Here’s a conundrum: How do you convince 2,000 backpackers to use human poop bags at a crowded camping area high in the mountains this summer? Over the years, Conundrum Hot Springs has become the most heavily visited overnight wilderness destination in the Aspen area. You might also call the 11,000-foot-high hot springs slob central: The Forest Service studied the area in 2006, and found that 71 percent of campsites had “partially unburied solid waste” within a short distance of the core camping area. What’s more, the water in the hot springs has sometimes tested positive for fecal coliform bacteria, and the hot springs are part of the water supply for the valley far below. Help is on the way, however, if hikers agree to pick up one of the 2,000 ingeniously constructed poop bags available at the trailhead — and use them. According to the Aspen Times, “Waste goes into an inner sack that contains enzymes and polymers that change the composition of the waste.” The inner sack is then wrapped in a protective outer bag. Safely contained, the whole thing can be packed out and later tossed into the garbage, much like a used baby diaper. The Forest Service hopes that the Restop 2 brand bags, which were partly financed by the Aspen Skiing Co. employees’ Environment Foundation, will appeal to hikers’ sense of environmental ethics.
As the Denver Post blithely put it, “the geyser was not erupting at the time.” The time, that is, when two seasonal workers at Yellowstone National Park urinated into Old Faithful. But something almost as startling was happening, thanks to technology: The destructive silliness was covered live by a Webcam. As NewWest.net put it: “If you’re going to pee on a national treasure, you ought to make sure you’re not being live streamed to the Web.” Sure enough, someone watching the Webcam while waiting for the geyser to spew called the park’s dispatch center to complain. According to PEER — no pun intended; it’s the acronym for the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility — this was the first time the Webcam functioned as a protector of natural resources in the park, or (depending on your point of view) as an intrusive Big Brother. Both workers were fired by the Old Faithful Inn, and one, a 23-year-old man, has already been sentenced. He was fined $750, placed on probation for three years, and banned from Yellowstone for two years.
Kelley Coffman-Lee is a vegan who likes tofu so much she wanted her license plate to proclaim it to the world: ILVTOFU. Not acceptable, reports the Denver Post; the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles bans “FU” altogether, even with “TO” placed in front of it, because “FU” so often refers to something entirely different from coagulated soy milk pressed into bland blocks.
Living green can be dangerous to your health, reports The Associated Press. Perhaps you aspire to drive fewer miles and use less gasoline in your car, and so you decide to try cooking up your own biodiesel. But if you do whip up a batch of cooking oil and wood alcohol or methanol — and heat the blend to 120 degrees or so — watch out! You might burn down your house. That’s been happening in several Western states, including Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado, and although no one has been seriously injured, some fire officials warn it’s only a matter of time. Hundreds of Web sites tout do-it-yourself biodiesel, and it’s a “fun little hobby like making your own beer,” said Lyle Rudensey of Seattle. But Rudensey also advises people to keep a fire extinguisher on hand and store all highly flammable liquids in metal containers. The fires that have reportedly started from cooking biodiesel have been spectacular, spewing clouds of black smoke and quickly wiping out sheds, garages and, sometimes, houses.
In the western Colorado resort town of Crested Butte, the debate over housing regulations centers more on the small stuff in people’s backyards — those picturesque sheds, old-time outhouses and even falling-down chicken coops. The town council recently passed a law protecting all of it — no matter how dilapidated — since many outbuildings in town date back to the olden days of the 1880s, when the town supplied nearby silver and coal mines. The requirement irks residents such as Elaine Weston, who told the Crested Butte News, “It galls me to have to support an old chicken coop when I can’t have a chicken.” Homeowner Karen Anderson agreed: “I think the town is asking a lot of my private property. I don’t have the inclination or the money to do this.” The new law offers landowners a small carrot: Stipends of $200 are available to help pay folks for keeping their historic outbuildings upright. No word, however, on whether residents also have to maintain old washing machines or those rusting vehicles up on cinderblocks out in the backyard.
The environmentalist who boasted that his new house would be the “greenest home in North America” is running into a few problems. For one thing, Ronald Abramson, the chief executive officer of a renewable energy company called NextGen Energy Partners, chose to build his 13,000-square-foot home in Boulder County, Colo., which prides itself on its green-building code. The BuildSmart rules require Abramson to make sure that his mansion creates almost as much energy as it uses, and that, says the Boulder Daily Camera, means he must install “a sea of solar panels.” But Abramson doesn’t have enough south-facing roof to hold all those panels. And because he has to comply with county regulations protecting open space, he can’t place that sea of panels somewhere on the ground. So the green CEO — the first to test the BuildSmart requirement — is asking Boulder County for “flexibility.” Readers commenting on the building project were quick to accuse Abramson of “enviro-friendly carbon hypocrisy,” but a handful of defenders sprang to the attack. They argued that his wealth does not make Abramson a bad guy or his mega-house a major mistake: “Your idols, Al Gore and John Edwards, live in houses far larger than this,” said one reader. “Edwards is in a 29,000 square-foot home. And Gore only threw up a few solar panels on his roof after an immense public outcry.”
A free weekly out of Salida, Colo., called Base Camp posts an unusual mission statement for a publication touting the outdoors and all the fun you can have skiing, biking and hiking. Editor Jim Williams says, “It’s easy to think we need this or that expensive, high-tech apparati to just go have fun.” But often, he says, “That’s just not true.” In a column headlined, “It’s not the gear,” he notes that a friend came in second in a 530-mile, five-day bicycle race riding a “one-speed bike with no shocks, wearing cut-offs, tennis shoes and a button-up shirt. He had no Lycra or spandex or clip-in pedals or even a trail-softening suspension.” But he did have the one thing necessary, Williams adds: “What he had was heart.”
Editors of Eco Forum, the newsletter of the South Dakota Resources Coalition, seem thrilled about the prospect of a compressed-air car coming to America. Indian carmaker Tata bought the rights to manufacture it from a company called Zero Pollution Motors. The technology seems almost too good to be true: The stripped-down six-seater averages 106 miles to the gallon and isn’t picky about fuel, running on gasoline, diesel or vegetable oil, while its tank of compressed air can be refilled by plugging into a wall socket. Downsides are its top speed, which is only 35 miles per hour, and a cost estimated at $18,000. Production is slated for 2011 in America, although Tata, developer of the much-hyped, super-cheap Nano car, says it won’t be setting up plants, just selling rights to the technology.
Bargain hunters found an unusual offer recently in the Mountain Valley News of western Colorado. For a limited time — until Memorial Day, May 25 — Mesa View Cemetery in Delta breathlessly announced, “If you purchase one grave space at our regular price in the Garden of Peace, our upright headstone section, you will receive the second grave space FREE.”
The president of the University of Washington, announcing the elimination of 1,000 jobs at the Seattle college, plus a yet-to-be determined number of layoffs, wants people to become furious and do something about it. Budget cuts this deep are unprecedented, Mark Emmert told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and will take 10,000 students per year out of the state’s four-year university system. That means employers such as Boeing and Microsoft might have to recruit workers from other states, he added, while “our sons and daughters will be washing their cars.” Emmert spoke to an audience of 100 people, who laughed nervously. “I’m not saying all of this to depress you,” Emmert said. “I’m saying it — maybe to make you mad.”