Crested Butte-Gunnison Valley-Looking Back

Gunnison River Festival - Rafting

Crested Butte-Gunnison Valley-Looking Back

Last Friday marked the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. We thought it only proper to recap some of the events, people and issues that shaped the past 10 years in the Gunnison Country. It was an eventful time.

In the year 2000 …
Despite widespread fears, including locally, that the nation’s technology-dependent infrastructure wasn’t going to be able to handle the rollover to a new millennium, Jan. 1, 2000, came and went without Armageddon-like catastrophe.

At the Times, Steve Reed was the editor, and Paul Wayne Foreman rode shotgun.

The Miller family left the funeral business after a 118-year stint — selling the long-standing Gunnison funeral home to Bob LeChot.

In January, the Gunnison Valley Economic Development Corp. formed, with Betsy Baier at the helm as executive director. It would be the first of many ensuing attempts at bringing some economic stimulus to town.

Much to the consternation of many Gunnison residents that winter, the city wanted to start fining people for not shoveling sidewalks immediately after a storm. That precipitated outrage from people whose sidewalks were piled high with snow the city moved off the streets. Resolve was reached when the city decided to blade snow, instead, to the center of the streets.

The Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation (Met Rec) District changed its mission to no longer focus on just over-the-air television signals. From then on, Met Rec would also support “recreation, arts and culture” through grant allocations — resulting in more than $800,000 being poured into local communities over the next eight years.

The “Shade for Blades” drive — to install a canopy over the upper hockey rink at Jorgensen Park — began ramping up. In June, $95,000 was collected, with the effort culminating the next year.

Longtime County Commissioner Fred Field announced in April that he would try to keep his seat for another term, running alongside Republican Perry Anderson. The Field/Anderson team won handily over Democrats Diane Lothamer and Paul Wayne Foreman.

In the year 2001 …

The County Commissioners, including out-going Commissioner Marlene Zanetell, approved the county’s new Land Use Resolution after three-and-a-half years of working on the document.

Gunnison City Council gave thumbs down to an automated refuse collection system, opting instead for the human touch. Eight years later, City Council would recognize benefits of such a system, and begin to implement it.

Data from the 2000 Census showed that over the preceding decade, the City of Gunnison had grown, but had still not caught up with the “mass exodus” that occurred during the 1980s.

In April, the City of Gunnison began moving toward the purchase of land on the north side of town, which would later become the home of a new Community Center and swimming pool.

A panel of county officials urged taking action on the “overcrowded jail,” built 22 years prior — initiating a saga that continues to play out today.

A landmark Gunnison business, Blackstock’s Pharmacy, closed after 45 years in business. Anne Allen stated that it was simply “time to retire” as reason for closing the business, which her parents founded first as a bookstore in 1936.

Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District leaders simulated a “Black Canyon water right call” at the Spann Ranch. At the time, a National Park Service proposal to quantify the Black Canyon water right would have passed up those with water rights junior to 1933. “To keep the valley green, we need to keep the water here,” Lee Spann said.

Mike Ritchey, who previously owned the Gunnison Country Times, purchased the newspaper again in July.

In October, the “Shade for Blades” began going vertical. In the end, more than $300,000 was spent on the facility.

Review of Dick Bratton’s “Tomichi Creek” annexation began late in the year, with the City of Gunnison’s Planning and Zoning Commission, after 15 months and several appearances before the City Council. The proposal included lands which would later, in a much different form, become the proposed Gunnison Rising annexation.

In the year 2002 …

Jay Helman was named the president of Western State College in February, after serving as academic vice president since 1996.

Gunnison County and the City of Gunnison agreed to dedicate $30,000 each, officially setting in motion the dream to create a whitewater park in the Gunnison River — just downstream of the city. Construction of five wave features began that spring.

In March; the City of Gunnison unveiled its plan to build a Community Center on property it purchased near Wal-Mart. That plan included financing the project — primarily through the sale of city-owned real estate, including Webster Hall — without asking residents for more tax money.

With 78 participants, the first-ever adult men’s hockey league in Gunnison is deemed a “smashing success.”

A site near Hartman Rocks was selected to be home of the Gunnison Valley Observatory.

Famed Crested Butte resident Richard Bannister (AKA Murdoch) is accused of doing more than smuggling cocaine and running from the law. Allegations of sexual assault on children emerge, and later play a role in a sentencing hearing.

For the first time in 57 years, the Gunnison Rotary Club cancelled its Fourth of July fireworks show. High fire danger as a result of a severe drought is cited as the reason.

Marta Smith, who now is the Gunnison Elementary School principal, is named the “Colorado Assistant Principal of the Year” by the Colorado Association of School Executives.

The Hells Angels roar into town, along with a hundred or so law enforcement officials from throughout the state. No major problems are reported.

A severe drought plagues this area, the state and much of the West, resulting in water shortages and rampant wildfires.

The Transportation Security Administration takes over security operations at the Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport.

RE1J School District enrollment dips slightly from the previous year, with 1,616 local learners on the rolls. In 2009, RE1J reports having 1,676 students.

The Tomichi Creek annexation proposal is back on the table, with the submission of a draft agreement that includes donation of land for a city recreation center.

In October, the RE1J School Board increases teacher wages across the board, moving the base for an entry-level position to $30,000. The move was hailed by education advocates, but also led to later financial woes — including the district being placed on financial accreditation watch by the state.

Voters give the thumbs up to the creation of the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority and the Local Marketing District. Melody Marks (treasurer), Frank Vader (coroner), Stella Dominguez (clerk and recorder), Rick Murdie (sheriff), Jim Starr (commissioner) and Judy Smith (assessor) are elected to local office.

Monarch Ski Area is purchased by a group of Colorado investors, including some longtime Monarch employees.

The developers place the Tomichi Creek annexation proposal on hold — again.

Wildlife officials announce that the local population of Gunnison Sage-grouse declined by 13 percent from the previous year.

Gunnison was named a “Main Street Community,” which leads to the temporary staffing of a coordinator position.

In the year 2003 …

Fire destroys the historic Cattlemen’s Inn on Jan. 6.

Crested Butte Mountain resort is rumored to be sold to a group of investors from Dallas, Texas. The sale never materializes.

The Gunnison River is deemed “endangered” by the environmental group, American Rivers, for the lack of a guaranteed water rights in the Black Canyon.

The three incumbent Gunnison City Council members are voted out of office. Replacing Dan McKenna, Joy Hart and Harvey Harriman are Stu Ferguson, Thomas Smits and Paul Duba.

Jane Chaney is hired as the director of the Tourism Association.

Controversy over the county’s Land Use Resolution spurs the creation of the “Citizens for Economic Revitalization.”

Colorado Governor Bill Owens visits Gunnison for a water conference, proclaiming, “As long as I’m governor, the headwaters of the Gunnison River will stay in Gunnison.”

The first independent board of trustees for Western State College is appointed.

Famous comedian Bob Hope dies in July, prompting locals to reminisce about his visit to Gunnison in the 1950s, when he took a fishing trip with the local “Gunnison Navy.”

In October, Kathleen Curry announces she is stepping down from her post as director of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District to pursue a career in state politics.

Voters soundly rejected a plan, forwarded by the Met Rec District, to bring a $6.5 million aquatics facility to town.

More than 4,500 acres of Ohio Creek valley ranchland is preserved in a $9.5 million conservation deal brokered by the state.

The Gunnison Area Foundation (now known as the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley) hires its first full-time director. Pam Montgomery continues to serve in that post today.

In the year 2004 …

In early January, Tim and Diane Mueller of East Coast ski area fame, sign the contract to purchase CBMR for an estimated $41.6 million. Shortly thereafter, CEO John Norton states that a formal proposal to expand lift-served skiing onto neighboring Snodgrass Mountain is forthcoming. The sale also kicks off an unprecedented real estate boom in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.

WSC leaders made the controversial decision to cease funding the college’s NCAA Division I ski program — rich in historical significance, both for WSC and intercollegiate skiing in general — with college money.

Gunnison’s Community First Bank becomes Bank of the West.

The Schuck Corporation, a premier Colorado Springs real estate and development firm, teams up with local landowner Dick Bratton in proposing what is now known as the Gunnison Rising annexation.

The city breaks ground on its Community Center project.

Citing complaints from the local development community, Colleen Hannon is fired as the city’s director of community development.

The BLM officially grants a 155 acre patent atop Mt. Emmons to mining company Phelps Dodge.

Tom Havens resigns from his post as president of Gunnison Bank & Trust to pursue a related career opportunity in California.

Retail giant Wal-Mart places property in what is now called Van Tuyl Village under contract and acknowledges they intend to pursue building a Supercenter in Gunnison. Shortly thereafter, the city adopts a “Big Box Moratorium” while it pursues specific regulations over the design of such facilities.

A major runway extension and realignment project at the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport, costing $10 million, is complete in July.

Hap Channell upsets longtime incumbent Fred Field, and Paula Swenson defeats Perry Anderson to make the Gunnison County Board of Commissioners all Democrats for the first time since 1936. Kathleen Curry is elected to the State House of Representatives.

Citing many objections to the city’s draft “Big Box” standards, Wal-Mart drops plans for its Supercenter in Gunnison.

At their annual Christmas party, county officials recognize outgoing commissioner Fred Field by naming the fairgrounds facility in his honor.

The much-anticipated dome is placed atop the Gunnison Valley Observatory in mid-December.

In the year 2005 …

Among the County Commissioners’ top funding priorities for the year were developing a comprehensive affordable housing strategy; implementing a special district for what would become the Gold Basin Industrial Park; and building a new county detention center. A plan for implementing the latter through a tax increase failed to receive voter approval later in the year.

The City of Gunnison turned 125 years old. The town’s birthday was celebrated Feb. 28 at City Hall.

WSC leaders announced in April that alumni and friends of the college had made an annual commitment of more than $135,000 to privately fund the ski program for the following five years. In years following, they would continue trying to obtain a multi-million dollar endowment to ensure the long-term existence of the ski team.

In May, a group dedicated to revitalizing the City of Gunnison’s downtown dissolved amidst difficulty in raising money to support the program.

An effort to keep the Gunnison Sage-grouse from being federally protected formed among ranchers, developers and private landowners, urging the County Commissioners to take a “leadership position” in attempting to convince the feds not to “list” the bird under the Endangered Species Act. The county adopts an anti-listing position.

Locals teamed up in September to contribute to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Efforts ranged from local fundraisers and clothing drives to the delivery of an entire truck load of donated relief items.

WSC leaders host a ground-breaking ceremony for the Borick Business Building — the first major academic building at a public college or university in the state built entirely with private funds. Steven J. Borick, a 1975 WSC grad, provided the largest single gift to fund the project.

In the year 2006 …

In January, longtime Times employees Stephen Pierotti and Chris Dickey became the new owners of Gunnison’s only newspaper, purchasing the business from Mike Ritchey.

The Mt. Emmons molybdenum mining property came under new ownership through a game akin to hot-potato. U.S. Energy, which previously owned a majority interest in the property in the 1970s, reacquired ownership as a result of losing a lawsuit with Phelps Dodge, who no longer wanted the liability of operating a wastewater treatment plant at the old Keystone Mine.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in April that it was not going to list the Gunnison Sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act. The decision was challenged and remains unresolved today.

A potential annexation east of the City of Gunnison reared its head again, this time as a 1,660-acre parcel on both sides of Hwy. 50, called “Gunnison Rising.”

A group of local developers initiate review of the residential and commercial Van Tuyl Village project on the north side of Gunnison.

In October, Kobex Resources became a partner in the Lucky Jack Project — U.S. Energy’s effort to mine molybdenum on Mt. Emmons.

Jim Starr defeats Al Smith for County Commissioner.

For the second year in a row, a tax-backed proposal to expand the Gunnison County jail at its courthouse site is denied by voters.

In the year 2007 …

A ruptured gas supply line in January near Crested Butte South left homes, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that rely on natural gas without heat or cooking fuel for two to three days.

Gov. Bill Ritter makes a special appearance in Gunnison in March, signing legislation that gives WSC the authority to offer graduate programs again.

WSC embarks on a commitment to be more “green,” with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification pursued for the construction of the Borick Business Building. It would be the first of other campus projects for which the designation would be pursued in following years.

City of Gunnison voters passed a proposal in May to pursue three recreation projects: a new ice rink, a swimming pool and a city-wide trails system. The projects would be paid for through a 1 percent sales tax increase.

The first signs of one of the most severe winters on record in the Gunnison Valley appeared with multiple, heavy snow storms. The Town of Crested Butte received nearly 60 inches of snow in just the first 10 days of December. Snows became so deep in the ensuing months, that the Colorado Division of Wildlife launched an emergency feeding effort for big game in the basin.

Late in the year, the creation of the Gunnison County Library District was made official, converting the previous county department to a political subdivision of the state. The move sets the stage for the longer-term goal of building a new library.

A half-century old water dream that cost millions of dollars and led to the creation of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District died. At the end of the year, about 88,000 acre feet of storage rights and 1,200 cubic feet per second of direct flow conditional rights — dubbed the Upper Gunnison Project — were surrendered amidst and inability to bring the array of projects in the basin to fruition.

In the year 2008 …

The death of lifelong Gunnison rancher Ray Van Tuyl in early February would result later in a contesting of his will by surviving family members. When all was said and done, local groups would become the beneficiary of $2 million in cash, plus land holdings.

Thompson Creek Metals replaces Kobex as a partner with U.S. Energy in the effort to tap Red Lady for molybdenum, and the project is renamed the Mount Emmons Project.

Colorado Division of Wildlife leaders announced that they’re considering moving their southwest regional headquarters to Gunnison, on land that applicants of the proposed Gunnison Rising annexation offered, should the project be approved.

Staff at the Curecanti National Recreation Area — which includes Blue Mesa Reservoir — identified a new threat to the area’s ecosystem: Zebra mussels, an invasive species that has wreaked havoc at other bodies of water throughout the country.

Trouble began brewing with a high number of foreclosures in Gunnison County. By May, the total number of “starts” was already approaching the total from the previous year. 2009 would see even higher numbers, outpacing foreclosure levels from the 1980s.

Gas prices in Gunnison reached more than $4 per gallon in late May, inciting fears that the summer tourism season would be adversely impacted.

In July, WSC leaders decided to pull the plug on the NCAA Division I ski program at the college amidst an inability to secure private funding.

Town and Country Autoplex, on the west side of Gunnison, closed its doors in mid-summer, citing a downshift in the economy. It was the end of a string of dealerships at that location that began in the 1970s.

Paula Swenson and Hap Channell defeated Republicans Doug Sparks and Eric Ferchau in County Commissioner races.

Voters passed a $55 million Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District bond proposal for sweeping capital renovations and new projects, and voters reauthorized the RTA’s sales tax.

CBMR sells its “underlying assets” to a Florida-based real estate investment trust, though the Muellers continued to operate the resort.

See the rest of this article brought to you by The Gunnison Valley Times:

Looking Back

Corey Dwan – REALTOR
Benson Sotheby’s International Realty
P.O. Box 210
433 Sixth Street
Crested Butte, CO 81224
970-596-3219 Cell
970-325-3219 World Wide Cell
970-349-6653 Office
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www.CrestedButteForSale.com