When a snow storm blows through the Yampa Valley, inundating much of Moffat County, those of us who live in the Craig city limits have it pretty darn good.
While most residents were sleeping in their warm beds March 13, oblivious to the frigid, 15-foot-deep blanket that — to this day — coats much of the landscape outside town, snow plow crews with Moffat County and Colorado Department of Transportation were hard at work trying to break through the white wall isolating our beautiful town from the rest of the outside world.
A picture posted on social media by Dan Miller, the county's road and bridge director, confirmed what many of us already knew — those of us who live outside the city were buried, and some still are.
Miller and his crew of plow trucks and motor graders aren't invincible. They were forced to stop their attempts to beat back the snow March 13 after blizzard conditions reduced visibility to nearly zero. Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume activated the county's emergency operations center and said wind was the most significant risk factor for maintenance personnel still working in the elements.
"It’s unsafe for those crews to be out," Hume said March 13. As a result of Hume's and Miller's actions, no one on Moffat County's plow crew was injured — though some vehicles became stuck in the snow — but the fact remains; snow plow drivers risk their lives to make our lives easier.
The day following the March 13 blizzard was beautiful — sunny skies prevailed as kids walked about Craig enjoying a rare snow day. Some might rush to judge Moffat County School District for canceling school a day too late. The reality is the school district canceled school on the correct day because the roads were not safe for school buses. Can you imagine a bus full of our kids getting stuck — or worse — after trying in vain to navigate Moffat County's frigid and isolated county roads a day after a major blizzard?
All it took was one more day for Miller and his crews to knock back enough snow to open the major arterial roadways so most kids could get back to school before spring break.
"The crews did all the work. I just sat in my office and looked pretty," Miller said jokingly Tuesday before acknowledging he did personally take quite a number of calls.
"I did get 150 calls Monday on my cellphone," he said.
You read that right. Moffat County residents can pick up the phone and call the county road and bridge department, and someone — maybe even the head honcho himself — will come dig you out with a heavy piece of machinery.
As one of the largest counties in Colorado, our wide open spaces make for scenic recreation, peace, and quiet. But with those wide open spaces come challenges posed by mother nature, and we all must face them. There are several thousand of miles worth of road in Moffat County. That's why we offer our heartfelt thanks to the plow crews for all their hard work in dangerous conditions during Moffat County's storm. We must also remember to have patience with such crews and know that, once they get a call from a stranded Moffat County resident, rancher, or visitor, help is on the way.
It took city, county, and state crews a little less than a week to open up Moffat County's roads after mother nature utterly buried them. That's pretty incredible, so from the bottom of our hearts — thank you.
Young Craig bowlers rolling their way to state after regional successes
Wherever they may be rolling along to in the weeks to come, you can bet Craig kids will be doing it with focus and determination.
Craig will send five bowlers to the state round of the Pepsi Youth Tournament in April in Longmont following a successful session on their home lanes this past weekend at Thunder Rolls Bowling Center for the Western region round of the event.
Placing first and second, respectively, in the boys 20 and under division, Trenton Hillewaert and Trevor Miller rolled a 1035 and a 1012 across six games to qualify for the next round.
While Hillewaert had his best go in the fifth game with a 204, Miller started strong with a 215 in the first.
For boys 17 and under, Cody Lewis earned third place and picked up a total 1054 for the weekend as part of his first year bowling competitively.
“Learning how to use two hands has been the toughest part,” he said, noting that considering the upcoming roll is far different than simply tossing the ball down the alley as quickly as possible.
Though his tournament tallies ranged from 132 to 221 during the weekend, Lewis happened on a perfect game during a practice session this week, hitting every bowler’s dream of a 300 score.
For boys 12 and under, Andrew Duran took second with a six-game run of 770.
“The toughest part is concentrating,” he said.
Rounding out the state qualifiers who Aveory Lighthizer, who finished as the runner-up in the 15U girls division with an 857.
Lighthizer’s mother, Anna Martinez, is one of the coaches for Craig’s youth bowling team, with 31 local youths part of the regional event.
“That’s the most kids we’ve had in a long time,” she said, adding that about 70 kids have been part of the youth leagues this season.
Her son, Zander Martinez, was among the youngest competitors over the weekend, the top finisher for boys under 10, scoring 678. For bowlers under 12, the tournament is referred to as Youth Generation.
“Kids are really building up a lot of confidence,” she said. “It’s about learning the bowling, but also it’s about the courtesy and working as a team. We work a lot on that bonding, and it helps them have more fun and be more confident. It’s really fortunate that we’re able to host a tournament here because it’s good for the kids and brings more people into Craig.”
Some bowlers have been on the lanes half their lives, while others are still in their first year.
“I’ve gotten a lot better since I started,” said Conner Perkins, who placed fourth in the 20U boys division. “When I started, I was just a straight bowler, but now I can curve it a lot more.”
LeeAnna Nelson has been in the sport for four years, taking seventh among girls 17 and younger.
“I could have done a little better,” she said. “My fifth game really went my way. Learning a new oil pattern and meeting new people, that was my favorite part.”
Chris Runyan served as organizer and sargent-at-arms for the regional event in Craig, which also featured young bowlers from Rifle, El Jebel, Grand Junction and more. She also works with other youth tournaments across the state, including the South region in Colorado Springs and Metro in Greeley.
She hopes to see kids from Craig go all the way to the Junior Gold Nationals in Detroit, with the hope that some of the new challenges at each level — including oil patterns on the lanes — will sink in for athletes new and returning.
“If you’re going to compete against thousands of kids in Detroit, you’d better know how to bowl,” she said. “I love seeing these kids do well.”
Colorado officials warn feeding wildlife harms animals, does not help
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Spring has arrived, but heavy snows and cold temperatures have kept wildlife at lower elevations around Steamboat Springs where they frequently encounter humans.
Those humans, seeing scraggly herds of elk, deer and moose, sometimes take it upon themselves to feed what they see as starving animals struggling to survive the area’s harsh winter months.
But, local wildlife officials, seeing animals fall sick or even die after eating human food, are urging the public to keep their distance from wild animals and allow them to remain just that — wild.
Feeding or otherwise disturbing wildlife not only hurts their health, it attracts feral creatures into urban areas, creating dangerous situations for both those animals and the people who live here.
A news release published Wednesday by Colorado Parks and Wildlife described how a deer in the San Luis Valley died recently because of human-provided food. Officials examined its stomach and found it filled with corn and grain, both foods that deer can’t digest.
Incidents like this explain why it is illegal in Colorado to feed wildlife. Violators can face fines for doing so, but the real consequences fall upon the animals themselves.
Mike Porras, public information officer for Parks and Wildlife’s northwest region, said despite what many believe, native animals have adapted to the area’s subzero winter temperatures and deep snowpack.
“Wildlife has been existing in these kind of conditions for eons without human help,” he said.
Herd animals like elk and deer follow a regular migration pattern each year, descending from the surrounding mountains to the Yampa Valley where they forage for any remaining vegetation.
For the most part, they subsist on the fat they stored in the plant-plentiful summer months. They typically lose 30 to 40 percent of their body weight during the winter, according to the news release.
Kris Middledorf, a Parks and Wildlife area manager based in Steamboat, considers this a period of Darwinian natural selection. The strong survive and give birth to healthy, similarly strong offspring.
“Some animals — they starve and they die,” Middledorf said. “That is natural and what CPW expects.”
When people feed wildlife, they disrupt that natural process.
“In most cases, human intervention has far worse consequences than doing nothing,” Porras said.
In addition to corn and grain, he has seen people feeding more processed foods like corn chips to wild animals.
“That can severely damage their digestive system, leading to death,” he said, as proved by the deer found in the San Luis Valley.
Middledorf added that feeding wildlife makes them dependent on humans and brings more animals to urban areas. This has been a more serious issue recently, as the snow melts around town, and more animals have come to graze on the newly uncovered vegetation.
He pointed to a situation last week involving a young moose that had been hanging out under the gondola at Steamboat Resort. People in the nearby condominiums were throwing food at it from their balconies. Some got within five feet of the moose, one of the state's most aggressive animals, just to take a selfie with it.
If the moose had charged or injured someone, that person wouldn’t be the only one facing consequences.
“Any animal that attacks a human being, we will have to put that animal down,” Middledorf said.
To prevent such a situation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife moved the moose to a more remote area last week. That requires tranquilizing the animal, which Middledorf said can put wildlife at further risk after they are released.
He even had a term for it: “capture myopathy.” It is a disease often associated with the capture of a wild animal that causes muscle damage and stress. For animals already struggling from the winter months, such a disease could be a breaking point.
With all of this in mind, Middledorf said his main goal is to educate the public to respect local wildlife and maintain their distance.
“The best thing we can do is learn to coexist with these animals,” he said. “That means learning to keep our distance and not feeding them.”
Moffat County wrestlers take awards for work on mat, in classroom
The Moffat County High School wrestling program pinned down a date for its awards banquet March 15, bestowing honors on athletes for all their hard work throughout the winter.
Awards for exceptional season went to several of the Bulldogs, including freshmen Ryan Duzik, Colton Jones, Pepper Rhyne and Kalub West, sophomores Blake Juergens and Brock Hartung, and seniors Greg Hixson and Isiaih Herod, the latter of whom also took the prize of most pins.
Hixson and Herod also accepted the Senior Singlet Award for their time in the program.
Special thanks went to managers Tiana Nichols and Mati Fredrickson.
Among a roster full of first-year high school grapplers, Hunter Fredrickson earned Outstanding Freshman of the Year, while Most Improved went to Caden Call and Hardest Worker for Daniel Cruz.
Wrestlers were also acknowledged for their work in the classroom, with White and Hixson receiving Academic All-State Honorable Mention, while Caddy attained First Team status for the team’s highest grade point average at 4.14.
Coach Dusty Vaughn also provided Caddy with the Outstanding Wrestler of the Year award for a standout season.
Part 2: Craig City Council candidates address economy, recreation, marijuana at election forum
Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part story about the Craig Press/Craig Association of Realtors candidate forum held Monday in advance of the April 2 municipal election. Part one, featuring candidates for Craig mayor, was published Wednesday and is available online at CraigDailyPress.com/politics.
A slate of six city council hopefuls, some of whom only relatively became residents of Craig, were given the opportunity to introduce themselves to voters at the Craig Press/Craig Association of Realtors candidate forum, held Monday, March 18, at Moffat County High School in advance of the April 2 municipal election.
The two-part forum began with a modified debate between mayoral candidates, summarized in the Wednesday edition of the Craig Press and online.
Council candidates — Paul James, Eric Simo, Joshua Veenstra, Steven Mazzuca, Brian MacKenzie, and Stephen Tucker — are in the running for three seats opened by Joe Bird, who has reached his term limit; Derek Duran, who decided not to run for re-election; and Jarrod Ogden — who is challenging incumbent Craig Mayor John Ponikvar.
Each candidate made opening and closing remarks and responded to a series of six questions, solicited from readers and posed by Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman, who moderated the forum on behalf of Craig Press Editor Jim Patterson.
The forum was streamed live and can be viewed on the Craig Press Facebook page.
A summary of each candidate's responses, appearing in the order they first spoke, follows.
From Columbus, Indiana and now working at "John Deere in Craig," Eric Simo said, "I'm the newest person in the community. I've been here one year and one month. I came here and fell in love."
Simo is running on a platform of economic development, a "passion" that he believes requires "focus on the future and enticing new business to the community."
Simo said he is in favor of the following:
• Build a recreation center in Craig, expressing his willingness to "take a little increase" in taxes to see that it’s done.
• Put the question of recreational marijuana sales within Craig city limits on the ballot. Simo said: "I don't believe anyone should be denied something that is legal." He added that tax revenue from its sale could be used to pay the costs of a recreation center. He said he’d like to see the question on the ballot to "let the people have that choice once and for all."
• Provide support to Moffat County Libraries as a "fundamental right … I think the city should be taking on responsibility," he said, but qualified that grant funds — not tax dollars — should be sought to support the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
When it comes to managing a budget, Simo said experience owning a hardscape company, with a crew of eight and handling multiple, large-scale contracts would, along with the help of the city manager, help him oversee the city budget.
Most candidates described a similar level of fiscal experience, but as for a city budget, "none of us have any experience … with city’s help, we can move forward," Simo said.
When combining the words transparency and government, Simo laughed, before saying, "I agree we need it." He feels one simple solution is to record the meetings and post them online.
"I encourage everyone to come to the meetings … it is so easy to sit at home and complain. … Come to the meetings; let's work together; let's make Craig great," he said.
A member of the Committee to Grow Craig, Paul James has, "been here my entire life." He said he believes in diversifying the economy, beginning with the legalization of retail marijuana.
"I'm pretty concerned about the next five years," he said, adding Craig shouldn't oppose any business.
"Definitely pro-cannabis," James said he believes in the following:
• Learning more information before supporting a mill levy to raise money for a recreation center. He added the idea of forming a special district for that purpose "does make me feel more comfortable." He's also in favor of using revenue from cannabis sales to fund such a center, should sale of recreational marijuana become legal.
• The legalization of the sale and growth of recreational marijuana. "This has been the work of my life the last three years,” he said. “It's frustrating. … Had we allowed it in the first year, Craig would not have had a budget crisis. Now, it won't solve all of our problems, but would help.”
• Looking at the option of running the museum more like a business, with an admission fee or "selling the museum to a private owner." He said he would consider asking voters to fund the library, though he said, " I feel hesitant to get the government more involved."
• Constant taxation is "unsustainable."
James said his experience managing the Craig Apothecary "pretty much by myself the last five years …" has given him an understanding of taxes and experience with numbers.
Social media is one tool James would encourage the city to use to "engage everyone." He also agreed with Simo that, "… streaming the meetings is a good idea and necessary."
U.S. Army veteran Steven Mazzuca is originally from Gunnison. He served in 2003 and during the Iraqi invasion — operation Iraqi Freedom.
He works for Comcast in Steamboat Springs, but said, "I choose to live in Craig, because it aligns with my values. … I believe in community, small business, and small business growth."
Mazzuca said he supports the following:
• A recreation center, but "I don't want my taxes to increase," he said. He'd like to see costs paid for, in part, by tenants. "Yes I support it, but we have to pay for it … and the community has to invest in going there to continue to pay for it," he said.
• Recreational marijuana on the ballot because "we should always have the voice of the people heard. … We didn't outlaw it in Craig. You can smoke it, grow it … what have we gained by not selling it?" He's also concerned that some people may be driving under the influence of marijuana between Dinosaur and Steamboat Springs as a result of not being able to purchase it at local shops. He added that, by restricting one type of business, Craig is also losing out on secondary businesses, such as shops selling lights and irrigation systems.
• The city to be conservative and not pay for the library or museum until such time as business growth trends upward. "In our current state I would not be willing to help," he said.
As part of a Fortune 500 company, Mazzuca said he manages "an entire cable system …" that includes a budget. About transparency, he said it is "one of the most important things, next to honesty."
Owner of Good Vibes River Gear, Josh Veenstra said he would like to see a focus on recreation in the area.
"We live in one of the most untapped areas of recreation in the area," he said.
He believes recreational amenities are "what will bring people here to allow them to bring business here …" because "it allows their employees to have a great quality of life. … Let's get outside and explore."
Veenstra's vision for Craig includes support of the following:
• A recreation center to bring a "sense of pride" to the community. He added that he believes a special recreation district that includes Hayden would be more feasible and easier for the public to accept.
• Legalization of marijuana, and a council that is more responsive to the will of the people, rather than influenced by a few.
"I do fairly well at managing time and money," Veenstra said before describing the growth he's achieved in becoming "one of the biggest names in mesh gear …" He added that he organizes 21-day Grand Canyon river trips that are "managed to the penny."
Making sure the government operates transparently is about "being honest with everyone," rather than being worried about "getting reelected," Veenstra said. "Lay it out on the table … being upfront and honest will get you a lot further with the community."
From a "homesteading family," Stephen Tucker said he "fought many years to get to Craig …" Of the city, he said, "it's where my heart is a … I want to see our kids staying here. They all leave town."
Tucker said he believes building a recreation center is important in the effort to keep families here and would seek funding from the mines and the power plant to pay for it.
He also supports the following:
• Removing sales tax from groceries.
• Having the question of legalized marijuana on the ballot.
• Rolling the library into a recreation center. He said the museum "is great …" that he loves to go there, and that his family has donated artifacts to it. "I think we need to keep it open somehow," he said.
Tucker said the 12 years he spent managing a homeowners' association saw him "budgeting, allocating, overseeing vendors, making sure every penny was well spent. I didn't want to raise rates and feel like 'why do I live here,'" he said.
Instead, Tucker said, he gave people reasons to live within the development that included such measures as opening a pool for 12 months of the year.
"Why have a swimming pool that you can't use in the winter?,” he wondered, adding that a recreation center proposal "would have that. I hate seeing the kids have to go to Meeker just for swimming."
In addition to honesty and transparency, Tucker said he believes people need to feel included.
"When I was president of the board, we didn't sit in front of you. We had a big table … when you came to our meetings you didn't feel like you were sitting in the audience, you felt part of the group. … That's what the city needs — to make people feel part of it."
Wearing a jacket "covered" in terrier fur, because his dog "loves this jacket and won't stay off it," Brian MacKenzie said he moved to Craig from New York 2 ½ years ago to work at the college. After leaving the college he chooses to stay in Craig because "I love this community."
He described being active in community initiatives, including the effort to bring broadband internet services to Craig and developing a community brand. Now, he said, "I want to be that voice for you in city council and that's why I'm running.”
MacKenzie also said he supports the following:
• The creation of a "community center." MacKenzie added he would support other citizen-led initiatives, such as the group working toward an art and cultural center. He said he’s not in favor of increasing property taxes, however, recounting the tax hikes he faced in New York, he said, "I'm not going to allow that to happen here in Craig. We deserve better. We don't deserve the taxes."
• A recreational marijuana question on the ballot. "This is America. This is a democracy. Put it on the ballot, and let the voters vote," he said.
• City help in funding the library, but not the museum. He said he believes the museum can be funded in "other ways that are not taxpayer based."
After college, MacKenzie went into retail management, then worked 15 years in the marketing field “with large companies … we managed their budgets.” He said he later worked with the budget as Colorado Northwestern Community College's director of marketing.
MacKenzie noted that, in general, people are not good communicators and said it was necessary to "get the message out there and make sure it is accurate.”
In closing, many of the candidates reminded residents, as Tucker said, to "get out and vote."
Moffat County Elite Cheer makes some noise at high-level competition
Craig kids had a good reason to be in good spirits, and not just because it’s kind of their job.
The members of the Moffat County Elite Cheer program came off the floor of Cheersport’s Denver Grand Championship heads held highly as the Northwest Colorado crew proved the Elite name was more than just a title.
The program’s Diamond Elite Mini team won its age division during the event, held March 10 at Loveland’s Budweiser Event Center.
The Diamond Elite Junior cheerleaders faced heavy competition in their age group, placing fourth of five teams.
“It has been such a joy watching these girls go all the way to Denver and represent our amazing town of Craig, Colorado. I love our town and the little athletes that come from it,” said coach Amber Snow.
The teams will compete this weekend in Denver during the Aloha International Spirit Championships, an event Craig has won while under the former name Moffat County Thunder Cheer.
Elite Cheer also competed earlier this year at America’s Best Cheer Competition, during which the Junior group took fourth.
Snow coaches the program, which includes 26 total kids, along with Curtis Lorio.
“It’s been a successful year,” Lorio said. “The kids have improved so much in their counts, their tumbling and their jumps.”
Lorio noted he oversees most of the physical elements, having experience coaching gymnastics and working in personal training.
While he helps athletes strengthen muscles, Snow works with them on the choreography side.
“It’s a really good dynamic. We make a good team,” he said. “We’re having such a good time, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to take over this job.’
Snow said she credits much of the recent success to team parents who offer endless support.
“We have the most supportive parents encouraging us the whole way. What a blessing to work with such amazing kids and to coach with my best friends,” Snow said.
All ages welcome to audition for Craig Concert Association talent show
Whether it’s singing, dancing, playing an instrument or any other method of performance, bring your skills to the stage next weekend.
Craig Concert Association hosts auditions for its community talent show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 30 at Moffat County High School, 900 Finley Lane.
The show, which takes place at 7 p.m. April 6 at MCHS, is open to all types of acts within Craig and Moffat County.
Performers are asked to keep the content family-friendly and within three to five minutes in length. Auditions will be given first-come, first-served consideration.
Anyone who wants to be in the show but is unable the day of auditions can submit a tape or CD of their act prior to March 30.
For more information, call organizer Jim Simpson at 970-824-4138 or 970-326-3165.
Ground breaks on Hayden’s new school
HAYDEN — Construction began Wednesday on Hayden’s new pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade campus, with the doors anticipated to open at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
In addition to a state-of-the-art new school for the district's 435 students, many of whom attended the groundbreaking ceremony, the new school will also provide space for the community and will be the "heart of our town,” according to Superintendent Christy Sinner.
A few things had to happen to “make a dream become a reality,” Sinner said. First, the district needed public support in the form of the passage of a $22.9 million bond in 2017.
By the numbers
The cost estimate breakdown for Hayden's new school is as follows.
• $5 million: Design and consulting fees
• $2 million: Permitting and utilities
• $1 million: Asbestos abatement
• $1.5 million: Furniture and technology
• $50.5 million: Construction
• $1 million: Demolition
Passage of the bond issue was close — the vote deadlocked on election night at 427 to 427, but victory was confirmed after a recount found a two-vote margin in favor.
Then came the application for the state BEST — Building Excellent Schools Today — grant, which would give Hayden the matching money needed to fund construction.
The 2017 application was denied, “but we learned a lot,” said board member Kevin Lind at Wednesday's ceremony.
In May, the district found out it had finally been awarded a $38.8 BEST grant.
The Colorado State Board of Education approved $275 million in BEST grants in 2018, the largest amount given to date and a 60-percent increase from the $172 million awarded in 2017. The grants are funded through state land proceeds, lottery funds, and marijuana tax revenue.
Throughout the process, one of the core values was flexibility, Lind said, as well as knowing that “education in the 21st century is going to change.”
“I’m so excited for these kids to be in a space that is so much more conducive to learning and so much more conducive to creativity,” said Board Treasurer Medora Fralick. “And we are going to have windows.”
The new building will be a stark contrast from the old building, with its dark, drafty hallways and windowless classrooms.
Lind was also a member of the design advisory group, which met for a year and consisted of 19 community members and educators.
They held public forums and gathered information from administrators, teachers, students, and residents. Cuningham Group Architecture was selected as the design team, and Adolfson & Peterson Construction was chosen as the contractor.
The new campus is being built next to the elementary school off Breeze Basin Boulevard. The old elementary school will be renovated and incorporated into the new campus.
While the school is being constructed next year, elementary students will join middle- and high-school students on the existing campus.
While some options for another entity to take over portions of the old school are being explored, no plans have yet been finalized.
If another entity is not found, the BEST grant requires the old campus be demolished.
“I think its going to be awesome,” said fourth-grader Jordan Stewart. “It’s going to have a lot more light in it.”
He said he’s also excited for the new football field.
“It’s going to have a new life to it,” added seventh-grader Emily Rajzer.