Like many long-time Grand County residents, I have – on more than one occasion – pushed up hard against what is allowed by our land use regulations.  The 1974 story of a friend’s red-tagged Tee Pee on my Icebox Estates lot, complete with two Harley Davidsons instead of the expected four legged steeds parked out front is a bit too long for this space – but another tale is worthy of recounting.

Tracy Welch, an old friend and a teller at Grand Mountain Bank, told me they call my house “Andy Miller TV” because of the constant activity across the street from their drive up window in downtown Fraser. The summer of 2012 was particularly eventful as I had my crane parked along the street, slinging logs into my backyard where my band saw mill was set up to prepare paneling and timbers for the Broome Hut on Berthoud Pass.  I was the contractor charged with building the backcountry cabin for the non-profit Grand Huts Association.

This was before my Town Trustee days, so a call from Town Planner Catherine Trotter was a bit of surprise.  She wondered if might want to pursue a town special use permit for the sawmill.  First I asked if she remembered my address – 267 Mill Ave.  .  We agreed a “sawmill” was historically accurate in a town with logging roots, but also agreed the mill needed to leave the neighborhood as soon as the milling was complete.

After cleaning up the sawdust I crunched some numbers, as I do after any foray into a new project with an unknown tool.  It turned GHA would have about broken even by buying the hut wood package from Hester’s Mill in Kremmling. After factoring in the gift of the logs to GHA and the volunteer time helping with the process GHA did ok with my services. But the numbers made it obvious why band sawmills are called “hobby mills”.

Living off the land in Grand County has been a way of life for generations. The earliest of settlers started with a few basic tools and a dream.  I’ve made many efforts to utilize the 120 acres of mixed beetle killed timber on our High Lonesome Hut property near Tabernash.  My son Skyler built his Milner house out of the trees, the Broome Hut was framed from the material as well.  But if you buy beetle kill tongue and groove Lodgepole pine from Alpine Lumber, it will come from large mills outside Colorado.

Thanks to brave local business people we do have a mill near Parshall using surplus of local timber, and a pole enterprise near Granby as well.  Pellets are also produced from beetle kill in Kremmling and stable bedding is produced near another commercial pole yard by Fraser.  There has been talk of a wood fired power plant (relatively common in New England) in west Grand County, but efforts to build this have so far been unsuccessful. The efforts from the local businesses are reducing the hazards associated with the landscape changing event we experienced over the last decade.  

Studies show a fire in dead Lodgepole is likely less volatile than in green trees – but either would be devastating to the county.  An upcoming danger lies when fire strikes the expanses of downed trees as these dead monarchs finally fall.  This type of ground fire creates ground temperatures which scarify the soil, preventing any type of plant growth for many years.
The large tracts of clear cuts created by US Forest Service and Colorado State Forest Service contractors near Winter Park and Fraser were well designed by the agency to help stop fires threatening our two towns.

A changing climate ensured the last round of pine beetles ate until there was nothing left to decimate.  During their previous visits, normally separated by 30 year intervals, early winter cold snaps stopped their damage.  Spruce beetles may be our next plague. Questions about what species of tree should be planted to deal with warmer temperatures are being discussed. We do have small stands of Douglas Fir, a resilient tree – but there is bug for this species as well.  In the mean time I’ll share with other over-optimistic Grand County entrepreneurs a search for a purpose for our previously green friends.