Snowmageddon 2019

Just a quick note: February just wrapped up as the snowiest February on record in Bozeman’s history—and it’s still snowing. I want this ALWAYS to be my life.

"Urban touring" through the marshes on the east side of Downtown

If I had a nickel for every car I’ve helped push out of a snow bank in the last three days, I’d be well on the way to buying myself a pint of beer at the Bacchus (which is open again). If I had a nickel for every neighbor helping, I’d be well on my way to buying a round.

I’m heartened and delighted by the community comradery.

For example: ten minutes ago, a two-wheel-drive truck somehow found itself embedded into the snow bank opposite my house. By the time I could pull on a jacket and slip my boots on, I was the fourth person to arrive. We each put a shoulder into the hood of the truck and pushed the truck right out. And, then, before the driver could quite roll her window down and say thank you, the helpers were dispersed—on with our days.

The snow this past week has imposed a lot of challenges and hardships on the community, and I just feel affirmed and a sense of belonging by the many ways I’ve seen the folks here respond. There’s a notable absence of abandoned vehicles, not for lack of getting stuck—but for the swift arrival of others to help push. I so appreciate the way that, even as our streets have become treacherous, they’ve also become more safe thanks to so many courteous drivers, yielding, waving, and driving carefully on our two-way streets that have become one-way streets.

And, delighted by how many big smiles I saw on Peets Hill yesterday, while in the midst of a ski tour from my back door…

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Making Bozeman a Better Place to Bike and Walk

An Open Letter to Bozeman City Commission

Re: Making Bozeman a Better Place to Bike and Walk

6 January 2019

Madame Mayor, Mr. Deputy Mayor, and Commissioners:

Bozeman’s Strategic Plan rightly calls for increased participation in active transportation. Active transportation makes our community healthier by improving physical health and air quality and improves the livability of our city by fostering a sense of place and safety and by reducing traffic congestion.

Having a goal is a great start, but if the city truly desires a future in which more Bozeman residents choose to walk or bike, this worthwhile goal must be met with tangible actions.

In this letter, I identify three simple steps that the City of Bozeman can take in 2019 to increase future participation in active transportation. These are:

  1. Enforce Existing Code to Keep Sidewalks Clear for Walking
  2. Fix Bozeman’s Bad Bike Laws
  3. Create a Bozeman Bicycle Plan

The way to increase participation in walking and biking is simple: if you make walking and biking safe and useful, more people will walk and bike.

Keeping Bozeman’s sidewalks clear is an obvious place to start. Clear, open sidewalks invite walking. Sidewalks caked with snow and ice or overgrown by bushes discourage all but the sure-footed and limber.

Bozeman ordinance Chapter 34 Article 6 requires that landowners clear new snow from their sidewalks within twenty-four hours of snowfall. Unfortunately, enforcement of this ordinance (like many of Bozeman’s ordinances) is complaint-driven. Most people who I’m acquainted with here in Bozeman would sooner shovel their neighbor’s walk than report a neighbor to code compliance. A system that relies on “turning each other in” makes code enforcement fodder for petty squabbles between neighbors, not a tool for achieving code compliance. We need, instead, a proactive, impartial, and fair system that helps neighbors comply with city code and ensures that our sidewalks are clear and walkable even when a house sits vacant or an occupant chooses not to shovel.

The snow removal ordinance allows the city to hire private contractors for snow removal and to recover not only the cost of clearing the sidewalks but also administrative costs (and if necessary to collect unpaid snow removal bills through property taxes). It’s a good ordinance; Bozeman’s would-be winter walkers deserve to see it enforced. I suggest that the City Manager make this a priority for the city’s next Public Works director. The city should also consider its own role in clearing sidewalks; e.g. the City of Syracuse recently committed itself to actively clearing 20 miles of priority sidewalks in the winter months.

Sidewalks matter in the summer months, as well. A sidewalk becomes difficult to pass if overgrown with trees and bushes. Here, too, city code (Chapter 16, Article 4) requires property owners to keep their sidewalks clear, but a survey of just a few blocks surrounding City Hall reveals that this ordinance also lacks consistent enforcement and compliance. I’d suggest unifying the nuisance vegetation ordinance with the snow removal ordinance to remove the legal penalties (currently, it’s a misdemeanor to have overgrown bushes) and empower the city to use the same contracting and cost recovery mechanisms as our snow removal ordinance.

Second, Bozeman’s existing bike laws make biking less safe and should be rewritten. Currently, Bozeman Municipal Code Chapter 36 Article 10 forbids any adult from riding a bike on a city sidewalk under any circumstances. This seems like a “solution in search of a problem.” Most cyclists naturally prefer the street, but less confident cyclists may prefer the safety and slower speed of the sidewalk. Even for confident cyclists, most cycling trips begin or end on a sidewalk.

To any who would suggest that there’s a legitimate safety justification for this law, I say: balderdash. More deaths occur annually by people pulling vending machines onto themselves than by cyclists colliding with pedestrians. Meanwhile, two bicyclists are killed every day in America by cars on the street. The difference between being struck by a bicycle at 10 mph versus a car at 25 mph is analogous to the difference between falling from counter-height versus falling from a fourth story window.

The only saving grace for this otherwise unconscionable ordinance is that few people choose compliance over their own safety—but therein lies the point: Bozeman cyclists shouldn’t have to choose between complying with city code or maximizing their safety. Dare I say it, our city’s code should promote the safety and welfare of bicyclists and pedestrians.

If in search of a neat legislative solution: just update the existing code to describe “e-bikes” (electronically assisted bicycles) instead of bicycles. This frees cyclists of this unnecessary and dangerous ordinance, and may create a good ordinance in the process.

Prior to 2009, the MSU-Bozeman campus held a similar ban, prohibiting students from riding their bikes on the main pedestrian mall. In 2009 ASMSU President Shane Colvin led an initiative to eliminate the ban. In the decade since, MSU has seen a significant increase in bicycle use with no apparent downside.

If the city wanted to go a step further and create laws favorable to cyclists, it could consider lobbying the State Legislature to allow cities to adopt “Idaho bike laws,” allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs (many cyclists do this already: codifying this practice into law would improve safety by normalizing expectations).

Finally, the city absolutely must begin to get its bike infrastructure right. The city’s current bicycle infrastructure plan follows its “Complete Streets” policy where cyclists and pedestrians get a slice of every upgraded arterial or collector street. This policy amounts to building bike lanes on the sides of busy roads. Unfortunately, if the goal is to increase participation in bicycling, bike lanes generally don’t work.

The formula for increasing biking in Bozeman is simple: build a useful, low-stress network of year-around bicycle facilities. Bozeman’s current approach could be characterized as building a disjointed collection of winter snow storage facilities that double in summer as high-stress cycling facilities. Low-stress facilities include: mixed-use paths, separated bike lanes, and bicycle boulevards. Our current policy of installing bicycle facilities on arterials and collectors is precisely upside down: low-stress facilities are created by separating bicyclists from traffic—not by funneling cyclists onto the very streets designed to carry maximum traffic.

Toward this end, Bozeman truly needs a bicycle plan. Bozeman’s spending on asphalt for bike lanes is disproportionate to our spending on planning good bike infrastructure. Our current return on investment is quite small. To get good value of its money, Bozeman needs a plan that will lead to a future in which the city provides a useful network of low-stress facilities—preferably starting in 2019.

A facility is “low-stress” if it passes the “12-year-old test.” If an average parent would feel comfortable using a bike facility with their 12-year-old son or daughter, it passes. If not, it fails. The Gallagator passes (when snow-free). The new shared used paths on South 11th Avenue pass. The new bike lanes on Rouse fail dramatically (in fact, these new bike lanes generally fail the “30-year-old intrepid rider” test).

Building this sort of thoughtful infrastructure requires a level of planning and detail that far exceeds what’s written into our Transportation Master Plan (TMP). For example, no existing city document describes how to create a “bicycle boulevard,” or shows intersection treatments with bicycle boxes (currently, most of our bike lanes simply disappear at busy intersections, where they’re needed most!). The network that’s shown in the TMP is a visionary future network, which is a helpful North Star, but lacks the required details about intersection treatments, design specifications, prioritization, and legislation necessary to fulfill its vision.

If Bozeman desired to obtain a “Bicycle Friendly Community” gold designation (which would be a good milestone goal toward the broader goal of fostering active transportation), having a bicycle plan is a necessary precondition. If it does nothing else in 2019, Bozeman should fund and hire professional assistance to create a bicycle plan.

Tackling these three “low hanging fruit” in 2019 would be a great step toward showing that the city is serious about promoting active transportation. At the end of the day, the types of transportation infrastructure we build and maintain determines our mobility choices. We’ve built great sidewalks: now, let’s maintain them. We’ve made some unhelpful laws, but these are easily amended. We have yet to build a network of useful, low-stress cycling facilities, but there’s no time like the present to start. Let’s make progress in 2019 by figuring out how to keep our sidewalks clear, ensuring that our laws support safe bicycling, and beginning to plan and build a useful network of cycling facilities that will appeal to users of all ages and abilities.

Thank you for your consideration,

Mark Egge
542 N Black Avenue
Bozeman, MT 59715

CC: Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, Bozeman Area Bicycle Advisory Board, GVLT, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, WTI, Downtown Bozeman Partnership

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A Brief History of Bozeman

I’ve just delightedly found that Bozeman’s 2009 Community Plan (a.k.a. Growth Plan) contains a brief (10-page) and delightful history of Bozeman, from the first peoples here some 10,000 years ago on up through the present. If you’re curious who arrived first in now-Gallatin Valley—Lewis or Clark—or interested in which year Bozeman established its electric street car system, read on: BozemanGrowthPolicy2009-History

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Sure, Go Ahead. Get Lost in Montana

It started innocently enough. A quick five or seven-mile loop through Tom Miner basin just north of Yellowstone National Park; a perfect “taper” run leading to the race on tap next weekend.

With Mipso playing on the Sweet Pea stage till sundown, I ended up with a late start out of Bozeman the night before. Nearing the trailhead, both moose and black bear darted into the shadows, fleeing my headlights piercing the tunnel of dark through the otherwise untrafficed narrow dirt road.

I slept unusually late, not starting my slow jog out of the trailhead until well into the day. I carried a hand bottle, a few gels, a GPS watch. My GPS-equipped smartphone—my typical companion when running in new terrain—remained in the truck on account of my hasty pack job the night before leaving me armband-less.

The slate-colored sky spit a few drops of rain with barely enough substance to be considered drops. I hoped against a downpour, knowing what rain would mean to me in my thin t-shirt and short shorts at an elevation where, even in early August, the snow was only just recently melted out (my previous attempt to run this loop in June was thwarted by feet-thick snow).

Five or so miles in, the first concern registered: the trail didn’t seem to be going the correct way. I should be closing lolly-pop head loop back to the lolly-pop stem leading back to my truck. Enjoying the single-track (sloping gently downhill) and the views, figured I’d run a bit more and see where things led.

It’s funny how the mind will hold out hope, even in the face of mounting evidence against. The trail eventually turned the direction I expected. Even as ten miles ticked by, I help out hope of coming out where I’d started (in fairness, my glance at the map that morning had been cursory—perhaps I had simply misestimated the distance).

At mile fifteen, reality set in, in the form of an unrecognized trailhead parking lot, empty except for a single locked vehicle. The trailhead offered no information except for a faded, region-scale map.

I studied the map as best I could, gleaning the names of nearby creeks, and trying to make sense of what I’d run. With a race the next weekend, I didn’t dare run back the way I’d come (fifteen miles was already well-more than my taper intended—doubling my fifteen miles was right out).

By now, the sun shone warm and brightly. With a clear sense of direction, I set out to short-cut over the ridge to the north of me, straight back toward the trailhead where I started.

Easy running through open meadows turned to slow-moving bushwacking over thickets of downed trees. I opted to drop into a brushy, creek-filled drainage, where I knew a trail existed and where I hoped I could make better time.

The creekside trail, like many Montana trails, turned out to be more concept than physical reality—discernable mostly by the cut ends of logs where the Forest Service had “maintained” the trail some years prior. In the thick brush adjoining the noisy creek, I sang inane songs (oh Tom Miner / he had a basin / trail running / in that basin…) at the top of the lungs, wishing for my bear spray (at home with the armband that would otherwise have carried my smartphone/GPS).

The trail climbed up from the creek a bit. I found blueberries, which I enjoyed with relish, having consumed the last of my calories hours prior. Then raspberries. Wishing for strawberries, as if by divine providence, I found a few pea-sized strawberries, hiding in the brush. Rounding a corner (singing at the top of my lungs), I startled at a great crashing in the woods above me to see a black bear (the largest black bear I’ve ever seen) sprinting up the steep embankment above me and away.

As the afternoon light began to fade the trail climbed out of the ravine and into more open country. My eyes sought the surrounding ridgelines and promontories to make some sense of where I was—to no avail. By now, the sky was again slate-colored. A wind picked up, and suddenly cold pellets of rain were spitting from the sky, and then a proper downpour. I cowered, curled into a ball, under the tall mass of a dead Douglas Fir, trying to keep out of the freezing rain and biting wind.

Pinned as I was, I had time to take stock of my situation:

  • Current time: 6 pm
  • Estimated elevation: 8000 feet
  • Weather: thunderstorm, estimated duration unknown
  • Location: lost
  • Nearest known location: five hours away
  • Hours of daylight remaining: three
  • Surest option to escape the elements: none
  • Plan: wait and hope for storm to blow itself out; continue north, climb to ridgeline; hope for the best

Miraculously, the storm cleared. Late evening rays of sun pieced out below the clouds. Shivering vigorously, I willed my body to hobble faster even while keeping myself wrapped in semi-fetal bear-hug, hoping to drive my calorie-deprived and exhausted body hard enough to warm up as I threaded the gauntlet of sopping brush and vegetation.

Gaining the ridge (still shivering as I ran), what little hope I had sank—ridges and peaks and valleys spread away from me in all directions, none of which offered a hint of familiarity. Hope rose again as I discerned a trail, a fairly substantial trail, bearing the track of a dirtbike that had passed, possibly even that day.

Slowly, I formulated a new plan: follow the trail. Logically, it must lead to civilization, sooner or later.

And so I did. Running as best as my wasted legs and still-bear-hugging-myself-posture would allow, I ambled along the trail, which dropped off the ridge through a basin, then climbed back to the ridge where it clung stubbornly against my will.

About this time, I recall thinking to myself, “under different circumstances, I’d be astonished by the beauty, here.” Indeed, valleys and ridges stretched in every direction, soft-yellow evening light still cutting through the clouds, illuminating a landscape white and shining in its higher reaches with the iridescent sheen of accumulated storm sleet. And there, in the midst of it all, and a sole, nearly naked runner traversing across the skyline, shadow stretching clear to Pennsylvania.

And then, nailed to a gnarled tree clinging to a saddle on the ridgeline: a sign, and the rushing moment of realization of my exact location.

This whole time, my frame of reference put me somehow south of where I started. In fact, under the directionless, sunless sky, I had traveled north at a split in the trail that morning, not south, and had traveled some twenty miles north since. At the moment of realization, with some 45 minutes of daylight remaining, I found myself equidistant between Bozeman, some 25 or 30 miles to the north, and the trailhead to the south where my truck was parked.

Well, shit. At least I knew where I was. Given that it was nearly 9 pm on a Sunday, I figured my odds of finding a ride from Hyalite at 11 pm would be slim, meaning hoofing it through the night back to town, likely until 3 or 4 am, and then waking the next morning with my truck abandoned a two-hour drive away. I’d have to convince someone to spend half a day driving to help me retrieve my abandoned vehicle—what a pain! So, instead, I turned east, hoping to be able to reach the floor of Paradise Valley (some many miles distant) and the road running through, so as to be able to walk through the night on the roads I had driven the night before back to my truck.

No such luck, of course. The “trail” that was supposed to exist leading out along the creek was as much a fiction as the last “trail” I had traveled. Darkness settled.

I didn’t much mind the scratches of the brush, but I dreaded the sopping water on every leaf. As darkness settled, I tripped, slide, and stumbled with increasing frequency. Eventually, I found what little of a trail it was, again only discernable but cut log-ends, but far better (when I could stay on it) than climbing up, down, and over the beetle-kill deadfall.

For a while through the moonless night, I navigated by the dim light of the heart-rate monitor embedded in the back of my watch, turned out towards the woods like a flashlight. I eventually exited the thick woods into more meadow-like terrain. I found and followed a faint two-track, ending abruptly at a gate. Something large moved in the nearby woods. Cows, it turned out, after much yelling and throwing of things into a mute and blank darkness. Lights on a house shone in the far-off distance.

Then the watch chirped a warning—5% battery remaining. Without its feeble light, moving in the pitch-dark became mostly falling, causing me to fear injury. I used the last of the watch battery to gather dry grass under the branches of a tree, burrowed into the mounded grass as best I could and settled in to wait for sunrise.

I slept some, fitfully. I would wake, shiver violently for a spell, then drift back to sleep. (In the morning when I awoke, my pecs were oddly sore from their involvement in my shivering.)

I awoke in the predawn light. Further down the valley below me, something moved—headlights, passing on a road a mere quarter mile from where I had stopped, unable to make further progress.

A long story short, with some help from strangers, I found my way back to the unknown trailhead I had emerged at, the afternoon before, and from there the fifteen miles back to my truck. I stopped to nap in the sun along the way—once, then twice. I gathered thin thimblefuls of berries when I found them and drank greedily from the cold mountain streams. I lost the trail at one point, but this time spent an hour back-tracking to find it rather than forging another “shortcut” to god-knows-where.

At 3 pm, after 28 hours out, I rounded the last bend in the road to the trailhead, in sight of my vehicle—a site for sore eyes, if there I’ve known one. After gorging myself on what calories I had left in the truck, I started the engine and pointed toward home—chastened, relieved, exhaused—and now knowing what it means, truly, to be lost.

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Recreation Impacts of Logging Limestone West

Context: The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) is currently proposing to log state trust lands at the urban-wildland interface on the south side of Bozeman. The project will clearcut 500 – 1000 acres of trees, and result in approximately $200,000 of benefit to the trust beneficiary (the mostly the state “building fund”, in this case). The DNRC is offering two “Alternative” option for this project: Alternative A builds permanent roads and cuts a lot of trees, and Alternative B builds fewer miles of roads and logs fewer trees. (A third non-option is Alternative C, which defers action on this parcel for ten years, but requires that the DNRC be paid the market value of the timber.).

The proposed project area (with Strava heatmap data) is shown on the map below.

The DNRC has recently released its draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed project, and is accepting comments on the draft EIS until October 30, 2018. You can access the Draft EIS on the DNRC’s website here, and can submit comments of your own to the DNRC via email to [email protected].

I don’t possess the wisdom or the knowledge to say whether this project is a good idea or a bad idea (I don’t like the idea of logging, but I can attest to the significant load of accumulated fuels in the proposed project area, which immediately abuts Bozeman’s water supply). However, as a frequent user of the nearby areas that have previously been logged by the DNRC, and as a data junkie, I do know that the draft EIS underestimates the extent and degree to which bikers, trail runners, hikers, and backcountry skiers will romp and play in the proposed project area if the roads are built and trees are removed. The comments that I have submitted to the DNRC to that effect are published, as an open letter, below.


Re: Limestone West Timber Sale Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Strava is a social network for fitness and outdoor recreation that records recreational activity using GPS. Like many local runners, bikers, and backcountry skiers, every time I recreate along the Gallatin Front, I record my activity using Strava. Strava, in turn, publishes this data in anonymized format on its Global Heatmap, available for free on its website. This data provides an empirical record of how many runners, bikers, hikers, and skiers recreate along the Gallatin Front.

Based on the empirical recreation activity data from Strava, the Draft EIS understates the quantity, intensity, and extent of future recreational use in three ways. First, when assessing Alternative B, the Draft EIS does not account for the existing informal trail from Triple Tree that would reach the roads built under Alternative B, providing access from the west as well as from the east. Second. The Draft EIS does not account for the recreational activities of backcountry skiers, who are significant (and growing) users of nearby Bear Canyon clearcut areas. Third, Strava data shows notable user activity on “reclaimed” roads from previous Gallatin Front harvests, suggesting that “reclaimed” roads should also be included the assessment of future recreation activities.

1. Alternative B access from Triple Tree

Describing Alternative B, the Draft EIS states, “additional access to other roads and trails in the project area from the Triple Tree Trail related to that road segment would not occur.” This is incorrect. The informal “upper hiking trail” extends south to within 100 feet of the Alternative B road and provides similar connectivity as the “0.7-mile segment of permanent restricted road proposed under Action Alternative A in the southwest 1⁄4 of section 4,” albeit via a steep trail. The Strava data shows that this informal trail is already heavily utilized.

The map above shows two access points between the “upper hiking trail” and the Alternative B roads. Strava data already shows user activity crossing the proposed terminus of the reclaimed spur road on the southern-most extent of the “upper hiking trail” (“Access Point #1”) and significant user activity passing within 125 yard of the permanent road further to the north (“Access Point #2”).

Users will quickly close these gaps. With the completion of GVLT’s “Main Street to the Mountains” trail as of September 21, 2018, there is now a continuous trail network that connects from Main Street through Triple Tree. Under Alternative B, the existing user trail provides direct connectivity to the newly constructed roads, allowing the new roads to be accessed from both the Mt. Ellis Lane trailhead, the Triple Tree trailhead, and Main Street Bozeman. Although the quality of the western connection would be lower under Alternative B, the existing trails would nevertheless provide connectivity for hikers, mountain bikers, and trail runners and result in significant use from the west as well as from the east. The EIS should reflect this reality.

2. Backcountry Skiers

The draft EIS does not include or address the recreational activities of backcountry skiers. This population of recreational users has exploded in recent years. For example, between the 2015/16 winter and the 2016/17 winter, data from the Snowsports Industries of America reports that participation in backcountry skiing grew 15%—a trend that’s consistent with recent years and expected to continue.

I skied about 20 days in the Little Ellis (Bear Canyon Timber Sale) area last winter. The majority of other users I met were backcountry skiers and snowboarders—a population of recreational users not mentioned, anticipated, or accounted for in the draft EIS.
Compared to cross-country skiers (mentioned in the Draft EIS), backcountry skiers go further, faster, and can travel any terrain. The EIS analysis relies on a buffer assumption of 0.31 miles based on a study from 1998, which doesn’t remotely describe the use patterns of backcountry skiers, who have no need for trails (though will follow trails when available).

The Strava heatmap data shown in the map above reveals that all of the clearcut areas from the 2012 – 2013 Bear Canyon harvest with a slope angle of more than ten degrees are crisscrossed with the user tracks of backcountry skiers.

The steep slopes proposed for logging under both Alternative A and Alternative B would be a significant draw for backcountry skiers, including those who currently recreate in the previously harvested areas. Without accounting for the activity of backcountry skiers, the EIS assessment of wildlife impacts from recreation is incomplete.

3. Reclaimed Roads

Finally, the draft EIS analysis of recreation activity excludes “reclaimed” roads its analysis. However, overlaying the Strava data onto the maps of the reclaimed roads from the previous harvests, shows that the “reclaimed” roads from the 2011 – 2013 Bear Canyon harvest (with the exception of a few short spurs near the bottom) are visible in the Strava data because recreational users are still using these “reclaimed” roads. This overlay is shown on the map below, where the permanent and reclaimed roads have been overlain with Strava user data. The purple and yellow lines next to and overlaying the cross-hatched “reclaimed” roads indicate user data on these “reclaimed” roads. (The user data is slightly offset to the north for visibility.)

In the winter time, especially for a backcountry skier, a reclaimed road is indistinguishable from a maintained road. Unless the cutbanks are going to be filled in, the 41% of roads under Alt A and the 26% of roads under Alt B to be “reclaimed” should be included and considered the same as the permanent roads with respect to winter recreation.

The final EIS estimate the extent of recreation and recreational impacts should be updated using empirical data of modern use patterns. I would encourage the DNRC to use the freely available data provided by Strava to better understand the current recreational use patterns in previously harvested areas to better understand likely future recreation in the Limestone West area under Alternative A and Alternative B.

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Bozeman’s Tourism Business Improvement District: An Unfair and Unwelcoming Tax

Suppose that, one night in a quiet corner of a dark room, Bozeman’s hotel owners make a pact to all raise their rates by an agreed-upon amount. Hotel revenues will go up, as guests would face the same price increase everywhere in town. Sounds clever, right? Well, almost, except for the fact that activities like this (“collusion,” “price fixing”) are blatantly illegal and would land the hoteliers in jail if the Department of Justice caught wind of their scheme.

But suppose that, instead, the hotel owners were to use the city to form a “business improvement district” with a special $2 / night tax. All area hotels would be required to collect $2 per occupied room, per night, squeezing all tourists and visitors equally. Proceeds from this “tax” could then be spent to their collective benefit. Although the consumer impact is identical, this scheme is sanctioned by state law.

This latter scenario is precisely how Bozeman’s Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) came to be. In 2009, a thin 60.2% (state law requires a minimum of 60%) of recession-hit Bozeman hoteliers banded together and petitioned the city to create a “bed tax” across all hotels in town, and to appoint a board (whose membership is literally limited to Bozeman hotel owners or their family representatives) to spend the proceeds of the tax to increase hotel occupancy in Bozeman.

Fast-forward to 2018, and this business improvement district commands $1.2m of the city’s $106m budget. For those who are counting, that’s more than twice the city’s budget for affordable housing and public transit (Streamline), combined.

Whereas many communities with tourist taxes reinvest that money into the community (e.g. Big Sky’s resort tax, which helps fund its fire department and winter ice rink), Bozeman does not. What are we spending this money on? Why, ads like these:

"Only in Bozeman" ad in Powder Magazine

Ads like these are part of the $604,000 budgeted for “Consumer Advertising.” The table below from the FY19 Bozeman TBID Budget shows the breakdown of what Bozeman gets for its $1.2m:

BTID Budget

While state law places limits on what business improvement district proceeds can be used for, alternative permissible uses include:

  • Public Transit, or Facilities / Maintenance for Active Transportation (e.g. multiuse paths)
  • Public Safety (law enforcement and fire departments)
  • Water and sewer infrastructure
  • Parking

Given the many needs in the community, is there anyone who would really suggest that buying ads in Powder Magazine is really the highest and best use of city tax revenues?

A Deluge of Visitors

The TBID proceeds are being used to bring a deluge of visitors to town—the costs of which are borne by city property-tax payers.

Each year, some four million visitors come through Bozeman. The $1.2m BTID budget corresponds to 600,000 rented hotel rooms over the course of a year. If we assume 1.5 occupants per room, that works out to just shy of 2500 visitors and tourists staying in Bozeman on any given night. For a city of 43,500, that one visitor for every twenty residents, or about 5% of the people in town paying 0% for city services and infrastructure.

That is, without a local sales tax, Bozeman’s four-million annual visitors do not pay into the costs of the city services they benefit from. These costs fall on the permanent residents of Bozeman, who pay the property taxes (directly, or indirectly) that fund city services and infrastructure.

Now, there’s such a thing as hospitality. There’s also such as thing as fairness. Charging a tax on visitors to help pay for their share of city services may not be “hospitable,” say—but, sure enough, it’s fair. But what about targeting visitors’ pocketbooks and spending the proceeds to benefit the lodging industry, and leaving tax payers to pick up the bill?

Visitation v. Affordable Housing

I’m not anti-growth, but I do question the wisdom of Bozeman spending tax dollars to try to create more of it, when it seems we have plenty enough already. I say, let’s heed the advice of Fort Collins’ city leaders, who suggest a growing city ought to focus on the quality of living for those who have already arrived ahead of trying to attract yet-more-growth.

Affordable housing is, perhaps, the most significant challenge of Bozeman’s growth. By driving up property taxes (to provide city services to visitors), competing for scarce housing stock, and attracting additional new arrivals, the TBID only makes things worse.

Tourist lodging competes directly with resident housing. Demand for short-term rentals (e.g. AirBnB) competes with long-term rentals (i.e. housing for residents). Smaller Montana communities like Gardiner are experiencing this at crisis levels, where a combination of low tourism wages and the rapid conversion of local housing stock to short-term rentals is driving locals from their own town.

In the long-run, visitation drives growth. We know it anecdotally, from the stories we hear from our new friends and neighbors. Three-quarters of Bozeman’s population growth is attributable to new arrivals (mea cupla!). Who, of our four million annual visitors, could visit Bozeman and not be charmed by our city? Who could fail to appreciate its setting in the Gallatin Valley, or not feel a tug of desire to live at the foothills of the Bridgers?

The Skinny

It all boils down to this: we’re spending $1.2m million per year to try to bring more tourists to town. In the short term, this means higher property taxes for city residents, who pay for the infrastructure and services the visitors use. In the long run, this spending just drives growth. It’s a raw deal for tourists and city residents alike.

What Can be Done?

City commission approves the BTID budget. City commission could lean on the BTID Board (which sets the BTID budget) to redirect some funds to services that offset the impact of visitation (e.g. hiring additional police, building parking downtown). If this were to happen, the hotel interests might decide the Business Improvement District no longer served their interest, and choose not to pursue a renewal in 2024 when the current iteration of the district expires. This appeals to me—we get five years of value from the BTID, and then good riddance.

If the BTID were to lapse, I believe that Bozeman could establish a new “Special Improvement District” covering the same hotels, but with a new mandate to spend the proceeds to offset the costs of tourism currently borne by city tax payers. I’m frankly a bit shaky on the legal mechanism, here, but I believe this is possible.

For the time being, let City Commission know that you you’d like to see tourist tax dollars offset the community’s costs of hosting tourists, rather than being spent to draw more tourists. The BTID Board (with opportunity for public comment) meets occasionally on the fourth Tuesday of each month (they cancelled the June meeting scheduled for next week—nothing to talk about, apparently), and are scheduled to meet next on July 24th. To confirm that the board is actually meeting, check the city calendar a few days beforehand.

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Heat is for Haters

Congratulations! You’ve taken the eco-conscious choice of removing all sources of heating from your house! You’ll really enjoy those lower energy bills (if only you can survive until summer), and will sleep well at night in your zero-degree sleeping bag, knowing you’re doing the right thing for the planet.

Now, how do you stay warm in your heat-less house?

  • Be active! Sit-ups and push-ups are great for stimulating the metabolism. Not only will you be less cold, you’ll be ripped for summer (if you survive that long).
  • Move heavy things. If you have books, put them in boxes and carry them from one place to another.
  • Warm yourself from the inside, out. Make that extra pot of coffee. Eat soup for lunch. Even if you don’t like tea, it’s hot, so make a lot and drink it anyway!
  • Blankets. Obviously, if you could put on any more sweatshirts and still be able to bend your arms, you would. When you can’t put on any more sweatshirts, try putting on a blanket!
  • Go to a coffee shop. Coffee shops are not as eco-conscious as you, so coffee shops have heat.
  • Take a long, hot shower. While you stand there wasting both energy and water, warm water, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for all the energy you’re saving.
  • Complain to your friends. They may offer you the warmth of their homes. Added bonus: you’ll learn more about who your true friends are!
  • Bake bread. Not only is home-made bread delicious, running your oven for hours on end will also make your home feel somewhat less like an ice box. Plus, when you’re done baking, you can toast your bread in a toaster, which creates a small amount of heat as well. Try warming your hands over the toaster as your bread toasts—it’s delightful!

Finally, don’t forget to spray about your heat-free lifestyle on the internet and social media. This won’t actually make you any warmer, but is proven to be the most effective action a person can take to combat climate change!

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Vote for Open Lands – Bozeman!

I first came to Gallatin County as an 18-year-old in 2004 to attend Montana State University. In many ways, Gallatin Valley as it exists today would be unrecognizable to me then. Yes, it is more prosperous, more diverse, and offers more opportunities. It’s still beautiful—but less now than it was: consider, if you will, the sprawl between Bozeman and Four Corners, the trophy homes sprouting along the foothills of the Bridgers, that unsightly brown haze on cold winter days along the western horizon—all a function of that steady conversion of the agricultural lands that surround our communities in Gallatin County into pavement, condos, and privacy fences.

I suspect many here in Gallatin County have that place that’s been lost to development. For me, it’s the poignant memory of standing on top of Peets Hill, that first fall in 2004, with the M and the Bridgers rising to the North, and a nothing to the east but a rolling expanse of golden wheat fields all the way to Chestnut Mountain.

Peets Hill View, North to the M. October, 2004.

I took this photo in the fall of 2004. This view and this landscape has left an indelible imprint upon me. I was, at the time, few months into my first time away from home, aquatinting myself with a new place, a new landscape, and falling in love with Bozeman for the first time. Callow, impressionable, and early in love.

The place where I stood to take this photo is now a subdivision.

Our open lands complement our big sky, but these are disappearing ever faster. In the 14 years since I moved here in 2004, Gallatin County’s population has grown by 25,000 people. Assuming a 2.75% growth rate, Gallatin County’s population will grow by 50,000 people more in the next 15 years.

It’s a privilege to live here, in a place of inspiring beauty, and that’s true whether you’ve lived in Gallatin County for a week or generations. How can we maintain what we value in our home, here, while keeping the door open to the new arrivals who share our appreciation and admiration of this place?

Open space conservation is part of the solution. While the view from Peets hill is somewhat obscured, thanks to the first two open space bonds and the tireless efforts of GVLT and other organizations, much of the land extending from Chestnut Mountain to the M is still undeveloped and will remain undeveloped. These lands are just a small portion of the total 50,000 acres that have been protected by the open space program which has lately run out of funding.


(Above: a map of Gallatin County lands with conservation easements. Red parcels are protected based on the proceeds of previous Gallatin County Open Space bond funding.)

If this resonates with you (and if you live in Gallatin County), you can help. This June, go to the polls (with every friend, family member, and distant aquaintance who you can browbeat into going the polls with you) and vote to support this mill levy to carry on this work, to establish new trails and recreational access, and to maintain what’s already been built, and to preserve open space.

I’ll leave you with this. While Peets Hill isn’t what it used to be (though it’s still pretty great, mind you!), I have a new favorite space.

Some prime open space: David and Jeff running on the Triple Tree Trail, with the Schaplow farm beyond.

This place is the portion of the Triple Tree trail that connects to the trailhead on Sourdough Road. Hiking, running, or biking this trail, you climb to the top of a low hill, Bozeman below you to the north, and to the south there’s three hundred acres of agricultural land, backing up to the foothills and the forest. On any given day, I’ve seen verdant alfalfa grass, golden round bales of hay, deer, and elk roaming in the fields.

Round Bales on the Schaplow Easement. If you look closely, you'll see deer on the horizon.

That land exists today as farmland due to conservation finance facilitated by GVLT and public funding for open space conservation, that made it possible for the Schaplow family to retire from farming the land themselves without selling the land for development. I love that view, agricultural land backing up to the mountains.

Golden summer light on the Schaplow Easement

I’m grateful that it exists for me and future generations of Gallatin County Residents. And so, in honor of this place and those lands, I humbly ask that you support this measure on June’s ballot, and vote to renew and continue funding for this essential work.

If you’re excited to support this effort, join the campaign kick-off party on March 13th at 406 Brewing. Or, learn more about the Open Space Mill Levy measure here.

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2017 Year in Review

For liberals and progressives, 2017 showed itself to be an unmitigated shit of a year. The political attacks on public lands, climate change, rational order, and human decency were relentless and heartbreakingly effective. While a shit year for the world, to the extent that I succeeded in separating myself from the political ideas and institutions I hold dear, 2017 actually turned up to be pretty darn good.

High level timeline:

  • Job offer in hand, I set off to spend January – March in the Rockies, visiting friends while following the winter storm pattern and skimo circuit.
  • In April, I headed to the desert to spend some quality time on the ground in Bears Ears National Monument, with a brief interruption to run the Boston Marathon with my Dad.
  • In May I moved to Bozeman, and started work for High Street. Even while counting myself among the working rank-and-file, I still managed many fun and memorable adventures and trips with friends in the great out-of-doors.

2017 Highlights, in generally random order:

Annual Ouray Climbing Trip with Anne, Abram, Nick, Kassia, Sagar, Sarah, and Camilo, where it snowed so much we skipped climbing the last day to build booters in the backyard.


Abram, getting his steep ice on

So much skiing goodness, including:

…a wonderful weekend in Monarch with Sagar, Sarah, Cole, Amara, Brad, Lauren, TJ, and Candice.

…a bunch of great Loveland resort days, with copious powder and grilled goodness (including Abram’s epic mid-mountain Pot de crème with maple syrup and black sea salt)

Erik, making the most of Loveland powder

and a fun visit from Justin, who flew out from Pittsburgh over his spring break

Skimo-ness:

  • The Santa Fe Fireball Rando (in which I finished before famed ultrarunner Rob Krar, though only because he snapped a ski in two during the middle of the race and basically did the race twice to get another set of of skis)
  • The Breckenridge Five Peaks race with Arthur, in which we lost the race but I won the post-race raffle (in case anyone is wondering: the Scarpa Alien RS boots kick ass)
  • The Audi Power of Four (far and away the rowdiest terrain I’ve ski in a skimo race, and in which you link up and ski all four Aspen resorts) with Brett
  • The Grand Traverse (hadn’t planned on it, but ended up joining as a last-minute substitution for a friend of a friend)
  • and … The Shedhorn at Big Sky Resort, where I claimed my first podium finish (third place, but hey, the podium just the same!). What an exhilarating way to finish the season!

That's me! Green #27

Sunrise during the Grand Traverse with Quinn. There's nothing quite like sunrise 30 miles into a race!

In April, I had the deep privilege of getting to run the Boston Marathon with Dad.

In April, I spent a month in Bears Ears National Monument, getting to know the landscape, and talking to the locals, trying to understand the deep controversy. I left with a deep appreciation for this spectacular landscape and the region’s long human history, and with a certain degree of confusion about the politics of federal land conservation foisted upon an unwilling populace of local residents. As heartbreaking as it was to see the monument substantially eviscerated by the Trump administration, I’m still grateful for the 200,000-some acres that remain protected, and hopeful for the restoration of the monument’s proper 1.35m acre boundaries.

Home, sweet home

And then… there was the eclipse. Just going to say … it far exceeded expectations. And, getting to climb alpine rock and spend quality time in the Wind Rivers with many of my most favorite people at the same time? Priceless.


It was hot as hell in Bozeman in July, so Noah and I went to find snow and ice on Mount Baker. The combination of a technical climb with a ski descent is real winner.

Possibly most significantly, I moved to this place:

This is Tippet on the evening of summer solstice. Tippet is David's dog. Sometimes, when David is away traveling for work, I teach Tippet new tricks.

I dunno about marriage, but I will say that I was lucky enough to get to attend and/or be a part of some really wonderful weddings and celebrations this summer.

Carter, between a rock and hard place, mid-bachelor party

[Not pictured: Ambrose & Jill's super fun and beautiful wedding, where I stupidly brought a film camera.]

Also not pictured, but deeply enriching and appreciated: the many weekends and trips spent with friends and family in Connecticut, Wyoming, Colorado, New York, and Pittsburgh.

I picked up a stupid running injury at the beginning of summer, so I rode my mountain bike. A lot!

Out of frame: Kayla, who introduced me to riding to Emerald Lake.

Cody, crushing some late-season trails near Butte, MT

Fun fact! This is a selfie! Riding in my secret stash in the Northern Gallatins.

Not pictured: the time when I tried (and failed) to ride my bike from my garage to Yellowstone National Park, only to find, 30 miles out, that my intended trail was substantially unridable for the next 70 miles.

This sillyness:

And this silliness:

I started working for High Street in May. Gosh, it’s a delight—working for people I look up to, doing work that I think matters, and enjoying the work itself. Oh, and making enough along the way to pay for new skis, guilt free!

My amazing (and, ladies, handsome!) brother turned 40 in May. I had the privilege and delight to celebrate with him!

In a fun development in what I hope will become a repeatable form of local/regional involvement, this fall I was able to support two local city commission candidates with some voter propensity modeling data science-ness. They won, and Bozeman won. (As they would have without me, but perhaps I contributed in some small way to building a stronger mandate.) (Want to see something interesting? Here’s a voter timeline of 100 randomly sampled Gallatin County voters. I think this timeline helps show why the pollsters and pundits got the Nov. 2016 election so wrong.)

In November, I extended a work trip to DC into a weekend visit to Pittsburgh, and very much enjoyed getting to catch up with Eric, Shrawan, Abdullah, Gokul (thanks again for your generous hospital, gentlemen!), and, of course, Frick Park. This short trip made my liver hurt, but my heart full.

Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. It was especially enjoyed this year for having both my brother and sister at the family gathering.

1) Dispense whipped cream onto hand. 2) Pop whipped cream into air. 3) Catch with open mouth!

And, finally, I skied a lot, including from my front door. Is Montana the best? … Ssh! Don’t tell anyone, but Montana is the best.

Lindsay, Bridger Bowl Pre-Season

David, Hourglass Couloir

Adopted by the Booth Crew on Christmas, I finally got exactly what I’ve always wanted for Christmas: a foot of fresh powder and a whole day to ski it!

In keeping with annual tradition, I was fortunate enough to get to end 2017 in the fellowship of many of the smartest, most accomplished, most sincere, and silly/fun best people I know. Quads Cabin Trip 17/18!


Take that, 2017! Shit year that you were, I’m going to say that, with the help of friends, family, employer, Old Man Winter, and the universe, 2017 was a year rich with friendship, mountains, adventure, personal challenge, and really beautiful places.

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Farewell, Facebook

As a general life philosophy, I like to travel light. For years, my rule has been, if I can’t easily fit it in my car (with all of the other things in life I own) I probably don’t want it.

I’ve made an exception for digital items—in fact, I’ve been a digital packrat, hoarding most of the digital digital detritus (8th grade English papers, anyone?) I’ve accumulated over the years. These digital accumulations I’ve generally considered to be weightless.

I’ve applied the same philosophy to social media–but as my phone buzzes ever more frequently these days with more and more alerts and “push notifications” I’m increasingly reaching the conclusion that digital technology brings me little joy or enrichment, while consuming an inordinate amount of my time.

So, as part of my spring cleaning for 2018, I’m turning off anything that doesn’t pass the “enrichment and joy” test. That started yesterday with Facebook. I haven’t actively used Facebook in years, and I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with it on each subsequent visit. Going on to Facebook, lately, has started to feel like shopping at Walmart. I’ll spare you the diatribe, but just point out that:

  • compared to my friends who never chose to join Facebook, my life is no more rich, full, or connected than theirs; and,
  • Facebook has long since ceased to bring me any joy.

So, I’m off! Farewell, Facebook! But not, “farewell, friends!” You have my phone number, email address, and address—none of which will change any time soon. I look forward to connecting more meaningfully in the near future.

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