2013 a year of tragedies, triumphs in Routt County
December 31, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Looking back on 2013 reveals a roller-coaster year marked by celebratory highs and heartbreaking lows.
It was the year Steamboat Ski Area marked its 50th anniversary, and the Winter Carnival and Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp turned 100.
It also was the year the Steamboat Springs community mourned the death of 9-year-old Asher Lesyshen-Kirlan, who allegedly was shot and killed by his mother, Lisa Lesyshen.
2013 was the year councils across Routt County grappled with how to deal locally with Colorado's new recreational marijuana law, and Steamboat Springs residents approved the use of lodging tax dollars to enhance bike trails and invest in improvements along Yampa Street during the next decade.
To provide a broad look back at the past year, the news team at the Steamboat Pilot & Today has compiled a list of its top stories of 2013, along with top 10 lists of news stories and photo galleries that attracted the most views from online readers in 2013. A compilation of the staff's favorite entries from the always popular Record with police blotter calls also is in today's newspaper.
Asher's death rocks the Routt County community
The Soda Creek Elementary School community was shocked the morning of May 29 when they learned one of their students had died. Disbelief and anger set in as parents found out how 9-year-old Asher Lesyshen-Kirlan died. Those feelings still exist today as Asher's mother, Lisa Lesyshen, faces charges of first-degree murder related to domestic violence and child abuse. Michael Kirlan was at the Stagecoach home when the shooting occurred. Kirlan lost his only child, and he wants the criminal proceedings to move quickly against his wife, whom he is divorcing.
Routt County District Attorney Brett Barkey has decided not to pursue the death penalty against Lesyshen, who is being held at the Denver County Jail infirmary, paralyzed after attempting suicide after Asher was shot.
Woman charged with felony theft after faking cancer
The Steamboat Springs community also was appalled by the fraud committed by Elizabeth Bateman.The 35-year-old was charged with felony theft after it became clear to her friends that Bateman never had cancer. Before she was discovered, Bateman had raised thousands of dollars for a fraudulent charity.
"People gave their money and their heart to the charitable organization, and when they figured out it was a fraud, it was very disappointing," Assistant Police Chief Bob DelValle said.
Money was not the only thing Bateman stole. Michele Beck took a winter off work to care for Bateman, who used a wheelchair and oxygen. Beck said she would wake Bateman in the middle of the night to give her a shot of what Beck thought was liquid morphine that needed to be administered every six hours.
The day before Bateman was due in court Sept. 12, Beck learned Bateman had committed suicide.
Recreational pot shops set to open in Steamboat
Come Jan. 8, it is expected marijuana for recreational use will be legally sold in Steamboat Springs. In other parts of Colorado, sales are expected to begin today.
Colorado voters in the November 2012 election overwhelmingly approved legalizing pot for those 21 and older.
Kevin Fisher, a Steamboat resident, dispensary owner and co-drafter of the rules that will govern the sales of marijuana for recreational use, said 2013 was the biggest year yet for Colorado when it came to marijuana. The federal government also has eased up its enforcement.
"More importantly for marijuana was what we saw in federal opinion of what states can and cannot do," Fisher said.
Fisher is hoping for a successful rollout of recreational use sales, but local police anticipate some conflicts. As Steamboat Police Capt. Jerry Stabile pointed out, it is called skunk weed for a reason, and there will be some people who have to endure the smell of pot mixed with their clean Rocky Mountain air.
Feeding frenzy for city's lucrative lodging tax
With marijuana rules to craft and a new police station still to build, 2013 was a busy year for the city of Steamboat Springs.
But nothing attracted more public attention than the rare opportunity to use the city's lucrative lodging tax to build something new.
The city was flooded with dozens of applications from people who had big ideas for the revenue stream that just finished retiring the debt recently the Haymaker Golf Course.
Someone wanted to use it to make a documentary on Howelsen Hill, while others thought it should be used to fill those pesky pot holes across town or to add more public restrooms.
After a rigorous year-long vetting process, the Steamboat Springs City Council decided the lodging tax money should be used throughout the next decade to build new hiking and biking trails and to help create a new promenade on Yampa Street.
Voters here agreed and helped give the Bike Town USA effort in this city a big boost with an estimated $6 million of revenue for the next 10 years.
Just because the future use of the tax has been decided doesn't mean public interest in this story is waning.
The two new steering committees that were created to help oversee the spending of the money also received a flood of interest, and the council will seat those groups early this year.
Steamboat police station faces many obstacles
For more than a year now, the city of Steamboat Springs has been planning to build a new police station to replace the cramped and outdated headquarters on Yampa Street. But 2013 was a year full of challenges for the project.
It started in February when the planned sale of the existing police campus on Yampa suddenly fell apart after the city learned it would cost nearly
$1 million more than it thought to temporarily turn the Iron Horse Inn into a police station.
The cancellation of the sale came after many community members here criticized the city for planning to sell the building before the plan to build a new one was firmly in place.
There was more community uproar this summer when the city pitched the idea of building the station on a small corner of Rita Valentine Park.
Recognizing the angst that idea was causing, the city took that building site off the table and has since taken a step back from the project to further research alternative sites.
City Manager Deb Hinsvark and members of the City Council have acknowledged the project has faced many challenges, but they still are determined to give their city's police force a new, more efficient police station in the coming years. The City Council is expected to discuss potential locations for the new station again in 2014.
City of Steamboat Springs faces pay raise debate
Most of the city of Steamboat's budget for 2014 was passed with little fanfare.
But a proposal to give many city employees market-rate pay raises for the first time in several years spurred a fierce debate in Centennial Hall.
Council members were split about whether the raises would take too much of a toll on the city's budget, or whether the total sum of the proposed increases was needed to better compensate employees who had sustained years of furloughs and pay cuts in the wake of the Great Recession.
City staff said the raises were sustainable and would help attract and retain quality employees.
Council members eventually came to a compromise and said they were on board with $600,000 worth of the salary and benefit adjustments.
With sales tax revenue on the rise and demand for city services seeing an uptick, the city also will bring back about 40 of its roughly 250 employees to a 40-hour workweek.
Saying goodbye to years of Tugboat
This was the year we lost a piece of Ski Town USA history. The Tugboat Grill & Pub closed for good, but its doors stayed open long enough for a stream of memorabilia to escape, representing 35 years of collective memories of ski bums, locals and visitors.
The Tugboat survived the demolition of the rest of Ski Time Square only to have its contents auctioned Sept. 11 to pay back taxes owed by its most recent owner, Jim Beatty.
Former owners Larry Lamb and Hank Edwards attended the auction along with generations of employees and patrons looking for a memento or a last glimpse of the iconic watering hole.
Howelsen Hill skier death sets off lawsuit in 2013
Cooper Larsh died while skiing at Howelsen Hill in 2011, but it wasn't until 2013 that the lawsuit surrounding his death took shape.
The city of Steamboat Springs' ownership of Howelsen Hill makes the case brought by Larsh's mother, Maureen Ryan, different from the other two high-profile skier deaths litigated in 2013.
To even bring the lawsuit to trial, Ryan and her counsel must clear the hurdle of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, which shields public bodies from tort cases.
Fourteenth Judicial District Court Judge Shelley Hill ruled that the city waived its immunity in the case, but the city's attorneys have appealed that ruling.
More than a year after the evidentiary hearing before Hill, oral arguments will be held Jan. 22 before the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Wildhorse rides again with a spike in sales
Wildhorse Meadows near the base of the Steamboat Ski Area saw some positive action in 2013.
A shake-up in ownership during the beginning of 2013 left residential parcels with Louisville-based real estate firm Real Capital Solutions and the remaining commercial/residential land with several other partnerships.
Real Capital Solutions later in the year unveiled a plan to build duplexes and triplexes along Bangtail Way next to Trailhead Lodge. Brent Pearson, along with his partners, approached the city about creating a new PUD zone in the area just west of Trailhead Lodge in order to build location-neutral offices and mixed-use buildings.
Pearson's PUD was approved unanimously by City Council, and construction on Real Capital Solutions' new residential units could begin in 2014.
TIC finishes exit from town, heads to Front Range
By today, TIC should be completely gone from Steamboat Springs. The global construction firm has been transitioning to the Front Range for some time, and the last few staffers should be shutting down the campus in west Steamboat by the new year.
The company, at its peak, represented a large, well-paid workforce in the Yampa Valley, and its charitable contributions also will be missed.
TIC will be gone, but its buildings and land in Steamboat will be a matter of speculation and interest into 2014.
Community housing ordinance suspended
Affordable housing once again became a hot topic, but this time it was in the context of a push to roll back the provisions made for community or workforce housing during the real estate run-up.
Developer Jon Peddie took the request to Steamboat Springs City Council in the context of his Emerald Heights townhome project, and the City Council suspended the community housing sections of the city's code, removing the financial burden to provide affordable housing or pay a fee-in-lieu.
Also during 2013, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority stopped paying on its Elk River Village debt to try and gain the upper hand in negotiations with First National Bank of the Rockies.
The two sides eventually restructured the loan into a lease-purchase agreement. The note was originally for $2 million, and the housing authority only recently started paying principal.
Casey's Pond Senior Living community opens
The health care group, Pearl Senior Living, tasked with developing and managing Casey's Pond Senior Living community, wanted a high-profile location, and they found it on U.S. Highway 40 with a distinctive yellow and green building rising into Mount Werner's silhouette.
Casey's Pond opened in 2013, courting new residents and the public through tours.
The Doak Walker Care Center moved into Casey's Pond and changed names to become the Doak Walker House. Casey's Pond also offers four types of senior living through one- and two-bedroom apartments and assisted living suites.
Ski Corp. parent company Intrawest files $100M IPO
Privately held Intrawest, the parent company of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., filed with the SEC in mid-November its intention to raise about $100 million in capital through a stock offering.
Should the IPO be successful, it would mark the second time Steamboat Ski Area has been owned by a publicly held company. The last period of public ownership came about in 1997 when Maine-based American Skiing Co. purchased Steamboat from Kamori International, a Japanese ski area operator. Ironically, it was Intrawest in 2006 that took Steamboat private again.
If Intrawest realizes its goal and begins to trade shares on the New York Stock Exchange, it would signal a shift in corporate culture — public companies have a responsibility to their shareholders to strive to improve quarterly earnings reports.
A paragraph from the IPO provides a broad hint of what Intrawest would like to do with any capital it raises through the sale of shares in the company: "As a multi-resort operator, we believe we are well positioned to take advantage of economies of scale in administration, purchasing power and access to capital and leverage our ability to offer multi-resort products. In addition, we intend to evaluate 'capital light' opportunities such as managing third-party resort assets and entering into real estate development partnerships."
Centennial of Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival
The community celebrated the 100th anniversary of its Winter Carnival with all of the traditional events enjoyed perhaps by the largest crowds ever. And the newspaper's editorial board eloquently summed up what allows Winter Carnival to endure:
"Sometimes it takes a special milestone to recognize the significance of things we otherwise might take for granted. That sentiment was hard to escape last weekend during the 100th anniversary of the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival.
"The uniqueness and community spirit that epitomizes Steamboat's annual midwinter celebration was particularly bright during this year's centennial celebration, and why not? For a city and county that embody a work-hard, play-hard lifestyle, there's not a better representation than Winter Carnival, which perfectly blends ranching and skiing, local and visitor, young and old.
"We doubt Carl Howelsen foresaw a time when the carnival he started in 1914 in downtown Steamboat Springs would turn 100 years old, but part of what makes it special to this day is that his original vision remains so closely tied to the modern festivities. From ski jumping exhibitions to the role of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club in the event's organization, Howelsen's indelible mark on our community lives on.
But Winter Carnival wouldn't remain the robust community celebration it is today without the incredible efforts of volunteers, sponsors, city government and the Winter Sports Club."
Steamboat Ski Area faces up to midlife in style
Steamboat Ski Area observed its 50th anniversary in early January 2013, and the newspaper seized on the opportunity to launch its new tabloid edition of the Sunday paper with a cover devoted to a single in-depth story.
Steamboat always has benefited from the combination of the great American cowboy/cowgirl myth and the sense of freedom derived from skiing. But the ranching tradition on which Steamboat built its skiing reputation is no myth.
Early ski area pioneers, including Jim Temple and John Fetcher, were cattle ranchers before they were ski visionaries.
Steamboat would not be the ski area it is today without a team of rock-steady Steamboat loyalists, lift managers, marketers, guest services and everything it takes to keep an international vacation destination strong.
And of course, with the majority of the ski trails and lifts on National Forest Land, Steamboat is everyone's ski area and a couple generations of Forest Service personnel have made rich contributions to the ski area as well.
The ski area celebrated Jan. 12 with a giant cake, a concert featuring Robert Randolph and the Family Band, the lighting of a large metal cauldron, and of course, a torchlight parade and fireworks.
CMC graduates its 1st bachelor's degree students
Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs has been on a roll in recent years.
Everyone is getting settled into the big new beautiful academic center constructed on campus, and students are earning bachelor's degrees for the first time.
There was a lot to celebrate in May when 12 students were awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, and 14 received Bachelor of Arts degrees in sustainability studies.
"It feels incredible," Lexi Miller, who received a BA and is going into AmeriCorps, told the Steamboat Today. "I feel incredibly accomplished."
Laurel Street Preschool closes after state inspection
Steamboat Springs lost its oldest preschool this year, and the community recently learned the efforts to reopen it have failed.
Laurel Street's closure came after a state inspection uncovered a number of violations, which included having too many children in a room at the same time.
The school's closure also highlighted the financial and operational challenges all preschools face in Routt County. Overhead costs are going up, and there are more and more regulations schools must follow.
Although Laurel Street's closure put many parents here in a pinch to find other places, there was enough space at other preschools in town to fill the gap.
Heritage Christian School survives funding crisis
As the Great Recession carried on, private schools in Steamboat Springs continued to lose a dramatic number of students.
Enrollment at The Lowell Whiteman School still isn't close to where it was even seven years ago, and other private programs have worked to reinvent themselves and attract new students.
Declining enrollment was especially hard on Heritage Christian School, which announced near the end of the last school year it was facing a $260,000 shortfall and was considering closing its high school program to carry on.
Even School Administrator Dave Entwistle, who always has been optimistic about his school's future and success, questioned how the campus would raise that much money in such little time to ensure it could continue its secondary school classes next school year.
But through fundraising efforts and prayer, the school raised enough money to continue.
Amendment 66 fails during 2013 election
It's been a tough couple of years for the proposed statewide tax increases to support public education.
As South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader described it, Proposition 103 "went down in flames" when it was proposed back in 2011. The latest proposed tax increase, Amendment 66, also failed at the ballot box in November.
Teachers and education leaders in Colorado are quick to point out that funding for public education in this state ranks near the bottom for the nation.
Districts also have been forced to make cuts in recent years because of budget crunches at the state level.
The failure of the latest tax initiative, which also would have rewritten the school funding formula and fully funded kindergarten programs across the state, leaves the future of school funding here uncertain.
100 years of dance at Perry Mansfield school
Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp hosted a centennial celebration this past summer that paid tribute to the hundreds of people who contributed and benefited from its programs as well as the school's two founders, Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield.
The two young women, fresh out of Smith College, started the camp in 1913 at Lake Eldora. A year later, the duo found the ideal spot for a permanent location on a 15-acre property near Steamboat Springs' Strawberry Park, and the performing arts camp has flourished there.
Some of Perry Mansfield's famous alumni and faculty include Agnes de Mille, Julie Harris, Lee Remick, Joan Van Ark and Dustin Hoffman.