Disney’s ski resort dream ignites environmental activism
There’s no shortage of lore when it comes to Walt Disney and his cultural empire of movies and theme parks. But did you know that he once dreamt of building a ski resort with DU’s former legendary ski coach, Willy Schaeffler?
Writer duo Greg Glasgow and Kathryn Mayer (BA ’07, MLS ’10) revisit this failed venture in “Disneyland on the Mountain: Walt, the Environmentalists, and the Ski Resort That Never Was” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023) in eyebrow-raising style. Imagine a 64-year-old Walt clambering up a Sierra Nevada mountainside in a “sweater vest, heavy camping jacket, and wool trousers,” reporters in tow, to share his dream with the world, just as his health is beginning to decline.
For Glasgow and Mayer, what started as a fun fact spotted at the Walt Disney Family Museum turned into a journalistic calling. “We quickly realized there was a much bigger story to tell—from Walt Disney’s passion both for the project and for nature and wildlife and his death in the middle of planning the project to the rise of environmentalism and the case going to the Supreme Court,” says Mayer. Walt’s vision would require a complete re-envisioning of the Mineral King valley in California, complete with heavy infrastructure and crowds—much to the ire of the Sierra Club.
“Disneyland on the Mountain” was and is an appealing concept to Disney fans (even though the ambitious plan ultimately failed, ideas for the ski resort are visible in other Disney resorts and hotels), but what sets this story apart is how the 15-year conflict between Disney and environmentalists “lit a fire for the environmental movement and inspired other activism,” says Mayer.
Read an excerpt featuring Walt’s right-hand man in the project, DU’s decorated ski coach, Willy Schaeffler, at magazine.du.edu
A western thriller set on a snowy mountainside
Novelist C.J. Box (BA ’81) is a familiar name in the Rocky Mountain Region, as a #1 New York Times bestselling author of award-winning crime novels with a distinctive Western flare. “Storm Watch,” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2023), the 23rd book in his Joe Pickett series, follows the Wyoming game warden as he looks for a missing University of Wyoming professor. As readers journey through a late spring snowstorm, they encounter falconry, local militant activists and a crypto-mining financier—the kind of contentious topics that are familiar to modern Western communities and are a cornerstone of Box’s work that keeps readers coming back for more.
When he was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from DU’s College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, Box advised students, “One never knows what path the journey will take, but it helps to decide on a goal. With that goal in mind, everything you do will help get you there.”
A recent PhD graduate revisits childhood in Appalachia
Despite the many places that one might live in a lifetime, the setting of your childhood leaves an imprint on your life unlike any other. For Lucien Darjeun Meadows (PhD ’23), the Appalachian Mountains—where he spent his childhood as a queer boy of Cherokee and European descent—serve as a powerful muse, allowing him to highlight the relationship between human and environmental identities.
“In the Hands of the River” (Hub City Press, 2022) is a poetry collection that takes “a deep look at some struggles of Appalachian life, from poverty to mental health issues—but also, more so, is an open-armed love letter to the lands, waters and peoples who raised me,” says Meadows.
With an acute awareness of his surroundings—a skill he refined in Dr. Joanna Howard’s (PhD ’04) sentient ecologies seminar, Meadows says that writing or thinking through a place one should “listen,” and “return, again and again, in witness and openness to all the quiet voices of the land.”
Currently, Meadows is the managing editor for the National Association for Interpretation’s Legacy magazine, and attends to the northern flickers and blue jays as an ultra-marathoner and volunteer ranger assistant in Fort Collins. His decade-long journey to publish the collection is dedicated to his Appalachian family, his community and anyone seeking belonging.
“Give us clover for remembrance, alfalfa– (First stanza, “Buffalo Creek”)
For thought, oniongrass to hide where
Where once was mountain, now dust—”
“I’d love if this book sparks awareness and empathy not just for Appalachian folks but for all who may seem ‘different,’” says Meadows. “We’re always more complicated than we appear, and I think most—if not all—of us are looking for community and love.”
The fictional son of a Denver Broncos player competes out of his comfort zone
The spirit of competition in a fictional Colorado college prep school is as present as the air students breathe in “Control Freaks” (Levine Querido, 2023) by alumna J.E. Thomas (BA ’80, MA ’81). The young adult novel follows what happens when seventh grader Frederick Douglass Zezzmer’s obsession to become “The World’s Greatest Inventor” collides with a school-wide competition focusing on—gulp—sports. What’s more, Doug must compete with a team of science-obsessed misfits. Will they find a way to work together and win the golden B-B trophy?
Told through the eyes of multiple characters, the novel explores timely topics like identity, blended families and the pressure of STEAMS (science, technology, engineering, arts, math and sports).
Prior to writing the novel, Thomas worked as an administrator at a Colorado school and, during that time, immersed herself in articles about adolescent psychology and noticed reports of “a disturbing increase in suicide by children, with a disproportionate number occurring by Black tweens and teens.” Inspired to respond to what she learned, Thomas says, “I couldn’t solve the issues that overwhelm children to the point they become hopeless, but I could write a book that centers well-intentioned humans.” Born in Colorado, Thomas weaves in familiar aspects of the state into the storyline, including its unique weather and historic Park Hill neighborhood.
Reflecting on her time at DU, Thomas says the book “recognizes and celebrates the dedicated teachers who may never know the lasting impact they have on students’ lives,” like Dr. Harry Spetnagle (former chair of mass communication), who supported Thomas as she mapped out her future as a sophomore at DU. Whether one is a mentor, parent or friend to young people, Thomas hopes readers use the book to “spark important conversation[s] about school, family or social pressures.”