Skoolies; preservation vs. profit; forest therapy

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


CALIFORNIA: Maybe they should ask Oregon State University (see below).
Roy E. Glauthier

Would you like to call a school bus home? Charlie Kern, founder of Denver-based Chrome Yellow Corp., can make that happen. He builds “skoolies,” used school buses that he guts and converts into homes for up to eight people, the Denver Post reports in its special section, The Know. They’re ideal for travelers who want to camp a couple of weeks on public land or at RV parks, though some prefer to park the retrofitted buses permanently. Since he started his business in 2014, Kern has put 60 skoolies on the road. “Honestly,” he says, “I think part of it is that good-looking people on social media are doing it.” Tony LoVerde, who lives in the Boulder area, said that he’s been converting a $7,500 school bus into a home since 2015. He hopes to be done this fall, $40,000 later, having created a recreational vehicle with solar power, refrigerator, an AC unit and a washing machine. “I learned if you’re living in it while you’re doing it, every comfort you install feels like (expletive) magic,” LoVerde said. Yet Kern warns that skoolies have downsides, including engine repair costs that can mount to $20,000, and diesel fuel that only gets you 9 or 10 miles to the gallon. There’s also the little problem of living in a cramped tiny house. LoVerde, however, is looking forward to driving his rig to Ehrenberg, Arizona, this winter for “Skooliepalooza 2020,” where more than 300 skoolie owners show up in order to show off their rigs.

A tree that started growing in 1599 — about the time Shakespeare was thinking about Hamlet — died suddenly this May. Not because of thieves, wildfire or disease: The 420-year-old Douglas fir was logged by the College of Forestry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, reports the Oregonian. The sale of the 16 acres of old-growth trees, many of them more than 250 years old, brought in $425,000, but destroying “this alley of big, majestic trees” was a terrible thing to do, said Doug Pollack, a former sustainability engineer who discovered the logging while out on a run. Norm Johnson, a retired Oregon State professor who fought unsuccessfully to include the trees in the college’s protected areas, was equally appalled: “They knew it was special, they knew it was different,” he said. “You got these really old trees here, which are themselves magnificent, but there’s a stand of them. It’s just remarkable.” There is no denying that Oregon State University has divided loyalties when it comes to preservation versus profit. The forestry college “has strong financial links to the timber industry (and) numerous faculty positions are endowed by timber companies — including the deanship,” according to the Oregonian’s Rob Davis. The forestry school’s interim dean, Anthony Davis, has acknowledged that he should not have approved the logging and has since temporarily halted the cutting of trees more than 160 years old on the university’s 15,000 acres of research forests.

Let’s hear it for the bees that defied some not-very-bright poachers who were out to steal a prized bigleaf maple in Washington’s Olympic National Forest. The trees are much sought after for their patterned wood, which is used to make guitars and violins. When the thieves, in what the Washington Post described as their “bumbling efforts,” set a fire in the maple to kill the bee colony, it ultimately ravaged trees on 2,300 acres of protected federal and state land, at a firefighting cost of $4.5 million. When Justin Andrew Wilke and Shawn Edward Williams first located the maple with its enormous, fanlike leaves, they “doused the nest in wasp killer.” The bees refused to budge. The poachers’ next bad idea was that “Wilke would kill the bees by burning the nest.” Not surprisingly, the blaze spread and became unstoppable; only a lucky rainfall calmed it four days later. The two men face charges with possible sentences of up to five or 10 years in prison and fines of $250,000.

A sleepy black bear opened a door to the mudroom of a home in Missoula, reports KPAX, then accidentally used a deadbolt to lock himself in. Once trapped, the bear began ripping the room apart. Tearing apart rooms is hard work, though, so he “then decided he was tired and climbed up into the closet for a nap.” The Missoula County sheriff unlocked and opened the door, hoping the bear would leave, but the only response was more “big bear yawns.” State wildlife finally tranquilized the bear and moved it out of town.

“Forest bathing,” defined as a ramble among trees with all senses opened to the outdoors, began in Japan in the 1980s, and is now spreading across America, reports the Denver Post. Kayla Weber, who leads forest-therapy outings in Vail, says, “We don’t go far and we don’t travel fast. We take the opportunity to slow down and connect back to our surroundings.” Researchers say a forest visit can reduce concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol and also lower blood pressure and pulse rate. In Colorado, though, it can be difficult to find a path through a forest that doesn’t turn into a high-elevation slog. “The goal is to find those rolling, relaxing trails,” says Weber.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.

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