2017: Looking back, water, development and public lands were in the local news

Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 7:19 PM

Some trends ran all the way through 2017, and most involved change.

In the beginning of the year, there was snow – a whole lot of it. That enabled McPhee Reservoir to fill and spill, guaranteeing ample irrigation water for Dolores Project users and giving rafters and kayakers a long season of high water. Plenty of wildland fires began, but they stayed small.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Forest Service pathologist, studying insect and drought problems in Southwest Colorado forests, warned that climate change could transform the local landscape.

Public lands were in the news. When then-President Barack Obama created Bears Ears National Monument in Southeast Utah on Dec. 28, 2016, the outcry was immediate and loud. President Donald Trump ordered a review of monuments nationwide; Bears Ears was cut by more than 1 million acres, but Canyons of the Ancients was spared.

After agreement from the Montezuma County Commissioners, Yucca House National Monument was expanded, and its access issue was resolved. Visitors no longer have to cross private land.

Forest Service recreational budgets have shrunk dramatically, potentially leading to use fees and closures. Dolores and Montezuma counties are working together to keep campgrounds open along the lower Dolores River.

Water managers in Montezuma County, fearing that boats would bring in invasive mussels that would damage water-release mechanisms, closed some reservoirs to trailered watercraft causing recreational boaters to protest.

The Montezuma County Commissioners removed longtime local “water buffalo” John Porter from his seat on the Southwestern Water Conservation District, replacing him with Don Schwindt. At issue was how to protect land and water along the lower Dolores.

Havran’s Dry Cleaners closed its doors after 70 years, and Seas’nings Catering shut down after 19. Notable retirements included Dolores State Bank president Edward Merritt Jr., First National Bank president Byron Maynes, local physician Robert Heyl, high school band director Rodney Ritthaler, and popular photographer Sam Green.

The city of Cortez moved into the new City Hall, and the Piñon Project moved into the old one. The county and district courts relocated to the new combined courts building. Osprey Packs built a new facility, and Southwest Health System and the Cortez Fire Protection District began construction. Those projects have provided local employment and are modernizing the face of the community.

Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 made sufficient progress to be declared “off the accountability clock,” although Manaugh Elementary still needs improvement to meet state requirements. Voters declined to pass a mill-levy override that would have raised teacher salaries and helped attract teachers in a time of statewide shortage.


‰Local school, faith and community leaders have teamed up to tackle bullying and suicide.

‰Rosa Sabido sought sanctuary from deportation in the Mancos Methodist Church; her cause has drawn support both locally and nationally.

‰Western Excelsior, a Mancos wood-products plant, was destroyed by fire, putting approximately 100 people out of work.

‰Kinder Morgan paid disputed taxes after a court case was resolved. County Assessor Scott Davis resigned after failing to file timely responses in another Kinder Morgan tax matter.

‰The Mancos Creative District formed, focusing energy on the arts.

‰After public outcry and an engineer’s analysis, the Dolores town board voted to tear down the deteriorating wooden playground structure at Joe Rowell Park.