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2023 Year in Review


After a long series of discussions, the Custer County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted to shut down the county jail. “My goal is not to cut staff but to save money,” Sheriff-Elect Rich Smith said at the time: “The jail is below 34% occupancy most of the time. It [costs] about $1 million per year to run the jail. Fremont [County] is going to charge us $150 a night for inmate custody. We are paying $460 per night to run the jail to bring in inmates from other counties, but they are only paying us $60 per night. The Fremont Jail has a medical staff on site. I believe it’s the best thing financially to do right now, to send inmates there – if things change and we have a population increase, that could change.”

Local artist Andy Mast’s drawings were featured on Denver’s Clock Tower on the 16th Street Mall, with his artwork projected onto the several hundred-foot tower.

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A large group of teachers and staff, all dressed in black, made for a notably somber tone at the first regular meeting of 2023 of the Custer County School’s Board of Education (BOE). They were there to speak up about the dismal state of their pay.

County Commissioners Bill Canda, Tom Flower, and Kevin Day met on January 11 to discuss whether Custer County needs to hire a county manager, a position that would serve as a senior staff person who would manage day-to-day issues and support the commissioners on budgetary planning and provide oversight for all division heads in the county.


Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District (RMWSD) start discussions on a new reservoir on Grape Creek. The reservoir will be located on a roughly 20-acre property west of Highway 69 that RMWSD owns. Schneider and the Board discussed the issue of water rights applications from neighboring landowners that will have to be addressed by formal objections in the water court by the RMWSD before the reservoir can finally be built.

Despite the moratorium on new water taps, Silver Cliff was finding existing taps, and new houses were being built on those lots. Roger Camper reported that eight new homes were currently under construction.

The Tribune received word that Custer County Attorney Clint Smith passed away after a long illness with cancer. Smith had served as county attorney for almost a decade and was active in the community. He was a former President of Dark Skies and was very active in All Aboard Westcliffe.

Wind gusts over 118 miles an hour knocked out ten power poles on the Valley Floor last week along Macy Lane. Crews worked until 1 a.m. Wednesday, February 22, to restore power to the area. Several barns and sheds were damaged in the wind storms.


Both Westcliffe officials and the school Board of Education considered what to do with a crosswalk at 702 Main Street. The crosswalk was moved to its present location as part of a Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Safe Routes to School program that provides funds for sidewalks and added signs to discourage people from parking in front of the building.

The Community Methodist Church celebrated 100 years.

Duane Carey, former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and NASA Columbia Space Shuttle pilot for a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, and his wife, Cheryl, came to Westcliffe on March 9 to give the students at Custer County School a strong message: stay in school, rethink your future, and consider becoming part of the aerospace industry because it needs young and talented technicians.

Custer County’s new emergency management officer, Robyn Knappe, feels right at home in the Valley. Her father’s ancestors were part of the German Colony that came to the area in the 1860s and farmed along Verdemont Road.

In a special meeting on March 16, Westcliffe town trustees filled a vacancy on the board by selecting Loree Lund, who lives along Main Street and is the owner of Take A Look Active cycling mirrors with her husband, Chris. She was sworn in at the board’s March 21 meeting.


Beginning on April 4, Custer County will initiate a Stage 1 fire ban. After discussions with the Wet Mountain Fire Protection District Chief and the Wetmore Fire Chief, Sheriff Rich Smith has determined that with the lack of significant precipitation this week, combined with the recent winds drying fire fuels, there is a significant risk of a wildland fire event in Custer County. However, there are no restrictions on USFS and BLM public lands.

A USGS survey showed that rare earths were not located in Custer County in minable amounts. In addition, existing thorium was present, and they examined over 400 veins with some concentrations, but they are probably not minable in Custer County.

The School Board rejected the state policy of “Parent Notification of Employee Criminal Charges,” claiming that reporting accused crimes could hurt a teacher’s reputation and that parents did not have a right to know if teachers had been accused of serious crimes. The policy is summarized as follows: “The district shall notify students’ parents when a district employee or former district employee is charged with a specific criminal offense, as required by state law and in accordance with this policy.” There follows a summary of the criminal charges that would necessitate such notice: felonies, including child abuse; crimes of violence, such as assault or domestic violence; indecent exposure; or drug offenses.

Repaving efforts between Wetmore and Westcliffe on Highway 96 started again after a year’s delay. The project was completed in the late summer at an estimated cost of $12.5 million.


Property values rose dramatically in 2022, setting property owners up for tax increases of almost 40% for tax year 2023. “Colorado state statutes require that the Assessor use sales in 2021 and the first half of 2022 in using the market approach to set values. During this timeframe, sales prices of residential properties increased greatly. Sales prices of vacant land in many parts of the county also greatly increased,” County Assessor J.D. Henrich said.

Just five weeks after the United States Department of Agriculture declared Custer County and surrounding counties a drought disaster area, a series of drought-busting storms dumped inches of snow and rain on the Wet Mountain Valley. According to the long-range forecasts, it does not look like the moisture is going to disappear anytime soon.

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U.S. Representative Brittany Pettersen (CO-07) introduced the Silver Cliff Community Act, which would restore the ZIP Code for the Town of Silver Cliff. In 1991, the town lost its unique ZIP Code and was forced to use the ZIP Code of the neighboring town of Westcliffe, which has resulted in delays and extensive errors with postal delivery, as well as a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales tax revenue. The bill would reinstate the original ZIP Code to the Town of Silver Cliff, alleviating these issues and decoupling them from Westcliffe.


Historic Silver Cliff Museum reopens after a two-year renovation. A crowd of about 50 people gathered on Highway 96 in front of the Silver Cliff Museum, 610 E. Main Street, to celebrate the culmination of three significant infrastructure events for the Town of Silver Cliff: the renovation of the Museum building itself, with the addition of an outdoor pavilion behind it; and two joint projects undertaken with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)–one a repair and replacement of pavement in front of the Museum itself, and the other being the Safe Routes to Schools project. This last was a five-year-long project involving the Town of Westcliffe as well.

Recall against Tom Flower moving forward after a court ruling. 11th Judicial District Judge Lynette Wenner ruled on Monday that the recall against Commissioner Tom Flower should move forward after a hearing was held in March. Members of the Recall against Tom Flower Committee stated in a legal challenge to Custer County Clerk and Recorder Kelley Camper that six protests filed against the recall after signatures were collected are to be considered invalid because they were not properly notarized under oath.

Sangre de Cristo Electric Association (SDCEA) has announced the results of its 2023 Board of Directors election. Jeff Fiedler and Mark Boyle will serve three-year terms as board seat representatives for At-Large and Rural Lake/Chaffee County respectively. Blake Bennetts, the incumbent town of Buena Vista representative, was unopposed for re-election. The new and incumbent directors will take their seats at the June 28 board meeting.

Boyle defeated incumbent Joe Redetzke to represent rural Chaffee/Lake County cooperative members, 1,756 to 887 votes. Fiedler defeated incumbent Michael Robinson to represent At-Large members, 1,658 to 975 votes. As he was unopposed, Bennetts did not appear on the ballot.
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Local artists Andy Mast and Sarah Woods were featured at Cheyenne Frontier Days, which is renowned as one of the most esteemed showcases in the Rocky Mountain Region and the Western art community; the Cheyenne Frontier Days Western Art Show exhibits captivating works that capture the essence of the American West.

Beginning on Monday, July 10, at noon, Custer County initiated Stage 1 fire restrictions. After discussions with the Wet Mountain Fire Protection District Chief, Sheriff Smith has concurred there is an elevated risk of wildfires due to the increased temperatures forecast along with continued drying winds. However, there are no restrictions on USFS and BLM public lands.

New Wet Mountain Valley Fire Chief Jeremiah Coleman takes a long look at the department, hoping to someday make it a paid force instead of just a volunteer effort.

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The Westcliffe Board of Trustees accepted the resignations of Trustees Gary Frickell and Cathy Snow; Frickell’s effective immediately, and Snow’s effective as of the end of the month. In their resignation letters, both Frickell (who was not present at the meeting) and Snow cited personal reasons for leaving. The BOT thanked them both for their service and unanimously voted to approve Trustee George Mowry as Mayor Pro-Tem as of August 1.


The annual showing of the toxic algae bloom at Lake DeWeese finally appeared according to tests performed by the local Division of Parks and Wildlife Officer Justin Krall. The levels of the toxic algae crossed eight parts per billion of water last week. Exposure to the water can cause severe skin rashes in humans and pets alike. Unfortunately, the toxic algae bloom has become a yearly phenomenon due to warming waters coupled with fertilizer runoff from Valley hay ranches.

A group of AAW volunteers that humbly refer to themselves as “The Magnificent Seven (plus one painter)” has taken on the task of refurbishing a piece of equipment from their rolling stock. Car #010343, a Maintenance of Way, or MOW car, was acquired by Denver & Rio Grande railway in September of 1898 as a freight box car, and was repurposed as a MOW on May 31, 1920. Its inventory card notes the maintenance tools included.

Commissioner Tom Flower lost a recall Election to Lucas Epp by less than 40 votes after a year-long attempt to unseat Flower. Flower himself had been elected in a recall election in 2017.

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The homecoming festivities last week left everyone in the Valley with a smile on their face. The homecoming parade on Friday morning was filled with what seemed like most of the school. The varsity volleyball team easily defeated rival South Park, and the football team crushed South Park 64 to 0; afterwards the crowd celebrated with a bonfire. What was great to see was the largest crowd turnout homecoming has seen in years. Locals were catching up with each other, kids were running around and playing, and everyone was waiting in line for a hot dog or other snack at the concession stands. In short, a great time was had by all!

A Valley resident was infected and hospitalized with the West Nile Virus, but did make a slow recovery.

The Town of Westcliffe announced the addition of Bob Fulton and Mark Dembosky to the Town’s Board of Trustees. Both bring a wealth of experience and a commitment to community service, which will undoubtedly contribute to the Board’s ongoing efforts to enhance the Town of Westcliffe.


Josh and Lynne Rules and their two adult children recently brought their very special vision and mission to the area. Specializing in marsupial rescue, the Rules cleverly and caringly named their operation Wee Pocket Sanctuary. In a rather unassuming building off County Road 130, both the Rules, and the lovely creatures they nurture back to health and normalcy, patiently wait through the necessary build-outs necessary to accommodate the growing enterprise.


Attorney General Phil Weiser and his staff dropped in at a local shop on Main Street to discuss the opioid epidemic, especially as it pertains to youth; youth mental health; a grant program to train youth on how to gain construction skills on dilapidated houses in their towns; and how to educate older adults on fraud.

After a year and a half of investigation into the 11th Judicial District Attorney (DA) Linda Stanley, the Colorado Attorney Regulation Counsel brought a complaint against Stanley in the Colorado Supreme Court. While the complaint does not ask for any particular punishment, the seven claims brought against Stanley would be enough for the Supreme Court to revoke the District Attorney’s law license and perhaps permanently prevent Stanley from practicing law again.

What started as a fall thunderstorm over the Wet Mountains in far western Pueblo County on October 13 ended up nearly a month later as a 500-acre forest fire that barely crossed into Custer County near San Isabel. What has been dubbed the Saint Charles Fire (due to a creek sharing the name nearby) is estimated to have cost $6 million to suppress.

Friday, November 3, was a very good day for parents, teachers, and young children from Custer County as the Custer County Kids Council dedicated the first-ever childcare center for teachers and parents. Without the learning center, teachers who have small children would have nowhere to keep their children while they serve the community in the classrooms.


Joe McCarthy (by Zoom), Reggie Foster, and Jennifer Kriegh were sworn in by outgoing school board president Jake Shy. They decided which board positions they would hold: Joe McCarthy, president; Reggie Foster, vice president; and Jennifer Kreigh as secretary-treasurer. They all agreed that they would seek a staff person to take notes so that Kriegh could participate fully in the meetings, a limitation that previous board secretaries have found cumbersome.

Decade-long property line dispute ends in shooting, killing three and wounding another. For nearly a decade, a small, winding private road in northern Custer County has been the source of lawsuits, loss of property access, chains across driveways, and feuding between neighbors. Even though ownership of most of the properties has turned over to several new owners in the last ten years, the legal realities of the road constantly reignited fights between neighbors. That decade-long tension finally erupted last Monday in a hail of lead that left three people dead and one in critical condition.

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