2004 was a year of small and subtle changes whose lasting effects won't be felt for years to come. Steamboat Springs saw its tax structure changed, its population dispersed to bedroom communities at a record rate and a Hayden man named Don Nord fight for the right to smoke marijuana.
At the polls
It was the year of the never-ending campaign ad. The year when home phones rang twice and three times a day with calls from candidates looking for votes in one of the most competitive political races in recent history on all levels -- national, state and local. And with 92 percent of registered voters showing up to the polls, it was the largest turnout and the busiest election season Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland has seen in 17 years working in the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office.
"It was an exciting time," Weinland said. "Even though it was stressful."
Not only was this a record year for voter turnout, more voters came to the polls during early voting than on Election Day, Weinland said. "We also set the record for number of absentee ballots issued. We set all kinds of records this year."
According to the Clerk and Recorder's Office almost 11,500 of the county's 12,793 registered voters took part in the 2004 election.
"There was several exciting local races as well as congressional and state races," she said. "They were particularly exciting for us because we had two local people running (Jay Fetcher and Jack Taylor) in the Senate race."
The presidential race also polarized voters and inspired them to get to the polls.
Republican George W. Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry by 3.5 million votes, garnering the largest vote total in history, and Republicans strengthened their numbers in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House.
In Routt County, however, Democrats won every race except that for the state House of Representatives, which incumbent Al White won easily.
Democrats seized control of the state House and Senate for the first time in 45 years.
County Commissioners Doug Monger and Nancy Stahoviak garnered more than 60 percent of the vote in their bids for re-election, despite that both had been heavily criticized for their stance on the county's new justice center. (See "Newsmaker of the Year" on page 1A).
Stahoviak's re-election followed a year of surgeries and physical therapy. Stahoviak campaigned from a wheelchair, and by the end of 2004, she was doing her job from a bed in the Doak Walker Care Center, facing the news that one of her legs may need to be amputated.
"This year has been very difficult," she said. "I'm used to being independent, and now I have to depend so much on others. But this is a great community to live in when something happens to you. This is a community of friends.
"To me, 2004 was a year of challenges, personally and professionally," she said. In mid-December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to deny Routt County's request to fill wetlands on the proposed site of the new justice center. By the end of 2004, the courthouse issue was still unresolved.
Meanwhile, the city was making progress at an unprecedented speed.
In December, the City Council voted to form an urban renewal authority that would generate $5 million to $10 million during its 25 years of existence without imposing any new taxes on current property owners. By the year's end, the council had decided to table final approval of the URA in order to resolve concerns voiced by the county and Steamboat Springs School District, which are worried about losing future property tax revenue to the URA.
The intent of the URA is to raise money to fund public improvements in the vicinity of the Steamboat Ski Area's base. The authority will be funded through the increase in property tax created by new development or redevelopment in the area.
The approval of the URA came just a month after voters passed a tax measure on the November ballot to form a local marketing district.
The LMD will collect a 2 percent accommodation tax to support air flight programs. The tax will be collected beginning May 1 and will replace funding that has been paid voluntarily by local businesses.
City Councilwoman Kathy Connell said she would remember 2004 for the work done by the Tax Policy Advisory Board, a group of volunteer community members who spent the year examining the city's tax structure.
"What everyone thought would be a short process turned out to be a long one," Connell said. "But now that many more citizens saw how complex our tax structure is.
"I will also remember 2004 as the year of the missed opportunity for communication between council and the county commissioners about the courthouse."
2004 was the year the Steamboat Springs School District dealt with racist graffiti early in the school year and again was confronted with the issue when football players were accused of using racial slurs during a game against Battle Mountain High School.
And when it seemed that the air had cleared after a mediated meeting between the two high schools, the district was hit with another blow -- the death of a Steamboat Springs Middle School student Ashley Stamp.
Thirteen-year-old Stamp died in a skiing accident at Vail Ski Resort on Dec. 19. Her death came on the heels of another middle school student death. Travis Taber died Oct. 9 in a four-wheeling accident.
Stamp's and Taber's funerals attracted hundreds of grieving students accompanied by their parents. The tragedies left adults trying to help the adolescent members of the community learn to cope with death while they tried to understand the deaths themselves.
Savin' the Haven
2004 was the year that The Haven, an assisted living facility in Hayden, found its salvation. For years, the nonprofit run by the grassroots West Routt Rural Health Council Inc., struggled with a budget that did not always cover expenses and more than once considered closing its doors.
In 2004, the WRRHCI formed a partnership with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association to secure The Haven's future.
Karen Burley took over the position of director at The Haven in April.
"For me, 2004 was a year of learning and reflection," she said. "I had to reflect on where The Haven has been, where they are now and where we need to go in order to provide senior services in the future when the numbers of senior citizens will be so explosive."
In 2004, Routt County made national news when Hayden resident Don Nord went before U.S. District Court in Denver to fight for the right to use medicinal marijuana, requesting that two ounce of marijuana confiscated in a raid be returned to him.
Since Grand Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team arrested Nord in October 2003, he has gathered a small following of people who think he should be able to smoke marjiuana to alleviate chronic pain created by a bevy of medical issues.
Colorado, along with Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Montana, have rules that allow residents to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
At the end of 2004, Federal District Judge Walker Miller has yet to rule on the case.
Music in the park
This was the year that Strings in the Mountains music festival opened its 17th summer season with a permanent home. Until this year, Strings hosted concerts in a temporary tent on the lawn of the Torian Plum Plaza. The group calls its new seven-acre home Music Festival Park. The construction is still somewhat temporary -- a modular office and a tent -- but the mindset is permanent, executive director Betse Grassby said.
More than 3,000 people came to the park's free community opening, creating a traffic jam on U.S. Highway 40 and filling the Meadows Parking lot, Strings president Kay Clagett said.
The tent and the box office are on three acres of the property, with four additional acres set aside for the construction of a permanent structure.
The land was purchased in August 2003, and construction started immediately, Grassby said. "I think that having our own space made a great difference in the way Strings sees itself and in the way the community sees Strings. It raised the level of visibility and it's nice to be able to control what's around us.
"Having a permanent home really cemented our future."