In 2018, Dolores saw changes in leadership, wildfires, new trails, a murder case, a school board recall election, a reality show and new businesses.
The year kicked off violently with a murder the night of Jan. 2 in the Haycamp area of San Juan National Forest east of Dolores.
Kevin Wade Folsom was apprehended Jan. 3 and charged with the murder of James Box Jr., whose body was found after a three-hour search by the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.
Folsom, Box and Box’s wife reportedly drove to Haycamp Mesa and partied in an area off Indian Ridge Road. Folsom admitted shooting Box in the head but claimed he had already been shot. In July, as part of a plea deal, Folsom pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, plus five years of supervised parole.
Box was Southern Ute tribal member.
Changing of the guardIn April, longtime local Chad Wheelus was voted in as the new Dolores mayor – on his birthday. He received 154 votes to Jerry Whited’s 119.
Wheelus has lived in Dolores for 25 years and has been a teacher at Southwest Open School for 20 of them. Tracy Murphy, Jennifer Stark, Melissa Watters, and Val Truelsen also were elected to the Town Board during the election. Cody Folsom was later appointed to the board to fill a vacancy left by Isabel Boyce.
In June, Dolores gained a new town manager, Jay Ruybalid. From 2014 to 2016, he was the city manager for Belen, New Mexico, population 7,100. Also in June, the board hired Jon Kelly as the town’s new attorney. Kelly has a law practice in Dolores and previously served on the Dolores School Board.
The school district’s tumultuous yearDolores School District Re-4 school district underwent a change in leadership, and two members of the board of education were targeted in a controversial recall election. In May, Scott Cooper resigned as superintendent of the district to take a job at as assistant superintendent of Mesa Valley County School District 51 in Grand Junction.
In June, Phil Kasper was hired as an interim superintendent.
In October, voters rejected an attempt to recall school board member Vangi McCoy, with 485 voting against the recall and 358 voting for it. Former board president Dee Prock, who also was targeted in the recall effort, resigned from the board, and the board appointed Lenetta Shull to replace her on Sept 13. The recall effort began in April by petition circulators Amy Lewis and Michael Smith, who claimed that the two board members did not follow school district policies.
Dolores schools’ roller-coaster ride continued into summer, first with controversy about security, then with rebounding test scores that garnered state recognition.
In August, a deputy in the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office stirred debate after he entered a classroom during a security walk-through, and using his hand to simulate a gun, pointed a finger at the teacher and said, “You’re dead.” The incident, intended to raise awareness of the problem of unlocked doors, caused an uproar among parents and staff.
The deputy and Sheriff Steven Nowlin apologized for the incident, which triggered safety discussions about school policy and actions to improve it.
Later in August, the school showed significant improvement in test scores from 2017. Also in 2018, the school banned on campus cell-phone use for students, which has led to fewer reports of cyberbullying and heightened student engagement.
Off the beaten trackIn April, the San Juan National Forest approved 25 additional miles of nonmotorized trails in the Boggy Draw area. The new. 5.3-mile McNeil Trail was the first to be constructed. It takes off from the existing Italian Canyon trail and weaves through large boulders along the canyon rim. It is a nontechnical cruiser trail.
Two lawsuits were filed against a decision on trail use in the Rico-West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest north of Dolores. In October, motorcycle groups sued, claiming that the closure of 30 miles of trails to their use was not legal. The lawsuit claims that reasons for closings and timing restrictions for motorcyclists – such as to enhance elk habitat, improve the hunter experience and protect the watershed – are inconsistent or undocumented.
In November, environmentalists sued, claiming seasonal closures for motorized use on trails are not long enough and do not adequately protect deer, elk and water quality, as required under forest policy. According to the new seasonal restrictions, motorcycle use on single-track trails where the activity is allowed are only open from June 1 to Oct. 31. Environmentalist argue that motorized use dates should be July 1 to Sept. 8 to protect spring elk calving, the fall mating rut and the hunter experience.
Fires rage outside DoloresThe Burro Fire and the Plateau Fire burned near Dolores in 2018, filling the river valley with smoke, triggering a nearby pre-evacuation order and causing general anxiety. By June, federal firefighters had set up a temporary tent city on the Dolores school campus, complete with a cafeteria, showers and a refrigeration truck. The school cafeteria was converted into a command center and a place to distribute public information.
Thrift shop employee faces chargesIn September, the former executive director of Renew Inc., a Cortez nonprofit that serves victims of domestic violence, was charged with theft of agency resources after an investigation by the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.
Cheryl J. Beene, 60, was investigated by the Sheriff’s Office regarding allegations of theft from the Second Chance Thrift store, in Dolores at 96 Central Ave. She is no longer employed by Renew. Beene was charged with one count of felony theft, one count of misdemeanor theft and one felony count of tampering with a witness, according to 22nd Judicial District Attorney Will Furse. The Second Chance Thrift Store is a fundraising arm of the Wings Safehouse for battered women in Cortez, which is managed by Renew.
Mounted patrol under fireDuring Escalante Days in August, a 4-year-old and 7-year-old were kicked by a Montezuma County patrol horse near Flanders Park and were transported to Southwest Memorial Hospital, Sheriff Steve Nowlin said. One child required stitches in the head and was flown to a Denver hospital for observation. A Sheriff’s Office report indicated the children were roughhousing nearby and startled the horse. But relatives of the victims disagreed and said it was inappropriate to have horses in an area where children were playing in the first place. Nowlin said procedures were being reviewed for mounted patrol horses during festivals because of the incident.
What’s brewing in the valleyIn February, Loop’s Coffee House opened in Dolores at 795 Railroad Ave. Owner Mark Looper took over the former Pony Expresso building and remodeled it to make room for additional tables. A newly installed bar with tall stools gives the revived shop a bistro feel and is meant to inspire coffee shop conversation. Loop’s serves a wide array of coffee drinks, plus breakfast burritos, cinnamon rolls, sandwiches, soups, salads and smoothies.
In June, Nanny’s Taqueria opened an authentic Mexican restaurant on 11th Street. Its menu is derived from traditional family recipes of central Mexico, and dishes are prepared fresh daily. A salsa bar is set up for customers to add a variety of spicy sauces and toppings to their plates.
“Our pozole verde is really excellent and is made with chicken, bacon, ham and sausage,” said the chef.
In July, The River Bar and Grill, a rejuvenated sports bar, restaurant and honky-tonk, opened on the shore of the Dolores River. The menu is classic pub fare, specializing in pizza, burgers, sandwiches, salads, fish and chips, wings, sliders and Irish nachos made with sidewinder potatoes.
There’s a kids menu too.
The relaxing alfresco dining experience on the back deck while watching the river flow is unmatched anywhere in Montezuma County. Rafters and kayakers love landing at the venue’s beach for a refreshment or two.
Also in 2018, Dolores Outfitters opened at 341 Railroad Ave. The refurbished store and gas station at 341 Railroad Ave. specializes in camping, fishing, hunting, snowshoeing and boating gear, plus offers rentals for paddle boards, jeeps, ATVs and snowmobiles. The large retail space includes outdoor clothing, and a convenience store area of snacks, camping food, sodas and coffee. There is also a section of products for dogs.
A Los Angeles love storyIn October, television crews for the Oprah Winfrey Network visited Dolores to shoot a reality show about a local man engaged to pop singer Michelle Williams.
“Chad Loves Michelle” features Dolores native Chad Johnson’s relationship with Williams, of the hit R&B band Destiny’s Child. The series premiered on the OWN channel Nov. 3. The episode focusing on Chad’s home town aired Nov. 10. Filming occurred for two days at locations in Dolores and at the Circle K Ranch, said longtime local Jim Koenig, Johnson’s grandfather.
“It was a spectacle, with the camera crews and interviews,” said Koenig, 87. “It was different to be in the spotlight.”
Johnson, 40, grew up and went to school in Dolores. He found success in the ministry and as a life coach and has served as chaplain for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Dodgers. The homegrown pastor started his own spiritual retreat program in Phoenix that Williams, 37, attended. The chance meeting sparked the beginning of their relationship, and the couple’s engagement was recently featured in People magazine. Part of the filming was done at the popular burger joint The Depot, Koenig said, and at his home on Fifth Street.
In-stream flow right establishedIn April, a state water court upheld a controversial new in-stream flow right established by the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the Dolores River below McPhee Dam.
The in-stream flow standard of 900 cubic feet per second on the Dolores River is during spring between the confluence of the San Miguel River and Gateway.
It is intended to support river health including three species of native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub. New in-stream flows are junior to existing water rights, but senior to future water right claims. The new in-stream flows do not require additional releases from upstream McPhee Dam.
Also in 2018The Dolores-Norwood Road gained $1 million in funding from Montezuma County and U.S. National Forest to chip-seal the last four miles to the county line.The Dolores Town board extended the ban on retail marijuana stores for one more year.And the Lone Mesa Colorado Parks and Wildlife center in Dolores will move into an office to be built at Mancos State Park. The 600-square-foot facility will house administrative offices for Lone Mesa and Mancos state parks and include a new entry station for Mancos State Park. firstname.lastname@example.org