F@$K Tom Chapman! Because of this douchebag, nicknamed the “Buzzard of the Backcountry” by the Wall Street Journal, access into Upper Bear Creek has been shutdown indefinitely by the United States Forest Service. Citing private property concerns over public trespassing on privately owned mining claims, the three gates along the Gold Hill ridge were closed on Wednesday. This comes as a massive blow to the Telluride ski/ride community and a huge step backwards for the direction and future plans of the resort. So much for “America’s Greatest Backcountry Resort,” a title recently given to Telluride in this October’s Powder Magazine.
Telluride local and Bear Creek veteran Brian O’Neill was quoted in today’s Telluride Daily Planet speaking about avoiding the land under question: “It can be done. It seems crazy to me that you would close an entire valley for two people…You could easily circumnavigate the private property… And to not give us the opportunity to try and do that seems really unfair.” Local Mark Simpson was also quoted in the Planet: “I’m super bummed because that gate is the reason I live in this town, and I personally know several dozen people that help keep this town running who live here for that reason.”
The ski area has said it will enforce the boundary as if it were any other, which means anyone caught ducking the ropes could face a two-year loss of his or her season pass. Ouch! The Forest Service said it will keep the gates into Lower Bear Creek open and will add another gate off of Palmyra Peak that will allow skiers access into the Alta Lakes basin.
In the article titled, Bear Creek-Backcountry Battleground, from the Winter/Spring 2010-2011 Telluride Magazine, Gus Jarvis writes about Chapman’s notorious history:
“Chapman is infamous for buying up private inholdings surrounded by public lands and then threatening to develop the land; after stoking public outrage over the development, he is able to sell the property at an inflated value. He started in 1984, representing 112 acres in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park that a friend had purchased for $80,000. At the time, the Black Canyon was not a national park; Congress gave it that designation just a year later, in 1985. Negotiations on the sale stalled until Chapman et al started to bulldoze roads for a subdivision. The National Park Service-a taxpayer funded entity-ended up paying some $2 million for the parcel. In 1992, Chapman and his clients bought 240 acres in the West Elk Wilderness, which was considered too remote to be developed, and began helicoptering in supplies. the Forest Service traded him 110 acres near Telluride in exchange for the West Elk land, and Chapman resold the local parcel for $4.2 million. In 2000, he threatened to build large homes on mining claims in the Holy Cross Wilderness. In 2003, he started auctioning another inholding in the Black Canyon on eBay; he ended up building a luxury home on the land and still has lots for sale in the park.”
Chapman calls his “pay-or-develop” tactics good business and is obviously looking for a huge check from the resort. He purchased the mining claims after Telski announced plans of expansion and commercial use in the basin and has already threatened to reopen gold and silver mines on the Upper Bear Creek claims as well as build a “European-style rock chalet” and spa resort in the Little Bessie and Modena Parcels. Hopefully an agreement can be reached between Telski, the USFS, and the mining claim owners at some point in the not-so-distant future. Telski CEO Dave Riley was quoted in the Planet speaking on his frustrations over the situation: “It would have been nice if Mr. Chapman would have sat down with the community to seek a mutually acceptable solution. It feels like someone is putting a gun to our heads,” Riley said. “The ski company believes we have historic prescriptive rights to ski across the mining claims in Bear Creek, and we intend to pursue those rights. This is not the end of this issue.”
Photo by Brett Schreckengost