Dear Friends

  • POOPED: Jackie in repose

    Betsy Marston

A historic, if confusing, moment

The residents of Western Colorado's Delta County, home of High Country News, had been on the edge of their seats for weeks. All eyes were on our three county commissioners, who, on Monday, July 22, would vote whether or not to allow Gunnison Energy Co. to explore for coalbed methane here (HCN, 5/27/02: Dear Friends).

When the proposal first surfaced this spring, it seemed like it would get an easy green light. But people came out of the woodwork to oppose it. Local attorneys, geologists and economists volunteered their time and expertise. Residents went door-to-door and talked to their professional and civic groups. Local environmentalists found themselves in league with farmers, ranchers, even miners and Realtors.

At one meeting, a resident handed the county commissioners a cake sporting the frosted message, "We support you! Just say no!" One way or another, the debate would surely end up in court, but with that cake, and hundreds of public comments and letters to the editor, citizens were giving the commissioners a choice: Either fight against us, or fight with us.

When the vote came down, it wasn't quite so black-and-white: The commissioners voted 2-to-1 to deny four of five proposed test wells, but to approve one.

The vote met a mixture of cheers and boos. On one hand, the decision was nothing short of a revolution: Four wells had been denied, and the fifth had so many conditions attached that it might as well have been denied, too. On the other hand, by approving one well, the commissioners may have muddied the legal waters and perhaps given the company a foot in the door.

Whatever the fallout, the fight is far from over. Through its reluctance to address citizens' concerns, Gunnison Energy has helped build a citizens' movement that has both the ear of the Delta County Commission, and a box full of wrenches to throw into the works.

Summer visitors

'Tis the season for road-tripping, and a steady stream of HCN subscribers has flowed through the office over the past month.

One of them, Land and Water Fund attorney Mike Chiropolos of Fort Collins, came to help with the coalbed methane fight. Mike stopped by with Lisa Dale and a van full of boys - Lisa's sons, Jacob and Zachary, and Mike's sons, Nikos and Archer. Lisa is director of Citizens for the Arapaho-Roosevelt and an instructor at the Natural Resources College at Colorado State University.
<P > Guy Lopez dropped in on a respite from his temporary home in Virginia, where he's been trying to convince the University of Virginia not to invest in an observatory on Mount Graham. The mountain, outside of Safford, Ariz., is sacred to the Apache tribe. Guy, a Dakota Sioux, works for the Mount Graham Coalition, whose Web site is

Kathy Hartman and David and Nathan "wrecking-ball boy" Hughes said hello en route from the Fort Collins area to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. They've been working to protect the land on the west side of Loveland, beneath the Devil's Backbone. You can reach their group, Save the Backbone Valley, at 970/669-7375.

Three avocational archaeologists from Boulder, Colo., Julie Johnson, Barbara Stiltner and Rosie Hauge, visited. Staff enjoyed talking with Johnson, a longtime subscriber, about the Wetherill Project, which brought knowledge of petroglyph collections to museums around the country.

Tim Baker and his golden retriever, Jessie, stopped by on their way from Pennsylvania to Eureka, Calif., where Tim will be teaching at the College of the Redwoods. Though Tim's been on the move the last few years, he's been a steady subscriber since 1983.

Michael Adams and Claire Mearns from Lafayette, Colo., visited after climbing the Wetterhorn, a 14,015-foot peak in the San Juan Mountains. Their dog Jackie hadn't made it up the steep, final 200 feet, but apparently had earned a nap -- moments later, the pooch crashed out on the office floor.

Mike, Cindy and Sarah Goddard stopped in during their vacation from a long hot summer in Fallon, Nev. They'd visited Great Basin National Park, climbed 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, and were camped out just down the road, on the north rim of the Black Canyon.

Pete Kolbenschlag, West Slope director for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, came by with his parents, George and Vonnie, who were visiting from Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky. George, who is an assistant professor of journalism, had much to say about community news.

Gonzo mountain biker Michael Merrifield, from Manitou Springs, Colo., slowed down long enough to say hello, and let us know about his upcoming bid to be a Colorado state representative.

We had a visit from Jim Cullen, who edits the Progressive Populist out of Austin, Texas. The fortnightly's 6,500 subscribers get to read Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins and HCN's Writers on the Range columns. For information, write to Jim at [email protected]

Paul and Jessica Flatt, who read the paper online, stopped by on their drive home to Tucson from Michigan. Paul is a forecaster for the National Weather Service. Jessica was looking at law schools.

Montrose, Colo., Girl Scout Troop 101 and its leader, Paul Bony, kicked off a camping trip at the HCN headquarters, where staff did their best to help the girls earn their Career Day Merit Badge.

Dave Glasser and Ann Blonston stopped in on their way to Telluride from their home in Boulder. They run a mastering and editing studio, where, in their words, they "turn good music into great-sounding music."

Acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner Stephanie Kelsey from Boulder was in town visiting her aunt. She said hello, and left with a new subscription and an HCN T-shirt.

Barney and Dot Mulligan of Glenwood Springs, Colo., also signed up for a subscription en route to Gunnison, Colo., to work on their quest to hike the entire 470-mile Colorado Trail.

Subscriber Marjorie Maagoe and her friend Diana Vari came to Paonia for the afternoon from their campsite near Marble, Colo., where they'd been enjoying tenting in the rain.

Retired teachers Dick Payne and Kathy Freydenfeldt visited from Huntsville, Texas.

Margot Bowie Hunt was visiting from Chincoteague, Va., for a family reunion. Her father, Morris Alexander Bowie, grew up just up the road from Paonia in the town named for the family, then went on to Harvard Medical School. "I'm happy to be here where my roots are," she told us.

Phil Neville was also here for a family reunion and Paonia's annual Fourth of July celebration: Cherry Days.

The annual BMW motorcycle rally brought Steve Grah of Moab, Utah, to town. Grah, who has been subscribing to HCNsince the Tom Bell days, says he reads Writers on the Range in the Moab Times Independent, and hears Radio High Country News on KZMU.

Heard around the West

Steve Grah isn't the only one hearing Radio HCN these days. Our half-hour weekly show is now heard on 28 public radio stations in 10 Western states. The most recent addition is KSFR Santa Fe/Los Alamos, which airs the show on Thursdays at 6 p.m. at 90.7 FM.

And for you early risers in New Mexico, KUNM in Albuquerque is giving our show a test run on Saturdays at 6:30 a.m. The frequencies are: Albuquerque/Santa Fe, 89.9 FM; Socorro/San Juan/Colfax, 91.9 FM; Los Alamos/San Miguel/Taos, 91.1 FM.

Two other stations have changed their broadcast times: Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana and Wyoming has moved Radio HCN to Mondays at 6:30 p.m. KUNR in Northern Nevada and Northeastern California has moved us to Fridays at 3:30 p.m.

We're looking for businesses and foundations to underwrite the show, which reaches tens of thousands of listeners Westwide. If you are interested, or know someone who might be, please contact producer Adam Burke at [email protected] or 970/527-4898.

A jolly good fellow

Congratulations to longtime HCN freelance writer Jon Christensen for his appointment as a Knight Foundation Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, for academic year 2002-2003. Jon's latest cover story for us was "Save our Sagebrush," (HCN, 5/22/00: Save our Sagebrush) about the efforts to restore the Great Basin sagebrush ecosystem.

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