The year in review

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In a year

dominated by news from Iraq, a war waged so many thousands of miles away was brought close to home as native sons were deployed to fight, a Hayden soldier lost his life and grown men left families and well-established careers to serve their country in a desert on the far side of the globe.

But Iraq was far from the only issue making local headlines this year ...

Staff Sgt. Mark Lawton, Hayden

resident, dies in Iraq

Mark Lawton, a reservist with the 244th Engineer Battalion, was traveling with a small convoy of soldiers Aug. 29 near As Suaydat, Iraq, about 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. His convoy was ambushed, and Lawton died almost immediately when a bullet passed through the windshield of his vehicle, said Col. James Youker at a funeral held in the Routt County Fairgrounds Pavilion.

Lawton was the sole fatality in the ambush; 14 soldiers survived.

Lawton left for Iraq on May 18. He was a Persian Gulf War veteran and volunteered to be deployed to Iraq. Lawton was 41 years old. He left behind a wife, Sherri, and two children, Dustin, 4, and Tanner, 1. He died two weeks before his fifth wedding anniversary.

During the funeral service, Lawton was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat and the Bronze Star "for his sacrifice in the liberation of Iraq." He was buried in the Hayden Cemetery.

Montessori and School Board score a year of headlines

The greatest number of headlines in 2003 went to a group of parents who wanted to see a publicly funded Montessori school open in the Steamboat Springs School District. The Steamboat Springs School Board denied the charter school's application twice, and both times, Montessori appealed the decision.

In both instances, the state Board of Education ruled in favor of the Montessori charter applicants, including an April 9 decision, which ordered the local board to approve the application.

Steamboat Springs Montessori took the issue to the courts, where it remains.

The lawsuit was filed in July after the school district refused to approve the charter school application after it was ordered to do so by the state Board of Education. The district argued that a state unfounded mandate law gives it the authority to choose whether to follow the state Board of Education's ruling because the district isn't receiving additional funds to help it recoup the financial impact the charter school will have.

The School Board maintained that in its first year of operation, a Montessori charter school would take at least $175,000 from other district programs.

On November 4, Referendum 3B asked voters if they agreed with the decision of the School Board to deny the application for a proposed Montessori charter school. The vote count showed 61 percent of voters supported the School Board's position while 39 percent opposed it. The ballot issue was an advisory question, and its outcome was not binding.

The two sides are still in court, and the issue will not find resolution until well into 2004.

Plane crash kills 3

The burned wreckage of a small plane crash on Rabbit Ears Pass on July 19 left little clue as to who the passengers were and why the plane crashed.

The crash caused a wildfire that burned everything within a quarter of an acre around the crash site.

The passengers were later identified Keith and Kela Stickel, both 24 of Windsor, and pilot Walton Chun, 52, of Santa Clara, Calif.

The plane, a small 1978 Grumman on its way to Fort Collins, crashed in a heavily wooded area 6.5 miles south of U.S. Highway 40 on Rabbit Ears Pass and less than 250 feet from where a Piper Saratoga went down Dec. 29, 2002. A 57-year-old woman died in that plane crash after being trapped in the plane for almost eight hours.

The area where the two planes crashed, a box canyon at the end of the Harrison Creek Drainage, became the topic of much discussion within the aviation community.

Boggs Hardware went out of business

In January, the owners of Boggs Hardware hung a bright orange sign on the door announcing that they would be closing their doors for good. After 60 years in business, the hardware store liquidated its merchandise over the next eight weeks and the town lost an iconic storefront.

Boggs Hardware was the second-oldest store in business in Steamboat, surpassed only by F.M. Light & Sons, which opened in 1905.

The hardware store opened in 1939. At first, owner Herald Boggs sold farm implements, bringing the first backhoe and first hay baler into town. He shifted to hardware in the 1960s.

The store faced competition from national chains such as Wal-Mart and True Value, as well as a growing number of local lumber, plumbing and heating supply companies.

Residents debate

proposed location

of Lafarge gravel pit

In March, Lafarge presented its plan for a 128-acre gravel pit six miles south of Steamboat on Colorado Highway 131 on open agricultural land owned by the More Family Ranch. The pit would operate for 12 to 15 years. Lafarge asked Routt County for a special use permit.

The request started a wave of backlash from a grass-roots group of south valley residents formed in opposition to the plan.

The pit would be visible on U.S. Highway 40 from Rabbit Ears Pass, a scenic gateway into 0Yampa Valley. The opponents argued the proposed gravel pit would scar the landscape "in one of the most beautiful places in the state and in the West," Sam Marti said in a September interview.

Lafarge responded by saying the pit was visible for only 22 seconds and would someday be transformed into five lakes.

The debate continues. At present, the decision over the Lafarge gravel pit has been tabled by the Routt County commissioners, pending a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Superintendent Simms leaves; Howell hired

On April 2, Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Cyndy Simms announced she was resigning from the district, effective July 1. Simms was recruited by the Mercer Island, Wash., School District where she is now the superintendent.

The district first hired Simms in 1983 as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Simms left the district in 1988 to become superintendent of a California school district.

She returned to Steamboat in 1994 to take the superintendent position after the resignation of J. Alan Aufderheide.

"I love Steamboat Springs and will cherish my memories forever, but it's time for a new adventure," Simms said in an April interview.

On July 17, Donna Howell was hired from a 50-person applicant field. Howell was an Austin Texas-based regional vice president for the private Edison Schools company. Before her job at Edison, she served for seven years as superintendent of the Burlington, Vt., School District.

Drake allegedly forced out

In October, longtime Steamboat Springs High School football coach Mark Drake announced through his lawyer that he was being forced out of his job.

The Steamboat Springs School District denied the allegations by producing Drake's signed resignation, submitted in August and effective Jan. 14.

Drake claimed he was forced to write the letter.

In October, School Board member Pat Gleason said there was an ongoing investigation involving allegations against Drake.

Names and dates associated with allegations were not released. The board and Superintendent Donna Howell cited privacy laws surrounding personnel matters.

In November, Drake asked that unsubstantiated allegations be removed from his personnel file. Later, the School Board said it voted to deny a request from an employee "to remove all unsubstantiated allegations against said employee from his/her personnel file," not naming the employee for confidentiality reasons.

On Dec. 1, about 80 people attended the School Board meeting, many to stand behind coach Drake and criticize the district and the board for the way the situation was handled.

Drake coached the remainder of the football season, leading the Sailors to their strongest playoff performance since 1979.

He has been with the Steamboat football team for 35 years. Under his guidance, the Sailors ended the season 11-2.

School district officials are investigating the allegations and are looking for a new coach.

Changes for Dream Island

This summer, when backhoes and dump trucks started rolling into the Yampa River behind the Dream Island Mobile Home Community, Joe Bullock laid down in front of one.

It was the first sign of discontent among trailer park residents as the city began a river-improvement project.

A week later, reportedly fueled by whiskey, Russell Marmon stood on the bank of the Yampa River and fired a pistol twice in the direction of the excavation workers.

The next day, Don Woodsmith held up a "no trespassing" sign as he sat on his wooden deck a few feet from the river. A city police officer told him that he would be arrested if his protest continued.

In December, a jury found Marmon guilty of felony menacing. He will be sentenced in January and could face up the three years in jail.

November 2003 elections

This year saw a shuffling of the deck on City Council and Steamboat Springs School Board after the November elections as voters chose from 14 candidates and decided three issues.

On City Council, Bud Romberg lost his District 1 seat to Susan Dellinger by three votes, the slimmest margin in recent years. In District 2, Arianthe Stettner stepped down and was replaced by Ken Brenner, who beat out Kathi Meyer and Marcus Williams.

School Board Incumbent Pat Gleason cruised to an easy victory in a three-way race against Robin Crossan and Jerry Kozatch for the District 4 seat. Longtime educator Jeff Troeger also joined the board.

The Tread of Pioneers and other county museums, most of which have always relied on donations and fund-raisers for their survival, finally found a steady source of income of when voters passed Referendum 1A instituting a "historical preservation" tax.

Voters were not as generous elsewhere on the ballot. City voters turned down a property tax dedicated to fire and ambulance services for the second year in a row. Routt County voters issued a resounding "no" to three statewide ballot issues -- Amendment 32 (property tax rate), Amendment 33 (tourism and gambling) and Referendum A (water bonds).

In Hayden, Jody Camilletti was elected to another four-year term on the town's School Board after beating George Wixton by 30 votes.

In South Routt, Phippsburg resident and South Routt School District School Board incumbent Kevin Gneiser beat close friend Clyde Iacovetto to win another term on the board.

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