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Home » Arts & Culture (c104) » New West Daily Roundup for June 27, 2016
Photo courtesy of Ed Gilliland, Glacier Photography

New West Daily Roundup for June 27, 2016

Today in New West news: Whitefish photographer preserving Montana history through negatives, Vail’s $25M investment reaping rewards, and an update on Arch Coal.

According to the Flathead Beacon, Ed Gilliland of Whitefish is doing his part to preserve the region’s history—through amassing and digitizing old photos of Northwest Montana from the early to mid-1900s:

The images come from all corners of Northwest Montana. There are photos of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the 1930s when it was just a dirt path to Logan Pass; images of skiers coasting down the slopes of Big Mountain in vivid Kodachrome color; and black-and-white pictures that capture the construction of the Hungry Horse Dam.


Gilliland first began purchasing photos when he found a collection of unwanted images at an auction house. He said the man who had taken all the photos had died and the family was uninterested in keeping the collection themselves. Gilliland thought it was a shame that the photos someone worked so hard to capture were being sold off piece by piece, so he stepped in to preserve it as one body of work. Since then he has worked with Adele Scholl of Gravity Shots to scan the images and make them available online.

“I started buying these collections to save them from the garbage pile,” he said. “These photos don’t do any good sitting in a closet.”

Among Gilliland’s collection is a group of images taken by Canadian-born Ferde Greene, who first lived in British Columbia before moving to the Flathead Valley in 1915. Like Gilliland, Greene worked for the railroad and took photos on his days off. Greene’s images include photos of local businesses, families and the railroad. One unique series of photos shows how the Great Northern Railway loaded up the Columbia Falls depot and moved it down the tracks, the building precariously hanging off the side of the car.

Other photos show workers harvesting ice off of Whitefish Lake so that it could be stored until summer when it was used to keep refrigerated freight cars cool.

Gilliland purchased the photos more than a decade ago and until recently would make weekly trips to visit Greene’s late son, Howard Greene, to talk about the photos. Gilliland would then record the names and stories that corresponded with each image.

“Ferde was a really good guy,” Gilliland said. “I only know him through his photos, but I can tell he was a good guy.”

Although Gilliland hasn’t settled on what to do with the photos once he’s passed on, until then, he will continue to gather and save photos for future generations. You can see more of Gilliland’s collection here.

Over in Colorado, with climate change altering snowfall and snow cover, ski resorts nationwide are looking to keep solvent while offering visitors what they want: unique experiences in mountain landscapes. To that effect, many resorts have started investigating (and investing in) more summer activities. For many, those efforts have paid dividends. Indeed, we previously reported that Big Sky Resort (in Big Sky, Montana) had a record summer last year.

In fact, south in Colorado, according to the Denver Post, one of the ski industry’s titans (Vail Resorts) has invested $25 million into summer activities at their resorts, most notably its new “Epic Discovery summer projects” at Vail Mountain (in Vail, CO) and Heavenly (Lake Tahoe, California):

After pushing for federal legislation allowing more year-round recreation at ski areas on U.S. Forest Service land, Vail on Tuesday officially unveils the new face of the ski resort industry. And that face is no longer goggle-tanned.

Vail’s $25 million summer investment is designed to turn its ski areas into 12-month playgrounds, with mountain coasters, ziplines, aerial adventure courses and more hiking and biking trails. All of it stems from the 2011 Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which allows the Forest Service greater leeway when approving projects at resorts that initially were designed for downhill skiing.

The resort world, ski town leaders and federal land managers across the country will be watching closely. Vail has set the standard for summer development with Epic Discovery, and other resorts, such as Copper Mountain, Snowmass and Steamboat, have proposed similar plans to add ziplines, trails and the suddenly essential alpine coaster.

“It’s exciting to be a part of something so new on Forest Service land. I get goose bumps just talking about it all,” said Elizabeth Howe, a decades-long resort veteran who is in charge of Vail Mountain’s suddenly twice-as-busy operations. “This is an opportunity in this industry that doesn’t happen very often. This is big innovation with some awesome partners. We are all watching and waiting to see how it goes.”

Hans Vollrath, Vail Resorts’ Disney-schooled director of non-skiing activities, looked for ways to spark “aha” moments as he worked with the Forest Service, Nature Conservancy and Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon to sculpt the interactive elements of Epic Discovery in Colorado and California.

“It’s like I’m at the nature museum, but it’s real,” said a little girl as she bounded off the gondola atop Vail Mountain last week, marveling at the stellar view of the Holy Cross Wilderness.

That’s exactly the idea, Vollrath said, of the “story stake” kiosks that describe Rocky Mountain elk, quaking aspens, wildflowers, mule deer and the very few named Gore Range peaks in the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

“We want people to learn things more than we teach them,” Vollrath said.

Down in Wyoming, for the past few months, we’ve been following Arch Coal in the aftermath of their bankruptcy declaration January 12. One issue that’s stuck throughout the process is the company’s reclamation obligations and self-bonding deal with the state of Wyoming. Critics of the company say Arch is trying to foist reclamation responsibilities ($485 million worth, all told) onto state taxpayers. According to the Casper Star Tribune, however, Arch now says they can afford “secured financing” for mine reclamation in Wyoming, although other issues are still at stake:

It remains to be seen, however, if Arch will be required to replace its self-bonds, as such unsecured liabilities are frequently called. In a disclosure statement submitted June 14, the company said it has been in periodic negotiations with Wyoming regulators over its reclamation obligations.

“The debtors are continuing to work with the state of Wyoming to re-evaluate their bonding liability and to determine the extent to which the debtors will be permitted to self-bond upon the effectiveness of the plan,” the company wrote.

If the company were required to replace its self-bonds, either in part or in full, “The debtors believe that they have the financial resources to obtain such third-party financial assurances if necessary,” Arch’s attorneys wrote.

Logan Bonacorsi, Arch spokeswoman, said the company hopes to have better clarity regarding the issue as the bankruptcy process progresses.

“We are committed to having the necessary financial assurances in place to meet state requirements on our reclamation obligations,” she wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune.


Critics of the self-bonding program said the filing proves state regulators should insist on replacement bonds.

“It is an acknowledgement, if DEQ made them do it, they could do it,” said Shannon Anderson, a lawyer at the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “What’s holding them up?”

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