NEWS

Breckenridge gondola to run in summer despite wildlife concerns

Date: Apr. 22nd, 2010
Contact: Robert Allen Phone: (970) 668-4628

BRECKENRIDGE — The BreckConnect Gondola is to run daily July 1 to Sept. 6 this year despite potential effects to bird and moose populations in the Cucumber Gulch wetlands corridor through which it travels.

“We need to protect it,” Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron said Wednesday at a special town council meeting. “I don't think this is a horrible thing. It's probably good for business or even the carbon footprint, but I do think we should keep an eye on this, year-to-year.”

Bergeron cast the sole dissenting vote at the meeting where the council approved summer gondola operations.

Breckenridge Ski Resort earlier this year had suggested starting operation when the Peak 8 Fun Park opens June 18, but council considered conflicting data from environmental consultants and postponed the decision to Wednesday.

Council members hoped Christy Carello, the town's consultant, could arrive at a compromise with the resort's biological consultant, Rick Thompson, on which dates and hours would be best for gondola operations. But their thoughts on impacts to wildlife couldn't be reconciled.

Carello said in a letter to council that the gondola shouldn't operate during June or July because of a sensitive migratory bird-breeding season. Thompson said in a report that the breeding season would end by about June 21.

Carello responded that perhaps Thompson's findings would be accurate for the Front Range, but six years of studying Cucumber Gulch bird populations have shown that the timing isn't the same locally.

She also said the stomping of feet in gondola cabins could be enough to disturb the breeding birds.

Council on Wednesday discussed the objectivity of a town consultant relative to one hired by the ski resort.

“She doesn't have a dog in this hunt at all,” Councilman Eric Mamula said.

The town purchased the roughly 77 acres of Cucumber Gulch wetlands for $9 million.

Among discussion of the gondola's impact to wildlife came the issue of people hiking and biking through the wetlands — and the potentially more harmful disturbance they might cause.

Steps are to being taken to limit the number of people accessing the wetlands on foot and bike this year in the wetlands, and Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Council made several suggestions that council members want pursued.

The suggestions include: creating a new trail to avoid impacts to the gulch, ensuring that hiking guides train with Carello at the beginning of the season, creating rules to help keep mountain bikers out, deterring traffic with signs and more.

The gondola hours this summer are to be from 8:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.

For the 12 days between the Fun Park opening and the gondola operating, buses are expected to move visitors between the parking lots and base area, as has been done in previous years.

John Quigley, who represents the Shock Hill homeowners' association, told council Wednesday that the gondola is silent relative to the heavy machinery cutting down beetle-kill trees and building homes in the nearby neighborhoods. He said chainsaws and wood chippers made loud noise last year from May 18 through August.

The town is to support further wildlife monitoring this year to determine what effects people are having on the animals of Cucumber Gulch.