Spring surprises…

Going from the national holiday of Memorial Day to the local holiday of Crested Butte Community School graduation brought with it a few surprises…or not. 

The mid and late May struggle between spring and winter shouldn’t really be much of a surprise. It’s not that unusual to deal with snow in May after all. But the Kebler jinx was something of a special surprise. I don’t often recall it taking beyond Memorial Day weekend to get the pass open but it does happen. Once it was deemed imperative to open it with the Highway 50 bridge closure, and all the stops were pulled to get it open early, it sure felt jinxed. In theory, it should be open sometime Friday!

I was a bit surprised at the low number of veterans with CB ties marching in the Monday morning parade. There were just a handful this year. Then I remembered that some of the regulars have moved to warmer climes and a friend suggested among other things that young veterans can’t afford to live in CB anymore. The spotty crowd along Elk Avenue was about normal and the mood was as it should have been…solemn, small town and honorable. It is still a favorite tradition in this increasingly changing community.

It’s not surprising to people living here that the wildflowers near CB can be magnificent in the summer. I won’t be surprised if more than a few extra people come to check it out as People Magazine recently put Crested Butte wildflowers on their list of worldwide travel bucket list items to check off in your life. My guess is that a few people will follow the list and we’ll see some extra flower aficionados coming through to experience our summer color.

I was not surprised to drive to the Front Range on Friday and see a stream of cars heading out of Denver to the mountains. Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of the summer tourist season and thousands of vehicles were lined up heading west. We were glad to be heading against the grain. Crossing the Continental Divide can be a good getaway from snow flurries at 9,000 feet. And by the way, it was not surprising that Cottonwood Pass was beautiful with fresh snow on the sides of the paved road and skiers exploring the slopes. A bunch of road bikers happily broke it in the day before. The walls of plowed snow were impressive with some looking like a record of when the dust storms came into the area.

A treat of a Monday bike ride was a surprise because Mondays are normally not ride days in the ‘ol work schedule. But this was special, and the biggest surprise might have been that we saw as much wildlife as people. Great Blue Herons, grouse, marmots and deer all showed themselves along the trail or near the road back to town. Seeing so much wildlife is always special no matter how “common” it becomes. We share the valley with all sorts of souls and frankly it is a better feeling to see a Great Blue Heron with a fish flying back to its nest instead of getting passed by a dude in lycra peddling to set his personal Strava record.  

I had a bit of a surprise finding myself defending the 252-unit Whetstone affordable housing project in a bar conversation. Just to be clear, that is not a project with 110% community support. The argument against, which I too have made at times, is that 252 units is probably another 600+ people coming to live full time in the North Valley. That is new population growth and will result in the need for more teachers, bartenders, plumbers and plow drivers. Growth begets growth and the same workforce housing “solution” has been used in places like Aspen and Breckenridge—and they all bemoan the fact that there is not enough housing for workers in their communities.

My argument was that it makes for a better, more well-rounded community if the middle class, the teachers, nurses and small business owners are able to live near their jobs. One argument back was that everyone’s tax dollars were then supporting wealthy business owners who should be providing housing for their workers. (Mark Walter can respond to that charge if he wants—give me a call).

No matter the framing, housing for workers in the North Valley is a struggle at the moment. I spent time trying to think of alternatives for how $130 million could be used to address this rather than adding another dense deed-restricted island that turbo charges growth in a small community that wouldn’t be as small. Nothing penned out. I figured $100 million could buy fewer than 100 North Valley condos that are currently free market along with scores of townhomes or single-family homes in the south valley. The question came up of do we really need 252 units on top of Crested Butte’s Mineral Point units that start construction this summer and the Homestead units in Mt. CB? Could a deal be worked out with the Village at Mt. Crested Butte, the town of Mt. CB and say the Valley Housing Fund to add another 50 or 60 units in that town location where utilities and transit exist? I still lean in favor of Whetstone if it can truly pencil out but not surprisingly, there are no easy answers.

It is no surprise as we head into the high school graduation weekend that the village kids are going in all sorts of directions. Good on ‘em. Reading about their appreciation for the village that shaped them, some are off to prestigious universities, others will travel and still others will follow their passions wherever they lead. Most acknowledge they will take a spiritual piece of the Mother Rock wherever they end up. 

I was a bit surprised last week to see the Crested Butte council was having a Wednesday meeting intended to discuss future parking. That scheduling must have slipped by me.  I was not surprised to see in the staff report that they were continuing to suggest people should not be able to conveniently park in the public street parking spots near the public transit stops along Sixth Street during the ski season. 

While stating CB residents don’t want to be like other places, they are basing their suggestions on “national best practices.” One of those practices is making it harder to park in town which just feels like an us vs. them direction. We’ll see what surprises come out of that Wednesday meeting.

And a bit of a warning to avoid surprise — three big construction projects are starting in and around Crested Butte this summer: the new fire hall by the cemetery, the school expansion at the entrance to town and the Mineral Point rental units near the Gas Café will all be big and change the look of the Sixth Street/Gothic Road corridor. No one should be surprised at the changes they see as a result of these major projects. Just saying.

Anyway, the phone forecast looks like early summer is finally pushing out late winter. No snowflake icons are on the horizon. The fields are greening up and the aspens are popping in the valley. It really is a glorious time as the days get longer, the sky gets bluer and the pace stays relatively mellow before the busyness of summer hits. Enjoy it before the bucket listers and construction crews arrive.

—Mark Reaman

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