Telluride Colorado Backcountry Skiers & Snowboarders may face armed guards
Inholding owners say they will defend their property from trespass by backcountry travelers accessing Bear Creek
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with avalanches and other routine backcountry hazards, skiers and snowboarders in Telluride may have to contend with armed guards in the Gold Hill area, where a battle over access appears to be heating up.
In the latest salvo, owners of backcountry inholdings surrounded by national forest lands near Telluride vented their frustration with the Forest Service and stated their intention to protect their property rights.
“We will defend the rights that attend the ownership of our private property, including the placement of armed guards at points of entry at random times through the coming summer, and beyond,” the Gold Hill Development Company wrote in an April 22 press release that was posted on the Wild Snow website.
Wild Snow has been covering the Telluride access issue extensively. Last year, when Lou Dawson published a statement by Tom Chapman, one of the developers involved the tussle. Chapman has earned a somewhat unsavory reputation for buying private inholdings and then either selling them — or trying to — for top dollar, or leveraging the parcels to acquire other properties.
The three-way dispute between the property owners, the Forest Service and Telluride Ski Area dates back to 2009, when the Forest Service — after a public process — opened access from the ski area to adjacent national forest lands, enabling skiers and riders to more easily reach the Bear Creek drainage, a favored backcountry area. The Forest Service also issued a permit allowing Telluride to lead guided tours in the area.
The route may or may not cross private land, depending who you ask, and local backcountry access advocates said that, in any case, it would be possible to create a route that stays on public lands.
But the property owners raised enough of a ruckus that the Forest Service back down and closed the Gold Hill access points in early December of last year. That apparently didn’t stop anyone from skiing the area this winter, according to a March 16 post on the Powder Magazine website, which also reported that the Forest Service plans to re-open access to Bear Creek via a new gate on Palmyra Peak.
This Forest Service press release outlined how the agency will proceed with the access:
Norwood District Ranger Judy Schutza has decided to establish a backcountry access point on Palmyra Peak at the Telluride Ski Area. The BAP will restore public access to National Forest System lands adjacent to the Telluride Ski Area. Schutza’s decision is the result of partnering with the Telluride Mountain Club who provided ideas that would restore public access, while reducing the potential for trespass across private lands within Upper Bear Creek. In addition, TMC will assist with public education and information about legal routes and access to terrain that doesn’t affect private land.
The new (access point) is located on Palmyra Peak and requires a hike to gain access to the area. A map of the area that shows landmarks and depicts private land within the Bear Creek Basin and the surrounding area has been made and posted at the BAP for reference. Copies of the maps will be available at Ski Patrol and on the GMUG National Forest website and the TMC website.
“This decision restores reasonable public access to Alta Lakes Basin, Lena Basin, Bear Creek and also provides for future discussions and exploration of ski access issues with local government and interested publics before the next ski season.” Schutza said. “Backcountry skiers and snowboarders need to re respectful of private land and reference the map developed with the TMC to avoid private property,” she added.
Here’s how the Gold Hill property owners responded to Schutza’s decision to establish the Palmyra Peak access point:
Ranger Schutza arrived at her most recent decision without consultation or the consent of the Bear Creek landowners. Legitimate doubts persist about whether or not she consulted with San Miguel County Sheriff, Bill Masters, whose office is responsible for Search and Rescue in Bear Creek, prior to making this decision. Her decision making process is consistent, however, as she also failed to contact San Miguel County’s Board of County Commissioners, the Town of Telluride, the Bear Creek Preserve, and other local interests such as the Sheep Mountain Alliance before making the decision to grant a Forest Service permit to Telski with the express purpose of initiating guided skiing in Bear Creek, in March of 2010.
While these issues follow their course through the various systems in place for dealing with such things, the following must be made clear in the absence of Ranger Schutza’s retraction of her recent assertions that the public somehow has a right to trespass on private lands in Bear Creek. Until Ms. Schutza, the Forest Service, the Telluride Mountain Club and others have obtained a written easement from the landowners or have perfected an alleged easement within the court system for the right to use the property of others for their own private and commercial recreational purposes, neither they nor the public have any right to traverse Bear Creek private lands on any trail or route at any time of year.
Check out TelSki CEO Dave Riley’s blog for some sweet pics of some Gold Hill terrain that opened with in late February with the help of some man-made steps and bridges.
Click to see the full story: http://summitcountyvoice.com/2011/04/26/telluride-backcountry-skiers-may-face-armed-guards/