Ben Bohmfalk, Lani Kitching and Marty Silverstein running unopposed for their trustee seats, Carbondale voters approved an increase of four dollars per pack of cigarettes, or 40 percent on other tobacco products, with funds designated for prevention and treatment of tobacco use and enforcement and education related to risks and regulations. Meanwhile, former Town Manager Bill Kane was elected mayor of Basalt and Sydney Schalit and Gene Schilling were elected to serve three-year terms on the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District board.
Rifle Police Sgt. Kirk Wilson was selected to lead the Carbondale Police Department as longtime Chief Gene Schilling planned his retirement. The selection process included public and private vetting before social distancing measures took effect.
Marble further isolates
Marble and its surroundings were affected by Gunnison County enacting some of the strictest COVID regulations in the state. A portable sign installed on County Road 3 advised passersby that entrance was restricted to residents returning from meeting their essential needs, like grocery shopping. The greatest enforcement challenge involved trailhead activity and nonresident recreationists.
Two months into the pandemic, Carbondale adopted a mask ordinance requiring face coverings in businesses and public buildings, exempting children under two, people with breathing conditions, offices without public interaction and as necessary for eating and drinking, security purposes or services like dentistry. Mayor Dan Richardson cast the sole dissenting vote on the measure which was met with a mixed reception among Carbondale’s business community.
Valley View faces cuts
Pressured by the pandemic, Valley View Hospital laid off 10 percent of its workforce. Additionally, all executive salaries were lowered by 10 percent along with a reduction of non-essential services like valet, childcare and community programs.
Carbondale’s Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a plan submitted by Texas-based Builders FirstSource for a lumber yard showroom to be built adjacent to the new City Market. Bob Schultz, representing Crystal River Marketplace, explained that the site will work toward a “barn” architectural theme so that, “Everyone driving past on Highway 133 isn’t looking at building materials.”
‘Carbondale Collapse Zone’ in action
A large sinkhole was filled after collapsing part of Highway 133 south of the intersection with Main Street. The hole measured 15 feet in diameter by 12 feet deep and required 125 tons of road base material to fill. Colorado Department of Transportation employee Tim Holbrook had been filling a pothole when the small depression cracked open to reveal the cavernous, dark hole. “I thought I was staring down into my tomb and grave,” said Holbrook.
Local swimming holes redesigned
Basalt Town Council approved initial plans for the new Arbaney Park Pool Complex, first built in the mid-1990s. Among the highlights: a robot-shaped kids’ pool. Meanwhile, Carbondale’s John M. Fleet Pool is being reimagined by the Park and Recreation Commission with community feedback.
Main Street one-way creates conflict
Carbondale Trustees faced a dispute among Main Street businesses over their decision to restrict the 300 block to one-way traffic in order to allow dining in the right of way. After just a few weeks, retail establishments were feeling disadvantaged by the limitation of vehicular traffic. That led to a new solution — slightly narrower dining areas with two-way traffic around the clock, with full closures on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Coffman Ranch preservation makes headway
Efforts to conserve the Coffman Ranch made progress as Great Outdoors Colorado awarded a $2.5 million grant to Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) to help purchase the 141-acre property. The project needs a total of $8.5 million to conserve and steward the land with a discounted purchase price of $6.5 million. According to Suzanne Stephens, executive director of AVLT, “We definitely want to provide a space for the community… [and] public access to the river.”
Change keeps coming
Carbondale Center Place, LLC, site of the Sopris Shopping Center and Sopris Self Storage, pursued rezoning to split the lot with mixed use zoning on the west and commercial transitional to the east. Long-term plans include demolition of the existing shopping center to make way for an expansion of the storage building and addition of a mostly-residential building.
501c3 seeks protection for Crystal Mill
Crystal Mill Foundation was formed to raise money to buy the property housing its namesake. “It’s about preserving something magical,” explained the new nonprofit’s president Heather Leigh. She considers the Crystal Mill to be “the most iconic structure in the state” and explains that, in her experience, most of the Mill’s many visitors think it’s already under protection.
CORE Act gains traction
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act headed to the U.S. Senate for review. If passed, 400,000 acres of land in Colorado — including the majority of the Thompson Divide — would gain protection from future oil and gas leases. Existing lease holders would have the option of relinquishing their leases and in turn be compensated for nearly all expenditures, sans legal fees.
New City Market opens
After decades of resistance and negotiation, property annexed by Carbondale in the early 1970s was successfully developed and generating tax revenue. The land was among 350 acres donated to Colorado Rocky Mountain School founders John and Anne Holden by Harald “Shorty” Pabst in 1953. These 57 acres — sold, annexed and rezoned — were a cause for controversy as developers pursued projects palatable to the local population. The new City Market opened on Wednesday, Aug. 25, with 115 residential units and a building supply store in the pipeline.
Redstone Castle for sale
After multi-million-dollar renovations requiring years of hearings, permits and infrastructure requirements, the Redstone Castle was put back on the market by owners April and Steve Carver. Operating during the pandemic was determined unsustainable by the 11th owners of the 118-year-old-estate, setting Coldwell Banker real estate company to the task of attracting the regal mansion’s 12th owner/s.
Completing the count
The 2020 Census Bureau faced pandemic-related obstacles to completing its total count of people residing in the United States, as mandated by the Constitution. Thankfully, responding online, by telephone or by mail had never been easier. The completion date was pushed back from July 31 to Oct. 31, but that date was revised to Sept. 30 and changed again to Oct. 15. Locally, the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee organized to reach historically undercounted populations living in our area.
In-person learning returns
Roaring Fork School District schools returned to in-person learning amidst fresh snow and record-breaking COVID cases. Pressure to reopen schools had been mounting for months as 20 Roaring Fork Valley pediatricians signed a letter warning of the mental health consequences for students if schools remained closed. Simultaneous distance learning and targeted quarantines continued as necessary strategies for keeping students and staff healthy.
Eighth Street gets friendly
The Town of Carbondale solicited feedback for improving the Eighth Street corridor. Traffic lanes were narrowed and parking was temporarily prohibited on the east side of the street to allow for two pedestrian/bicycling lanes in addition to the sidewalks. This trial emerged through the Town’s Bike/Pedestrian/Trails Commission and efforts by the Carbondale Age Friendly Community Initiative.
Marble site sees major funding
The Town of Marble received a $333,000 Resilient Communities Grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to improve the Marble Mill Site Park. The grant is aimed to alleviate crowding, provide better river access, create an additional park entrance and to protect historic structures.
Wolves win by a whisker
Proposition 114, a ballot initiative mandating the reintroduction of gray wolves into Western Colorado by the end of 2023, was narrowly approved by voters. The narrowness of the result reflects the divisiveness of the issue, pitting ecologists, environmentalists and wildlife biologists against farmers, ranchers and hunters. Strong support for the measure was seen in heavily populated areas along the Front Range and in I-70 ski towns with comparable opposition in rural parts of the state.
Garfield County shifts without swapping
Garfield County Commissioner incumbents John Martin and Mike Samson were reelected in a close race against Democratic challengers Beatriz Soto and Leslie Robinson. Likewise, Republican incumbents Bob Rankin and Perry Will were reelected to the Colorado General Assembly with Bob Rankin serving Senate District 8 and Perry Will representing House District 57.
Gallagher repeal stabilizes special district funding
Voters repealed the Gallagher Amendment to allow special districts like Colorado Mountain College and Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District to collect taxes on revenues that more fully reflect the state’s continuing population growth.
City Market denied beer
The Town reviewed a municipal ordinance — pulled directly from state law — preventing the new City Market development from selling alcohol due to its proximity to Colorado Rocky Mountain School. After extensive public comment and a recommendation by developer Briston Peterson, the Town opted to maintain that the sale of alcohol for carrying off premises be prohibited. Liquor licenses for restaurants and pubs, however, would be allowed within 500 feet of a school property line.
Trustees approved the annexation of land east of Highway 133 near the town’s north entrance. A new self-storage complex will be built between the tire store and Xcel power substation with improvements expected for public infrastructure.
Dinkel building up for sale
The Dinkel building, which makes up the entire north side of the 400 block of Main St., went up for sale for the first time in 30 years. Although the Garfield County Clerk and Assessor’s office stil lists the former owner, a subsequent Facebook thread indicates that a sale was pending, with indications that some businesses — like the Crystal Theatre and Bonfire Coffee – were optimistic about renewing their leases.
Art Base takes root
A downtown Basalt fixture has taken a giant leap forward to finally find its forever home with the $1.5 million-purchase of the entire building at 174 Midland Ave. Skye Skinner — appointed Art Base executive director after two years in the interim position — announced the upcoming move to the 4880 sq.ft. Three Bears building from its 1800 sq.ft space in the old Basalt library. “This opportunity simply fell out of the sky,” she enthused. “We just couldn’t pass up the chance to establish ourselves here permanently.”
Sopris Sun changes
Todd Chamberlin, Sopris Sun advertising director, was appointed to the top spot and will be heading up business development, fundraising, distribution and sales for the organization. Meanwhile, 27-year-old Carbondale-native, bilingual world traveler and former KDNK news director Raleigh Burleigh is ready to take over as editor in 2021.