The Year in Review

A look back at the top stories, events of 2002

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— The 2002 Winter Olympics

Naturally, Steamboat Springs -- Ski Town USA -- the town that has produced more Olympic athletes than any other, was excited about the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah. The community gave a big send-off party on Feb. 1 downtown for the locals going to compete.

Sixteen athletes who reside in Steamboat competed in Utah, and one came home with a medal.

Freestyle skier Travis Mayer won silver in the moguls event, making him the only Steamboat resident to ever score better than a bronze medal at the Olympics.

Though disappointed about missing a medal, the mainly Steamboat U.S. Nordic combined team of Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong, Matt Dayton and Johnny Spillane finished the best ever in fourth place. Lodwick finished seventh overall.

Also, 2002 saw Steamboat freestyle skiers Ann Battelle qualify for her fourth Olympics, pretty much unheard of for a skier.

Ski area sale falls through

American Skiing Co. announced in 2001 it was selling the Steamboat Ski Area. By early March 2002, locals in Steamboat were introduced to Tim and Diane Mueller of Vermont as the potential new owners.

The Muellers told the Steamboat Pilot & Today of their plans to improve the ski resort, and for the most part, everything appeared to be going fine for everyone. But then plans changed. On March 26, the day of the closing, ASC announced in the late afternoon it had reversed its course. Instead of selling Steamboat for $91.4 million to get out from under a mountain of debt, its board of directors opted instead to accept Vail Resorts' offer of $102 million for Heavenly Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe.

The deal was off. In April, the Muellers and their newly formed company, Triple Peaks, took ASC to court to hold the company to a contract, still wanting to buy the ski area. The ruling in the case is still pending.

Cargo Rodeman elected

On April 2, residents in Oak Creek elected longtime local Cargo Rodeman as their mayor, running mostly on an anti-police campaign. Since then, Rodeman has been a constant newsmaker. The complete police force quit under Rodeman, as well as the town manager; she cut off funding for the multi-county drug task force, GRAMNET; she butted heads with Routt County Sheriff John Warner and weathered an odd death threat, where fliers were passed around town with Rodeman's photo in the sites of a gun's cross hairs. The Oak Creek Board of Trustees, headed by Rodeman, is in the process of hiring a new police chief and already has a new police officer on board.

CWD hits Western Slope

The first Northwest Colorado detection of chronic wasting disease, a lethal neurological disease found in deer and elk, happened in May, near the Motherwell Elk Ranch southwest of Hayden. That finding led the Colorado Division of Wildlife to kill more than 1,000 deer and elk within a five-mile radius of the ranch with the hopes to control the malady from spreading through the spring migration. In the fall, hunters were asked to turn in the heads of the animals they killed for testing. Some feared the disease would have a negative effect on the number of hunters in the valley, which wasn't the case.

Drought worst in century

Colorado's high country snowpack was measured at a 25-year low, making it the fourth year in a row that it was below normal. That led to one of the worst droughts through the summer in most people's memories. In the Yampa Valley, snowpack was well below average, but better than most parts of the state. Still, the Yampa River's stream flow fell to a dangerously low level, causing a fishing ban and a tubing ban on the river on July 6, which lasted 55 days. Even the Fourth of July fireworks were canceled because of the dry conditions.

Hay growers began irrigating three weeks earlier, while dryland hay yields at the end of the summer throughout the county were nearly whipped out.

Wildfires rage in Routt

The U.S. Forest Service told the Steamboat Pilot & Today in late June that live and dead wood in the Routt National Forest was the driest it's been in 13 years, making it in the 99th percentile for fire danger. Less than a month later, large fires began breaking out in the forest. On July 12, the Hinman fire sparked up from lightning about 23 miles north of Steamboat. It grew to 1,446 acres before being contained on July 24. However, on Aug.16, strong winds blew the fire out of containment lines and it grew to more than 9,000 acres the next day, with no containment.

On Aug. 12 the Burn Ridge fire started, also by lightning, 25 miles north of Steamboat. By Aug. 17 it grew to 8,260 acres. That day fire officials began calling both the fires the Mount Zirkel Complex, which burned more than 31,000 acres before it was contained on Sept. 10. It didn't go out until the snow fell.

Meanwhile, on July 20, three other fires were burning south of Steamboat: the Big Fish fire at 30 acres and the Lost Lakes fire at 1650 acres in the Flat Tops Wilderness and Green Creek fire at 2,414 acres in the Sarvis Creek Wilderness. The Big Fish fire eventually blew up to 17,000 acres and on Aug. 16 consumed four structures at Trappers Lake Lodge near Meeker.

Grasshoppers invade

While the county was concerned about drought and fire, another small problem arose: grasshoppers.

A warm spring with no freeze, as well as dry conditions, was conducive to the grasshopper population. In some fields, the grasshoppers were as dense as 200 insects to one square yard.

By the middle of July, dense patches of them could be found over a 200-mile stretch in Northwest Colorado. Agriculture Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow told the Steamboat Pilot & Today that for a period, he received several hundred phone calls -- about 15 to 30 a day -- from residents concerned about what the insects can do to grazing land, cropland and lawns.

Failures at the ballot

After hours of planning to find the right proposal to replace the small Routt County Courthouse, voters said on Nov. 5 that they didn't want to pay the multimillion-dollar bill to build the new structure. The plan was to spend $12.8 million for a 52,000-square-foot building, $2.9 million for a parking garage and $1.5 million on a land purchase, making it a $17.2 million project. After the votes were counted, 4,337 people said they wouldn't pay for it, while 3,038 voted "yes."

The city of Steamboat Springs and Mount Werner Water District's plan to combine. Fearing water rates going up and giving too much power to the water board, 1,931 people voted against it, while 1,678 voted "yes."

DeVincentis vs. Simms

For weeks through October and November, the debate over a poor performance evaluation of Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal John DeVincentis by Superintendent Cyndy Simms captured the interest of many community members. A pay raise for DeVincentis was taken away and he wasn't eligible for a pay-for-performance bonus. A parent group formed to support him, and DeVincentis appealed the decision with a lawyer. The result was the uncovering of some bad blood within the district.

On Nov. 15, the Steamboat Springs School Board released a 12-page statement that gave DeVincentis his money but didn't change the review.

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