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Know the West

Dear friends


Commuting hell

For many people in this town of 1,400, commuting to work means a hike, a bicycle ride or short trip by pickup. But for Chris Manning, who works in the Aspen post office, going to work means traveling over McClure Pass, a two-hour slog each way. Tough, but worth it for Manning and for hundreds of other area residents since jobs "over the hill" pay well for maids, cooks, office workers and the like. In addition to workers, this valley provides Aspen with craft work, organic juice and produce.

Even this paper adds to the traffic stream over McClure. HCN's Carol Pierce drives to a printer in Glenwood Springs every other week and hauls back 15,000 copies of the paper.

What was already a tough 80-mile commute got tougher the week of February 7, when McClure Pass was closed due to avalanche danger. Normally, the highway department would have "shot" the avalanche, and traffic would have resumed. But the presence of a half-dozen homes built at the bottom of the avalanche run prevented the highway workers from bringing down the snow.

So Colorado's lack of minimal planning meant that hundreds of people spent a week or more (the highway is open at this moment) driving 70 miles west from Paonia to Grand Junction so they could then drive 120 miles east to Aspen.

Manning, who found a "shack" in Aspen to live in during the week, says he made it home to Paonia on weekends by driving to the gate closing the pass, and then walking three miles (part of it beneath the avalanche run) to cross the next gate, where he got a ride home.

Chris and others endured this situation much of last winter, but this time North Fork Valley residents are in revolt, calling county commissioners, the state highway department and anyone else they can think of to complain. One proposal: condemn the houses so that the state can "shoot" avalanches and end the danger. We'll keep you posted.

Against the grain

High Country News is passive when it comes to advertising, lacking even an ad sales person. So we were surprised when we noticed that advertising had increased to where it was not only filling its allotted page, but spilling over onto a neighboring page.

A little investigation revealed one possible problem: HCN's ad rates are underpriced. So as of the next issue, display and classified rates take a serious jump, with base display rates going from $10 a column-inch to $20, and classified rates going from 30 cents a word to 50 cents a word.

If market-based pricing doesn't reduce volume, we will face a serious problem: whether to ration advertising or increase the paper's size by four pages.


HCN illustrator Diane Sylvain has been busily transforming a recent trip abroad into art. If you're in or near Colorado Springs March 11 you can see her show, "Passages: Images of Ireland and Scotland," at the Max Art gallery, Trestle Building, 219 W. Colorado Ave.

The show also features the work of fellow traveler Teri Shecter, and the two will host a question and answer session about their trip March 17 at 7 p.m. at the gallery. Call 719/633-1353 for more information.

* Betsy Marston for the staff