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Local news roundup with the Colorado Sun - 8/3/22

All in the name of science: Volunteers hike in Colorado during their one-week hiatus from electrical lighting.
Courtesy of Kenneth Wright
All in the name of science: Volunteers hike in Colorado during their one-week hiatus from electrical lighting.

Every Tuesday, we talk with our colleagues over at the Colorado Sun about the local stories they're following.

KUNC's Beau Baker spoke with Colorado Sun Editor Larry Ryckman some stories the Sun is following.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights:

Beau Baker: Larry, let's start with Colorado's iconic Fourteeners. The state certainly has a culture of bagging high peaks, but some recent numbers suggest hiker traffic has dropped off. Are Fourteeners losing their appeal. What's going on here?

Larry Ryckman: Well, it's an interesting story. Many people made a point of heading out to the outdoors in Colorado during the pandemic. But Sun reporter Jason Blevins found the traffic on the state's Fourteeners has dropped.

Last year, the number of hikers scaling Colorado's highest peaks fell by more than 110,000 user days. There's a group called the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and they use remote sensor counters on 23 trails around the state. They counted more than 300,000 hikers scaling the state's 54 14,000-foot peaks in 2021. That's down 27% from an estimated 415,000 in 2020.

So one issue that we're finding is that some communities and private landowners limited access to the Fourteeners, particularly in the mosquito range. In other areas, parking was an issue. Either people were asked to pay for parking, or they just couldn't find any spaces. And another factor is that additional recreational options have opened up for people as the pandemic has has eased a bit. So hikers are essentially heading to other areas.

Beau Baker: Does this hit the state economy at all?

Larry Ryckman: Oh, yeah. Fourteeners are big business in Colorado. Again, the Colorado Fourtneer initiative estimates that Fourteeners hiking generated more than $82 million in economic impact in 2021. CSU Studies show that hikers who scaled Quandary Peak near Breckenridge spent about $271 a day.

Beau Baker: Heat waves — they've been in the national news a lot lately, and we've seen a few hot spells here on the front range this summer. One of your reporters looked into heat-related deaths and other effects of high temperatures. What did they find?

Larry Ryckman: Yes, this has been one of the hottest summers on record along the front range. And Sun reporter John Angle has been talking to Colorado Public Health Officials about the impact all that heat is having on all of us.

Unlike places like Phoenix and Las Vegas, we don't see a lot of heat-related deaths in Colorado. Still, last year, five people in the state died from heat-related causes. That's according to death certificate data compiled by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. That encompasses all deaths with heatstroke, dehydration or hyper hyponatremia as a contributing factor.

In 2020, about 300 people visited the emergency room in Colorado for heat-related illnesses, and some 40 people were hospitalized. But John says those numbers really sort of missed the bigger picture. Experts say heat often puts people with other medical conditions in crisis. That includes the elderly, people with cardiovascular disease, chronic diabetes and kidney disease. Health officials say they're planning for a future in Colorado [in] which summers likely will continue getting hotter sooner and staying hotter longer.

Beau Baker: And finally today, Larry, let's talk about microplastics in the environment. Researchers are finding more and more plastic pollution, even in Colorado's snowpack. How has the Sun been following this story?

Larry Ryckman: Yeah, there's just no escape from some of this. Reporter Michael Booth has been writing about so-called forever chemicals that have been found in waters across Colorado. Now, he says, researchers have found an invisible layer of microplastic that blankets the Rockies.

This plastic pollutes our snowpack and our water and yet undefined ways. One researcher tells Mike that microplastics seem to be everywhere. These are plastics that include fragments of shredded truck tires that were blown in from nearby highways. Pieces of plastic bottles [were] lifted from a Utah landfill by wind and dropped onto Loveland Pass. Even bits of plastic from garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean have found their way to the San Juan Mountains.

Experts say we're likely to start finding more microplastics in our drinking water and even in the fish in Colorado's rivers, streams and lakes. As you point out, of course, plastics are a worldwide problem.

The world is producing about 400 million metric tons of plastic every year. And those plastics can break apart and pretty much never degrade. So these latest findings just underscore that even on Colorado's highest peaks and its most remote places, there's no escaping the intrusion of plastics.

Beau Baker: Scary stuff. I look forward to speaking with Michael about PFAS next week. Larry, I appreciate you highlighting some of the stories the Sun is following.

As Northern Colorado’s local, vocal bridge to NPR’s All Things Considered, I provide listeners with news and information critical to our region while also doing my best to keep them engaged and in good company.
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