Categories
Community Report vol1:3

The Ground Game: Tilt at Windmills

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Images by Alec Jacobson

 

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A voter in a heavily Republican precinct in Montrose, Colorado opened his door and Seth Cagin, Democratic candidate for Colorado’s State House, tried to read the scene. The voter’s arms were tattooed with military insignia and a white Fu Manchu mustache twirled off below his chin.

 

Cagin asked what was on the voter’s mind. Veteran healthcare, said the voter, and then, after a pregnant pause, he launched into a deep dive supporting more access to marijuana. Cagin said that he supported improving healthcare – Western Colorado’s insurance premiums are near the highest in the nation and typically 40% higher than those in Denver – and he couldn’t understand Montrose County’s opposition to recreational cannabis.

 

Did this mean that the man might vote for Cagin, a Democrat, in this fall’s election? Seth left a flyer and, walking away, made a note in his database: leaning favorable.

 

“I think I picked up ten votes today,” later said Cagin as we wound through the subdivision, “Ten votes a day is better than sitting at home complaining.”

 

Cagin lives in Telluride, where Hillary Clinton won more than 80 percent of the vote in 2016. But the rest of the district, which spans ranches, uranium mines and the Pinto Bean Capital of the World, is deeply conservative and handed Trump a more than 40% margin.

 

In the last contested election for Colorado State House district 58 in 2012, Don Coram, a Republican rancher from Montrose, won 22,071 votes, twice as many as his Democratic challenger, Tammy Theis.

 

So Cagin knows he’s unlikely to win his bid for Colorado’s 58th House District, but, he explained, “you can’t save America by writing half of it off.”

 

Believing that every race should be contested, Cagin set himself on a course to meet as many people face to face as possible. Because the district has not been hotly contested, there is limited data on voters, but Cagin used Votebuilder to identify 10,000 homes where the occupants were not known to be either strongly Democratic or Republican.

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Nearly every day, he drives either north to Montrose or south to Cortez to walk a new neighborhood, armed with campaign flyers and a map displaying addresses and voter affiliations. Every door is a mystery until Cagin knocks: what does the American flag planted in their flower bed say about their political persuasion? Their Denver Broncos sign? Will they breathe fire or invite him in for coffee?

 

Cagin and his wife, Marta, ran The Watch newspaper for more than 20 years, following every twist and turn of local events as they grew their reach from Telluride to Ridgway to Montrose. Seth was known for his pointed OpEds, but running for office has forced him to meet voters where they are and confront their opinions and experiences directly [Ed note: Alec Jacobson worked for Seth Cagin and Marta Tarbell at The Watch].

 

When I walked with Cagin for an afternoon, he had already visited more than 6,000 homes and had adopted what he describes as a pilgrim mentality, knocking his way door to door as if performing his daily ablutions, seeking a sort of humble enlightenment as he is variously welcomed into homes and shooed away. “It’s about the journey, not the destination,” he explained.

 

One voter opened her door, Cagin introduced himself and she called her husband. “Democrat or Republican?” he asked. “Democrat,” said Cagin. “See you later,” said the husband, and the voters closed their door.

 

Cagin quickly entered a note that he probably had not won their votes, hustling to the next target on his map.

 

In the span of a couple blocks, a staunch Democrat invited us into her living room for communion. “Can you believe Kavanaugh?!” she exclaimed. She said that she couldn’t open up to her neighbors, pointing out the window to the houses where she often played cards but never talked politics.

 

Cagin registered that he’d likely win her vote, though he noted that he probably would have won it anyway.

 

“Why did Don Quixote tilt at windmills? Because he was crazy,” he told me in between houses, his Bernie-Sanders-esque shoots of white hair tucked under a logo-free hat.

 

After selling The Watch, Cagin joined a fledgling campaign for Bob Baer – of CNN and Syriana fame – to unseat Scott Tipton from the US House of Representatives in 2017. But after dipping his toes in the decidedly opposed waters of Colorado’s third congressional district, Baer backed down.

 

When Democrats swept key races in Virginia in 2017, Cagin decided to step up to the plate himself.

 

“There is a tendency that people have to imagine that somebody bigger, better and smarter than they are is gonna do the thing that they think needs to get done,” Cagin said as we drove through open country near Montrose.

 

On the porch of a middle-aged man, a massive mounted elk visible through the doorway, Cagin waxed philosophical about polarization in politics, boiling down divisions to core beliefs either in the value hard work or social justice. He admitted that he was generally driven by social justice, but explained that, as he’d met voters, he realized that, “these are both good values.” The voter, a registered Republican, nodded at times and grimaced at others, explaining that he cared most that candidates have integrity. He took one of Cagin’s flyers.

 

“If I win it’ll be the upset of the century,” Cagin said in between houses.

 

At another home, as Cagin leaned on the stoop, an older man engaged on issues of western Colorado’s high health insurance premiums (among the highest in the nation and 40% higher than the rates for similar plans in Denver) and Montrose’s underfunded schools. After some back and forth, he admitted, “I’m pretty conservative.”

 

“And I’m pretty liberal,” said Seth, “I bet we can disagree about a lot.”

 

“But I bet we can agree on a few things,” said the voter.

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Categories
Letter from Editor vol1:3

Drawing the Line

At this point in the election cycle, it seems nearly crass to say that politics are divided in America. But this takes on a somewhat different meaning from our vantage point in the mountains. While our regions are, by broad statistical category, rural America and are impacted by issues typical of the West, ski towns appear as blue islands on the New York Times precinct-level map of 2016 voting data. So, in this issue of the Independent, we have stories that work to understand the distinct contrasts of mountain town politics.

 

Our goal is to step back from the conversation about whether there will be a blue wave or a show of Trumpist support in the Midterms, but to dig into the ways in which the national elections relate to the local issues we are deeply about.

 

Emma Murray explores a political fracture line distinct to rural America: not red versus blue, but motorized versus non-motorized.

 

I follow Seth Cagin as he tilts at windmills, running a classic, scrappy, door-to-door grassroots campaign as a Democrat in Colorado’s heavily Republican House District 38.

 

Samantha Wright charts the emergence of Indivisible D3, a movement that formed in reaction to the 2016 election.

 

Thomas Magstadt lays out an issue that effects us all: water.

 

And Mike Rogge, in an interview with Jeremy Jones, opines on the future of the outdoors in politics, hoping that some day, there might be a party that represents more directly the issues that we care about.

 

We hope, in the end to draw at least a bit of a line between national politics and their impact on our homes.

Categories
op-ed vol1:2

Sin Fronteras/ENTERATE

There is a divide in Telluride between our endearingly funky, ostensibly inclusive (though statistically homogeneous) community and what is often distinguished as the Latino Community.  This is not news and it is not unique, but we at the Independent have realized that we have to begin to address it in order to do our job effectively.  When we have tried to assign stories that might touch our latino neighbors in Telluride and in other mountain towns, we’ve tended to founder: the journalists in our region do not tend to speak Spanish and they do not tend to be connected to many Spanish speakers.  So, we’re launching an experiment to bridge the divide by starting a small-scale Spanish-language newspaper that will draw on community reporters.

 

In the short term, this is likely to take the form of a single, double-sided sheet of paper filled with stories that are more personal narrative and opinion than hard news.  We’re going to print it on our office inkjet and distribute it as often as we can to a few central locations.  But our goal is to build a roster of consistent contributors who are interested in telling the stories that are critical to the latino community for the latino community.  As the publication develops though, we plan to have content cross between the Mountain Independent and it’s Spanish counterpart.  If this model proves successful, we will work to expand, testing Spanish papers in other mountain towns.

 

For now though, our most important function is to provide a framework that allows new journalists to emerge and helps them grow.  We’re partnering with the Tri-County Health Network’s Community Outreach director, Kody Gerkin, to organize story jam events to help craft and record the narratives of those have never written before. A local hiker hopes to write the first trail guides in Spanish, encouraging his neighbors to get out in the woods to experience the beauty that he’s come to love since moving here from Guatemala.  We’ll see what else comes in and work to craft it into the strongest pieces possible.  We’ve solicited names from community members – Sin Fonteras and ENTÉRATE – and will leave the decision up to a vote.

 

If you have any insight or advice, or if you want to help, don’t hesitate to reach out to alec@mountainindependent.org.

 

And if you want to support the effort, click on the donate button and let us know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Community Economy Report vol1:2

Housing Data

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Though many communities lack affordable housing, the specific dynamics of each region and market are unique. So, we’ve pulled together a set of data points to help compare one mountain town to another. Median income is for a family of four and is extracted from the Department of Housing and Urban Development at a county level. Statistics describing the number of affordable units constructed, estimated need, and target housing levels are taken from town and county reports produced by each community. And the median home price data are extracted from Zillow’s recent sales data.

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Aspen


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 2,956

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 657 in 2012

Percent local occuancy: 47% of Pitkin County workers were living in Pitkin County in 2012

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Jackson


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 1,468

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 280 units/year

Percent local target: 65%

Percent local occuancy: 58% county-wide – or 67%

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Telluride


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 1,148 San Miguel County

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 38-239 units in Telluride by 2015

Percent local target: 60-70%

Percent local occuancy: 53% local in 2011

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Truckee


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 474 – Jan. 2016

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 12,160

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Mammoth


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 202

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 330 now, +595 by 2022 – end of 2017

Percent local occuancy: 34% in 2015

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Vail


Most recent Assessed Need gap: 4,466 in 2015, 11,960 by 2025

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Sun Valley


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 369 in 2011

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 480 in 2011

Percent local occuancy: 38% in 2011

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Boulder


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 3,237 in 2015

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 1,263

Percent local target: 10% affordable (4,500 units)

Percent local occuancy: 7.2% in 2015

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Crested Butte


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 443 in the Gunnison Valley

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 960 by 2020

Percent local target: 25% housed in CB by 2025

Percent local occuancy: 67.8% in 2016 in CB; 26.5% in Mt. CB

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Median Income by County

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Income Vs Home Price

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Categories
Letter from Editor vol1:2

Thinking About the End Goal

In surveys across mountain towns, housing consistently ranks among the most critical problems, with a lack of homes that are affordable to local works underpinning almost every other local issue. Many communities have been working to solve this problem for years, even decades, and yet it persists. So, with this issue of the Independent, we want to start to think about why.

We could delve farther into the fine grained details, but, really the issue is simple: we live in particularly nice places. And the result is that, short of really dramatic, mountain-leveling change in the scenery or the market, it is likely that there will always be demand for the dirt we live on. The median home sale price in Telluride in 2017 was $1.75 million, which puts it an order of magnitude higher than the national median and far out of reach for local workers with a median income of $79,000. Despite the challenges that that creates, when the town has surveyed the regional population, more people consistently want to move here than can fit. We have targets to house 60-70% of our workforce locally, but, unless demand drops, there’s probably always going to be a waiting list to live in town for the other 30-40%.

With that in mind, when we talk about solving the housing crisis we need to evaluate what exactly that means. What would it look like if the problem was solved? How would we know when we got there?

Setting numerical housing targets, need and demand gaps to fill, is useful for planning but it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and forget to consider what they represent.

When we take action, we need to think not just in terms of how many heads might hit the pillows in the rooms we’re building, but in terms of the kinds of communities we want to live in when those minds come together. We live in amazing places and, as we seek to make them more perfect, it’s important that we take a long view and try to understand where the choices we make now will lead us.

So, in this issue we’ve combined a few data points to help compare town to town along with a series of articles and opinions that we hope will start a critical conversation about affordable housing beyond the numbers.

The public consensus is that we clearly want it. We at the Independent want to think about the end goal.

Categories
Environment Report vol1:1

Going Neutral: Telluride’s Road to Carbon Reduction

Photo by Alec Jacobson

 


This August, Telluride’s Town Council voted to raise the bar on climate action. In the forth paragraph of a short resolution announcing that Telluride will join 6 counties and 16 other towns around Colorado to fight global warming, a single sentence declares a target that has been years in the making: “the Town of Telluride intends to adopt a goal for the entire community of becoming carbon neutral.”

This bill came immediately on the heels of Mountainfilm Festival’s New Normal campaign that focused on battling climate change and headlined representatives from Ashton Hayes, a village in England that has famously set its sights on carbon neutrality.  But Telluride has been working to shrink its carbon footprint for nearly 15 years.

“The town government is now carbon neutral, and the Telluride community is meeting its goal to be 20 percent below 2010 levels,” said Town of Telluride Environmental and Engineering Division Manager Karen Guglielmone, who tracks municipal emissions and implements the government’s reduction efforts.

Telluride’s government has so far led the charge to reduce the community’s emissions, experimenting with a variety of programs that range from investing in renewable energy production to adopting the Green Building Code.

“I wonder if carbon neutrality is aspirational,” admitted Guglielmone. Still, “In the next few years, given what’s going on across the country with the Tesla Solar Roofs and battery technology, we’ll see great opportunity to do what we do, and to do it better.”

Guglielmone’s follows a string of recent successes that have cut Telluride’s emissions by 25%.  But it took the town years of trials and errors to find a winning strategy.

Telluride’s first stab at emissions reduction followed the same, low-tech strategy that many of us might follow in our own homes.

A 2004 report studying 2003 electrical use at municipal facilities recommended 40 cheap and relatively simple steps, including weatherizing buildings, replacing old lightbulbs, powering down computers at night, installing smart thermostats and putting a VendingMiser beverage machine in the Public Works office to replace an old machine that was responsible for “one notably large plug load.”

The report estimated that these changes would reduce energy consumption in the studied town buildings by 20-25% by 2010, noting confidently that with, “a modest dose of perseverance, [we] can achieve this target.”

In 2005, with that early certainty and some baseline emissions data, the town signed onto the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement and also agreed to support Aspen’s Canary Initiative, committing the government to reduce municipal building and operations emissions by 7% by 2012 (to match the Kyoto Protocol goal from which the US withdrew in 2001) and to invest in alternative energy sources.

But those ambitions targets didn’t generate results. In 2005, emissions rose. In 2006, emissions dropped 1% below 2004 levels which, wrote Gugliemone in memorandum summarizing the year’s energy use, “is not very terribly impressive.”

So, the government doubled down on the strategy of chasing quick and cheap changes, initiating a community outreach program, Telluride Unplugged, that included lectures, a series of articles in the newspaper, and an ongoing awareness program emphasizing energy efficient lighting, local food, recycling and transportation. This was designed as an “annual, local information ‘fest,’” that would help to “[train] ourselves to think differently throughout 2007 so that the new thought patterns will stay with us into the future.”

The same plan that outlined Unplugged also called for a more ambitious emissions goal, setting the Town’s sights on dropping its emissions 15% by 2010 and another 15% by 2015. And the town also included reducing emissions in the 2006 Master Plan.

Nonetheless, emissions remained above baseline levels as the town increased its staff and services alongside Telluride’s growing population and tourist visits. “Six (6) years of analysis and implementation of efficiency measures indicate that the Town Government is not likely to meet these goals with current programs,” noted a 2009 memorandum. As a result, staff recommended that, “the Council take this opportunity to regroup and reassess the town’s strategy.”

The same year, Telluride adopted a new goal, aligning with a target set by Colorado’s Governor, Bill Ritter, to reduce community-wide emissions by 20% by 2020 with the hope that it would be useful to be on the same track as other communities around the state.

EcoAction Partners then led the charge to expand the baseline emissions data beyond municipal facilities and services emissions, surveying the greenhouse gas emissions of the Telluride community as a whole, as well as the surrounding population of San Miguel and Ouray Counties.

The largest portion of Telluride’s emissions come from the electricity and natural gas needed to power and heat homes and commercial buildings. The Town had spent years targeting efficiency within those structures, but, after 2009, they expanded their vision and started to move upstream to target the efficiency of the energy supply chain.

Telluride mayor Stu Fraser joined with his Mountain Village counterpart, Bob Delves, to pose an informal “mayoral challenge” to their respective communities to derive 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The town installed solar panels on the roof of the wastewater treatment plant, funding the facility through a San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) rebate program.  When the solar array came online in 2011, it generated 184 megawatt hours of electricity. SMPA owns the offset credits associated with the project, so they do not count to reduce Telluride’s total emissions.

The town then started to target other renewable energy projects, seeking to purchase more solar panels and to implement a hydro power project at the historic Bridal Veil power plant.

The 2012 Energy Use and Carbon Footprint Summary proudly announces that the government facilities and services are “halfway to our 2020 goal.”

But then, in 2014, the Town entered into an agreement to purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) from a new hydro facility down the road in Ridgway and, suddenly, Telluride was ahead of the curve.

RECs are a means of subsidizing the production of electricity from renewable energy sources. In the case of the Ridgway hydro plant, Telluride pays $1.38 for ever approximately 1,100 kilowatt hours of energy produced, offsetting one metric ton of carbon that would have been produced by a nonrenewable source.

And this has significantly altered Telluride’s carbon accounting. In 2010, the community emitted 86,800 metric tons of carbon dioxide, while 2016’s emissions have been calculated at 65,400 mtCO2; a 21,400 mtCO2, 25% reduction. Last year, the Ridgway hydro plant produced 14,684,700 kWh of electricity, and Telluride paid $18,355.88 for 13,255 mtCO2 credits. That is to say that 62% of Telluride’s success at reducing its carbon footprint comes from that one purchase each year.

Telluride’s other renewable energy investments – the solar on the wastewater treatment plant and the credits from the Bridal Veil hydro plant – account for another 264 mtCO2 of reductions in the town’s carbon accounting.

The exact calculus of how a REC purchase offsets emissions versus justifying greater emissions can raise some eyebrows. However, Guglielmone pointed out that without the town’s demand for RECs, certain local renewable energy projects would not have been built in the first place.

“The Town of Telluride only buys local RECs,” she said. “The RECs we are buying from Bridal Veil are electrons that never make it out of Telluride. My thesis is that because they are local RECs, they matter. They’re real.”

Being local, they have a bigger impact on Telluride’s footprint than just the giant reduction from the credits. The projects supported by these RECs have contributed to the trend of growing renewable electricity across Tri-State Generation and Trasmission’s operations that supply Telluride. This has lowered the carbon emissions of each electron of energy that enters the valley. Since 2010, the blend of electricity that Telluride purchases become almost 12% less carbon emitting.

Greening of the system accounts for an additional 21% of the community’s emissions reductions. This paints a clear picture that, as Telluride targets carbon neutrality, growing the network of renewable energy options will be a key strategy.

According to data produced by EcoAction Partners, the carbon footprint of the surrounding region has stayed nearly flat (their report from 2017 shows an increase of 1% against the baseline emissions in 2010). According to Kim Wheels, their Energy Programs Coordinator who tracks emissions, the report from Telluride – given its rising population and growing tourist visits – would likely look similar if the community had not started to build renewable energy sources and to purchase RECs.

“I think that [carbon neutrality] is very realistic if the Town of Telluride is willing to look at a combination of solutions,” says Brad Zaporski, chief executive at the local power coop, San Miguel Power Association. “The combination of solutions would have to include net metering, community style [electricity] generation, utility style [electricity] generation, offsets, and, most importantly, efficiency and conservation.”

Telluride’s government is prepared to continue to lead the charge to reduce the community’s emissions. But, Karen Gugliemone cautions, the entire community will have to participate if there is any hope of reaching carbon neutrality, particularly if there is any hope of reaching that goal before it is too late.

The Global Carbon Project released their 2017 report this month with an unsettling fact: after three years of flat emissions that many thought to signal a peak, global emissions are poised to hit a new record high this year.

Everyone in Telluride, says Gugliemone, will have to do their part to stem the tide.

 

 

Correction: the original edition of this article published on November 28, 2017 mistakenly noted that the Town of Telluride brought researchers from University of Colorado at Denver to expand the baseline municipal greenhouse gas emissions survey to the surrounding community.  EcoAction Partners actually did the research for the expansion and the University of Colorado’s Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Systems then prepared the report.

Categories
Letter from Editor vol1:1

Small Towns, Big Voices

At the end of 2015, we launched the San Juan Independent out of Telluride with the core belief that the small towns of our region have big stories that deserve rich coverage. Sometimes, it’s critical to dive deeply into a single moment in time, while, in other cases, it’s useful to back away from the day to day decisions to look at the full arc of a complicated issue.

Here, in our first edition of the Mountain Independent, we aim to do both as we look at how our small, rural mountain communities relate to one of the biggest issues of our time: climate change.

In Aspen, the Canary Initiative has already measured an average temperature increase of 2.4°F since 1940 as well as a 34 day increase in the number of frost-free summer days since 1980. In Jackson, the Charture Institute has measured growing aridity, as rising temperatures have caused more rain in the winter, and faster evaporation and transpiration throughout the year. Following the same warming trend, the Mountain Pact lobbying group, notes that wildfires have burned 57% more land in the last decade than in the previous 40 years.

And this year, ski resorts around the West have delayed opening their slopes by weeks.  In Telluride, where I live, we have only 37% of the snow that we would normally have to date and it has stayed too warm at night to fill in the gaps with the snow guns.

[pullquote]Learn what Jack Watson, Whitehouse Chief of Staff to President Jimmy Carter, thinks about the Paris Climate Accord  >>[/pullquote]

At the same time, while mountain economies are threatened by climate change, our carbon footprints are above the national average.

Nonetheless, our communities are well positioned to make a meaningful contribution based on the same small town/big story premise of this publication.

From the Cool Climate Network at UC, Berkeley.

 

[pullquote]Learn how Sun Valley is becoming resilient >>[/pullquote]

 

[pullquote]Learn how Telluride is aiming at carbon neutrality >>[/pullquote]

 

[pullquote]Learn how the Pinhead Institute is targeting efficiency in Telluride >>[/pullquote]

 

As small towns, where everybody knows their neighbors and every vote counts, we are nimble. If we decide to make changes, there are fewer hearts and minds to shift and fewer variables to adjust. Every vote counts and every voice can make a difference.

[pullquote]Learn everything you ever wanted to know about eco-friendly lumber>>[/pullquote]

Even more importantly, when we move, people notice. Our communities are hotbeds of global intellectual activity, hosting heads of state and thought leaders at events like the Aspen Ideas Festival, Telluride Mountainfilm and Allen & Co.’s annual Sun Valley conference.

[pullquote]Learn about Lake Tahoe’s long road to recovery >>[/pullquote]

And because we are in a position to lead, we must continue to take significant action. Not because climate change threatens our sacred powder turns but because the same shifts are already driving conflict, mass exodus and massive destruction from the Sahara to the Maldives to America’s Gulf Coast.

In this first issue of the Mountain Independent, we cannot offer a comprehensive guide for our many communities to lead the charge against climate change, but we hope that we can, with the case studies presented, offer governments, organizations and individuals some paths forward and the inspiration to follow them.

We are small towns, but we have big voices. What will you do with yours?

[pullquote]Learn how the Rainbow Family of Living Light views the world and makes pancakes>>[/pullquote]

Categories
About vol1:1

About the Mountain Independent

The Mountain Independent is a hub of rich information and analysis, bringing together contributors from mountain towns around the world to dive deep into local environmental, social and economic issues. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News.

For all inquires about the Independent, contact Alec Jacobson at alec@mountainindependent.org or at (802) 578-6339.

We endeavor to find a broad diversity of sponsors and are deeply grateful that they support our unflinching pursuit of the truth in the public interest.  We operate with absolute editorial freedom and aspire to the public perception of entirely unbiased journalism.  Our reputation is our most important currency.

Here are the people and institutions who have supported that mission with a contribution this year:

 

Anonymous | Todd Brown | Meredith Cooper | Rose Gutfeld and Peter Edwards

Elsbeth Mode | Karen Risch | Jack Watson

 

 

    

  

 

 

 

 

Founding Team

Alec Jacobson, Executive Director, lives in Telluride, CO. He is a National Geographic Young Explorer and has covered slow stories around the world as a photojournalist.  alec@mountainindependent.org | 802-578-6339

Samantha Tisdel Wright lives in Ouray, CO. She won the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Breaking News from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on a double-fatality at the Revenue Mine near Ouray, has won over a dozen awards from the Colorado Press Association as a reporter and editor at the Ouray County Plaindealer, and is a two-time runner-up for the Mark Fischer Poetry Prize.

Barbara Kondracki, web developer, graphic designer, and occasional editor, has more than a decade of experience in editorial design. She has built all of the web and graphic assets we’ve got.

 

Contributor Roster

Andy Bardon lives in Jackson Hole, WY, and is a National Geographic Young Explorer. As a photographer and videographer, he has contributed to publications including National Geographic.

Brent Gardner-Smith lives in Aspen, CO, and is the Executive Director of AspenJournalism.org.

Amy Irvine is based in Telluride, CO.  She is a Faculty Fellow at the University of Southern New Hampshire’s Creative Writing MFA program and her journalism and essays have appeared in Orion, Climbing, High Desert Journal, and in numerous Western, nature, and environmental anthologies.

Karen James lives in Telluride, CO.  She graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and has contributed to the New York Times.

Louise Johns lives in Bozeman, MT, and is a National Geographic Young Explorer. As a photographer, she has focused on the relationship between people and wilderness around the world, winning two Hearst Awards, a Society of Professional Journalists award and, in 2016, was named one of National Geographic’s “20 under 30 Explorers: The Next Generation of National Park Leaders.”

Max Lowe lives in Bozeman, MT.  He is a photographer and filmmaker, and a National Geographic Young Explorer.

Hans Ludwig lives in Mammoth Lakes, CA.  He is Powder Magazine’s Jaded Local.

Gordy Megroz is based in Jackson, Wyoming. As a correspondent for Outside magazine and contributor to Men’s JournalMen’s HealthBloomberg BusinessweekSKI, and Skiing, he writes investigative pieces, as well as profiles of athletescompanies, and places. He also extensively explores the latest gearhealthnutrition, and fitness trends. And he’s never afraid to sacrifice his body for a good story.

David Page lives in Mammoth Lakes, CA and has written for the Los Angeles Times MagazineMen’s JournalSkiSkiingPowderThe New York TimesEsquireOutside, and many other publications. He is the author of the Lowell Thomas Award-winning Explorer’s Guide to Yosemite & the Southern Sierra Nevada(Countryman Press/W.W. Norton), now in its second printing.

Corey Robinson lives in Dolores, CO.  He is a cinematographer, photographer, producer and editor, and has worked on productions for National Geographic, Discovery Communications, Smithsonian Networks, Travel Channel, Canoe & Kayak Magazine, the American Canoe Association, Potomac Paddlesports and various non-profits. He is a National Geographic Young Explorer.

Mike Rogge lives in Tahoe Vista, CA.  He has contributed stories to Vice, Powder, ESPN among other publications.

Becca Skinner lives in Bozeman, MT and is a National Geographic Young Explorer.

Jill Stanford is based in Truckee, CA.   Her writing has been published by Teton Gravity ResearchThe ClymbRoots RatedMoonshine InkTahoe QuarterlyOnly In Your State, Sierra Heritage Magazine, South Sound Magazine, 425 Magazine, the Mountain Democrat, Mountaineers Magazine, and more.

Derek Taylor is based near Ogden, UT.

Evan Vann is based in Ouray, CO.

Amy Westervelt lives in Truckee, CA, and routinely contributes to the Guardian UK and the Wall Street Journal. She is the co-creator of The Range podcast.

Elliot Wilkinson-Ray lives in Carbondale, CO.  He is a filmmaker and photographer who has contributed Peloton Magazine and has worked with commercial clients including Columbia Sportswear and Hoka One One.

Tyler Wilkinson-Ray lives in Telluride, CO and is a National Geographic Young Explorer. He is a filmmaker and his work has been screened by National Geographic and at festivals including Telluride Mountainfilm and Banff.

 

Board of Directors

Ben Tisdel, Board President, lives in Ouray, CO.  He is a lawyer and a Ouray County Commissioner.

Joan May, Board Secretary, lives in Mountain Village, CO.  She is a San Miguel County Commissioner.

JT Thomas, Board Treasurer, lives in Ridgway, CO.  He is an award-winning science journalist who has contributed to  the New York Times, WIRED, Smithsonian, Discover Magazine, High Country News and been shown at the International Center of Photography and the United Nations.

 

Advisory Board

Laura Colbert is formerly contributed stories to NPR from China and was a staff reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio.

Rose Gutfeld was the managing editor at Congressional Quarterly and spent 15 years as a staff writer and editor at the Wall Street Journal.

Judy Muller is an Emmy, Peabody and Dupont-Columbia award-winning journalist. She was a longtime correspondent for ABC and is a regular contributor to NPR’s Morning Edition.

 

More about Us

Rural community newspapers across the United States share some common constraints. Nudged by limited advertising revenues, many papers stick to bread and butter reporting, covering weekly meetings, weekend sports, and daily happenings in an incremental, low cost, low risk way. These factors, combined with increasing corporate ownership, steer local papers away from tough stories and fragment complex issues into more pieces than can be viewed as a whole. The inadvertent end-result is a series of barriers that inhibit many residents in our communities from becoming informed and engaging critically in local and regional issues. Every vote counts in every election in a small town, but decisions are more likely to be made by relationships and politics than by careful consideration and informed research.

So, in 2015, we launched the San Juan Independent to complement the existing publications in our region by diving deep into more complicated issues. We hold journalism to be a public service that fuels debate and democracy, and seek to give our neighbors the best information possible. Our story on a workforce-housing-related ballot measure drove rich conversation, our local take on the Gold King Mine spill in 2015 landed in Senator Michael Bennett’s office and a piece on the complexities of the Ouray Ice Park won a 2016 Society of Professional Journalists award.

But we’ve noticed that our work is still missing something: context. Other mountain regions, centered on places like Aspen, Jackson Hole and Sun Valley, share similar challenges and opportunities and all of these communities have demonstrated eagerness to learn from each other. So, we’re launching the Mountain Independent to build a hub of rich information and analysis to connect mountain regions.

We are mountain journalists. We travel the world in pursuit of the truth – writers about powder, recorders of the environment, photographers of the vulnerable – but we have all buried our hearts in the hills and made our homes among them. We care about their future, and so we’re turning our global lens on the local.

Embedded in our home towns, we collaborate to bring our rich bodies of knowledge and storytelling expertise to the task of contextualizing critical issues to engage our readers in educated, impactful action.

Our neighbors are our primary audience, but we know our towns punch above their weight and we expect our journalism to do the same. Our goal is positively impact the local where every vote counts big in a small town. But we plan to bend the arc on global conversations, leading from the high points of middle America.